Trash is in the Eye of the Beholder

Who would possibly want your trash? The answer may surprise you.

Mixed in with the rotten banana peels, empty cereal boxes, the used cotton swabs and the coffee grounds there is a gold mine for some criminals.

For everyday folks, the value lies in the personal and financial information that can be gleaned.

It’s hard for most of us to imagine, but there are some people in our society who make large amounts of money by going through trash, finding checking account statements, credit card bills and even stray Social Security numbers, and using that information for their ill-gotten gain.

Credit card statements are particularly sought-after, since criminals can raid your trash in the middle of the night from the alley, get on the phone and order a bunch of expensive items while you’re fast asleep. By the time your next bill comes, they’ve had ample time to live it up at your and the credit card company’s expense - and that’s just the beginning.

Another way particularly crafty crooks gain from your trash is through checks. It doesn’t even matter if they’re already used, just as long as they’re in one piece. There are numerous solvents that most of us have never even heard of that will erase ink, yet leave the check intact. After that, it’s just a matter of going out and spending away, or, going to one of your bank’s branches and cashing a check. After all, they haven’t erased your signature, and if they’ve managed to scare up your Social Security number in the mix, they’ve got everything they need to get past even the most suspicious teller. Once again, you won’t know something’s wrong until your own checks start to inexplicably bounce. More loss and more stress on your part, as well as having to close one account and open another, order checks and notify all your direct deposit companies of the change.

Criminals will even delight in getting information on your calling card. They will either sell the code to other unseemly types who can charge hundreds or thousands of dollars on your bill, or use it themselves.

The best part about fixing this problem is that it’s easy. Shredders are available at most office supply stores and are increasingly inexpensive. They’ll reduce your cast-off documentation into strips so small that it’s nearly impossible to reconstruct them - nearly, that is. If someone is determined enough, they can sit down and piece together your bank statement or credit card receipt. Therefore, it’s a good idea to separate these strips into different trash cans. Pouring a few soggy leftovers over the whole mess is helpful as well.

When cutting up old credit or phone cards, do so in tiny bits and then separate the pieces. As with so many criminals, it’s likely that your trash will be too much trouble to sort through. Making yourself, or your rubbish, unattractive to criminals is the first line of defense in prevention.

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