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What identity thieves can learn from your trash

The phone rings. A representative from your internet service provider says that they never received payment. Service is going to be shut down, and you will no longer be able to watch cat reenactments of your favorite sitcoms. But don’t worry. The representative will accept payment over the phone. They just need your credit card number. Later, you discover that you have been charged for a solid gold, arcade dance pad.

Wait a minute! What does that have to do with what can be found in your trash?  For this scam to worker the caller would have to know your name, your phone number, and who your internet service provider is. Being able to verify amount owed, account number, or your service details would only add credibility to the caller. Ever thrown away a bill or a bank statement?

One’s trash is another’s treasure

A lot more can be learned from your garbage other than the fact that you prefer unfrosted pop-tarts or that you subscribe to “The Mullet Monthly.” Bank statements, bills, insurance information, pre-approved credit cards, and even junk mail will contain personal information. Name, address, phone number, email address, social security number, bank account number, and other account numbers can all be compromised.

In 2016, there were 406,578 imposter scams and 399,225 stolen identities reported to the FTC.1 Stolen identities can be used to apply for credit cards, open accounts, make purchases, pass background checks, and file for your tax return. Most fraud victims (77%) are contacted by phone.2 Steps should be taken to keep your information safe. You could try filling your trash with deadly, trained bees, but there are more practical solutions.

What can be done?

Shred everything. This can take some time and money investment but is very effective. You will have to purchase a shredder or pay for shredder services. If you’re anything like me, most things that should be shredded go in the “not now” pile and build up into a huge chore later on.

Go paperless. This is something that can be easily done as you are sitting there reading this online. Seriously, put down that strawberry daiquiri and get started. Switching to eStatements will protect your bank statements and give you the ability to check your account for fraudulent charges whenever you want. Many companies will also have an option for electronic bills.