January 14, 2009 Protecting your identity
Few people concern themselves with the everyday garbage they throw out for the local disposal company to pick up and haul away. Once it is in the garbage can, it is “out of sight, out of mind.” That particular mindset is naïve and potentially problematic, given the amount of garbage can foraging that takes place in our communities.
A recent example of how our discards end up where not intended involves a young woman in this area who threw away pictures of herself and her family in the garbage. A month later, while serving a warrant on a suspected criminal, the police found the woman’s pictures and other personal items displayed in the suspect’s bedroom.
Every single night of the year, numerous persons ply the neighborhoods and businesses of our communities, rummaging through household garbage cans and dumpsters theoretically seeking aluminum cans, glass and plastic bottles for recycling. And of those numerous people, most of them truly only take the recyclables, but others are searching through garbage with criminal intent.
It is surprising how much the contents of a household garbage canister can reveal about the persons living there. And for identity theft criminals, garbage cans can be a real jackpot. People throw away canceled/processed checks, credit card statements, letters containing personal information, photographs, medicine prescriptions forms (or the actual medications), bills, receipts, residential or cellular phone bills, Internet provider bills, and the list goes on. From the aforementioned items, a criminal can piece together all the information needed for identity theft and start wrecking havoc on the victim’s personal finances. In other instances, the collection of more personal-type property, like photographs, letters, items of clothing and undergarments, can serve as a window into one’s personal life and activities.
Some cities are considering ordinances to prohibit garbage can and “dumpster diving” to address the problems I have described, but from a legal point of view, such ordinances may not be easy to adopt. Ceres will be considering such an ordinance in the future.
In the meantime, protecting your identity and personal interests can be largely accomplished with the use of common sense. It is best to never simply discard any papers (letters, envelopes, etc.) into a garbage can. Anything that has your name, address or date of birth, or any financial papers, bills or the like should be shredded. Take no chances if at all possible. The non-paper personal items are a bit more difficult to dispose of since shredding them is not a probable solution. You might consider placing such items in a separate bag such that they are not easily visible to the local garbage aficionado.