“Dumpster diving” isn’t just a term associated with homeless folks looking for scraps of hamburger. It’s also one of the primary ways that identity thieves find your information. It is only slightly less popular than stealing your wallet, and is so easy that it doesn’t even take a high degree of intelligence to pull it off. The thieves don’t even have to risk themselves getting caught on the initial robbery.
You may not be aware of just how much information sits on your utility bills, banking statements, and other bills. These documents contain your name, your address, and your account numbers. At times, there are still companies that use your social security number as your account number! Your bank statements also broadcast how much money you make (which tells the thieves whether or not you’re a target worth attacking).
There are other documents to watch out for too. Paystubs contain a wealth of information. So do ATM receipts. Cancelled or voided checks give out your entire account number and routing number! Think the thief can’t do anything with that? Sure he can; he can pay for a number of things online with that very information without any further verification of his identity. Even if he doesn’t manage to get stuff he wants the thief can always buy up a lot of things and then re-sell them on Ebay.
It’s not enough to cut up your credit cards or expired driver’s licenses either. We get tons of cards: medical insurance cards and ID cards of every sort. Every one of those cards is an open door that could allow the thieves access to part of your life—or, if the thief is very good at finding what he needs to know—all of it. Considering that most thieves can just pull up your profile on Facebook to fill in almost all of the blanks, you don’t want to give these criminals a single inch.
A shredder isn’t very expensive. Sit it right next to wherever you open your mail and shred anything you don’t need immediately. It’s not enough to simply tear up these documents; large enough pieces can still be re-assembled, or might still have the relevant information on an entire scrap of paper. A shredder, by contrast, renders the documents into useless strips of paper that are impossible to put back together. Some shredders take this a step further and turn everything you put in them to confetti.
Don’t spend money on identity theft protection services without spending money on a shredder first. It just makes good sense.