Dumpster Diving and Identity Theft – How To Protect Yourself

Imagine walking up to a random dumpster, crawling inside and rooting around for something interesting. Sounds disgusting, right? But what if you could find an average of $31,000 inside that dumpster? The idea of poking into that pile of garbage might suddenly seem a little more appealing.

Identity theft costs over $53 billion dollars a year. While the general perception of identity theft is that its committed by computer experts using high tech methods, that’s not always the case. A lot of identity theft is actually pretty low tech.

Dumpster diving is when a would-be identity thief goes through trash in order to search for documents which contain personal information. This might be a garbage can outside a private home or a large dumpster outside a business or other organization. Thieves can even search through the local dump. If they’re willing to get dirty, the rewards can be enormous.

In fact, the rewards are so great that many dumpster divers work in groups. For instance, a team of identity thieves in Washington successfully operated for over five years.

What’s in Your Garbage?

The average person’s identity is worth about $31,000 a year. How is this possible? Dumpster divers can find all sorts of information in the trash including:

  • Medical records
  • Financial information
  • Names, addresses and phone numbers

One Person’s Trash…

…can be another person’s treasure. So you want to keep that treasure out of the hands of these identity theft “pirates.”

While impersonating someone’s identity is obviously a crime, searching through someone’s garbage is sometimes perfectly legal. If the trash is left in a public place, such as on a curb, there’s no legal expectation that the contents remain private.

For this reason, experts recommend keeping your trash in your garage or backyard until just before pick-up. Large organizations should secure their trash by keeping dumpsters locked up or otherwise unavailable to the public.

How to Prevent Dumpster Diving Identity Theft

Keeping your trash secure isn’t always a foolproof method. So you want to make sure that if thieves do dive into your trash there’s nothing useful for them to find. Here are a few simple, effective ways to turn your trash into, well, useless garbage.


Buy a simple shredder from an office supply store and use it on just about every document you throw away. There’s really no need to be conservative with your shredding. Shred the obvious important documents such as bank statements and medical information. Also shred any junk mail you receive such as offers for credit cards and life insurance. This prevents thieves from applying for anything in your name.

Destroy and Separate

If you’re going to throw away any credit or debit cards, you obviously want to cut them up first into small pieces. Make sure you cut through the numbers and magnetic strips. To be extra secure, place your shredded documents and items into different trash bags and throw them away at different times. Dedicated identity thieves are patient and have no problem piecing together a shredded document if they think there’s money to be stolen.

Identity theft can be frightening, and the idea of someone willing to search through your garbage can be downright terrifying. But with some simple steps, you can keep your identity… from getting trashed.


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