The onset of spring encourages most consumers to devote a day or two to "spring cleaning," in order to remove clutter and prepare for summer. Consumers should be careful when disposing of paperwork, account information and, most importantly, old computers, which can easily fall into the hands of an identity thief, according to LifeLock, Inc.
"Spring is the time of year most folks decide to clean up their houses and get rid of unwanted junk, and oftentimes that means paperwork containing sensitive personal information," said Todd Davis, LifeLock chairman and CEO.
Though most high-profile identity-theft cases typically involve stealing information through technology, hospital records and government data portals, an identity thief can obtain personal information just as easily by digging through an individual's garbage. There are a number of safeguards consumers should take to protect their personal information during spring cleaning.
Consumers disposing of old computers, even those that have crashed and no longer function, should not leave them by the side of the road or donate them, because they may still contain personal information that was not removed from the hard drive. A study was recently conducted that involved purchasing 25 computers from second-hand stores and 4 from a local dump and analyzing their hard drives. The study, conducted by deletion technology specialists from WhiteCanyon Software, revealed that the hard drives still contained Social Security numbers, tax information and passwords. Consumers should make sure they properly erase their hard drives before disposing of their computers.
Consumers should also take caution when cleaning out old tax returns, pay stubs, and other sensitive documents. Some documents, such as cancelled checks, credit and bank statements, utility bills and pay stubs should be shredded after a one year period, assuming that they are not necessary for tax purposes, the Better Business Bureau reports. Deposit, ATM, debit and credit card receipts should be shredded after the consumer sees the transaction post to the account and confirms that information is correct, reports the BBB.
Shredding each and every receipt or document during spring cleaning may seem like an exhaustive task, but the rise in identity theft sheds light on why protecting personal information is imperative. Identity theft remains one of the fastest-growing crimes in the U.S. and affects nearly 11 million Americans annually.