A reporter in Pennslyvania decided to try dumpster diving! Interesting idea…rifling through bags of garbage she found everything you’d expect, rotting food and its not so pleasant smell. But past the trash, she found papers and mail. After just 20 minutes of searching, she hit what an identity thief would call “the jackpot, by finding a document with a social security number. She then took that paper back to owner and asked him if he had forgotten that his social security number was on it?
The owner didn’t think much of it because he didn’t have much money for anyone to steal. Surprisingly, he said he’d do it again.
At another dumpster she found a bag with close to a dozen documents with one man’s social security number, date of birth, and signature. Also in those papers: His two year old son’s social security number and date of birth. So she asked him why he just threw away the valuable information.
That man said “I mean some of the documents I did realize my social was on there, but I did not realize somebody would go through my garbage to get it.”
That’s exactly what federal authorities say hungry identity thieves are banking on. A person’s identity is stolen every 76 seconds. In 2007, there were 800,000 reports of identity theft nationally and most are done through dumpster diving. Authorities say a social security or bank account number could make it very easy for someone to take your identity, to spend your money and even apply for credit cards in your name. It’s not just about how much money you have in the bank. It’s about taking your identity, pretending to be you and applying for more and more credit IN YOUR NAME. They could rack up tens of thousands of dollars in your name or in the name of your child.
What can you do to protect yourself? Authorities say there are some basic steps to follow:
- Be wary of phone calls and e-mails from people claiming to be bank or creditor officials wanting to verify personal information. Remember, most of your information should already be on file.
- Check your bank and credit card statements monthly to make sure there aren’t any unfamiliar charges.
- Get a credit report every year will also alert you to any fraud.
- Finally never throw away personal information without shredding it. That includes anything with your social security number, bank statements, checks and credit card applications.