June 12

Your Trash Can Be Used Against You


Your Trash Can Be Used Against You

Trash and security. Those two things seem worlds apart but they are actually related. Information predators have many different tools in their tool belt to try steal information and make money. When you think about Information Security, computers probably come to mind but they are only part of the puzzle.

Every year, dumpster divers turn trash into treasure and turn everyday people into victims. Most of us are unaware this can even happen! Your trash can be full of valuable information, from old tax returns to credit card offers. These simple pieces of paper, once thrown away, can be used to steal your identity and create major headaches in the wrong hands.

Is Dumpster Diving Legal?

In short, yes. According to Freegan.info, dumpster diving is generally considered legal in the United States. There are exceptions where local laws have been put in place to help minimize the practice, but those don’t exist everywhere. When you think about it though, if someone wants to steal your information, an anti-trash law is the least of their concerns. Penalties for getting caught impersonating someone else can carry significant fines and up to 15 years in prison.

What’s Your Trash Worth?

The value of information can vary quite a bit depending on what it is. According to CNBC, in 2016 it’s estimated that identity theft cost 15.4 million consumers more than $16 Billion in damages. That comes out to over $1,000 per person on average. That’s not to mention the hassle, headaches and potential long-term impact from identity theft. Your credit score, loans, and other financial activities can all be negatively impacted. Believe it or not but even your personal medical history is a valuable asset too.

What Can They Do?

The “bad guys” are generally willing to do anything that makes them money. From selling your information on the dark web to applying for credit in your name, money is the key to this puzzle. If you have good credit, you can kiss it goodbye. Want to buy that new house? Won’t happen. Why? Because someone used your good name and reputation to make a quick buck.

Protecting Your Information

Shred Documents

Your first line of defense is to shred your documents before throwing them away. This includes anything that has your personal information like:

  • Credit card numbers
  • Account numbers
  • Social Security numbers
  • Offer numbers
  • Email address(es)
  • Personal name and address

While all of these are important, the top three in this list are your most critical pieces to destroy. The more information someone has on you, the easier it is for them to impersonate you. To put it another way, it’s easier for them to try to be you.

If you don’t already own a shredder, you really need to purchase one. There are many affordable options available both locally and online.

Keep an Eye on Your Finances

Don’t just assume everything is fine. Make sure to look for charges that look suspicious and question them. Review credit card charges and checking account transactions at least monthly. Setup a reminder on your phone if you need to.

Credit monitoring

Be sure to check your credit rating regularly. Look for:

  • New accounts
  • Big changes in your credit score (FICO)

Companies such as LifeLock offer credit monitoring services. Your credit card company may offer these services as well, possibly even for free.


You need to take certain steps to protect yourself, just like you would anything that’s physical. Just because you can’t see your reputation doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Take an extra few minutes to shred your documents, watch your finances and monitor your credit. It may be a lifesaver.

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About the Author

Mark Beall

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