People are warned repeatedly these days about the dangers of allowing their personal financial data to fall into the wrong hands. However, such warnings usually involve protecting computers and passwords from hackers and malware, as well as other technological tactics employed by identity thieves and other criminals.
Unfortunately, it is just as common for identity thieves to steal financial data and other personal information simply by obtaining paper copies - even going through trash and dumpsters. With that in mind, it's important to shred documents before throwing them away.
For these same reasons, some banks, government agencies and other institutions have found themselves facing potentially expensive lawsuits and other steps, such as providing free credit monitoring services to people whose sensitive records were not disposed of properly.
Worse, some people whose homes are burglarized find that they are victimized a second time when thieves steal their financial documents as well, with an eye on opening up fraudulent credit card accounts or ringing up existing balances. One way to counter this threat is to be sure all financial documents are stored in a secure location that cannot be readily viewed by others.
With these things in mind, Arkansas television station KAIT recently conducted an investigation where five garbage bags from local homes were pulled off the street and their contents were checked.
Among the garbage was said to be various pieces of personal information that could be used to help identity thieves. For example, one trash bag yielded a complete monthly credit card statement, noted the station, while other bags turned up a receipt containing the last four digits of a card, and another contained what was described as "tons of personal information a person tried to shred by hand."
Given the lengths would-be identity thieves will go to in order to impersonate their victims, investing in a good paper shredder is key. Another good tip is to check one's credit report regularly and also to be wary if monthly credit card statements don't show up, since thieves can also simply pull the information they need right out of a victim's mailbox.
Another tell-tale sign of identity theft can be spotted if strange charges appear on one's monthly statement or if errors appear on one's credit report.