Trash picking is common
Credit: Morguefile photo by jeltovski

When I first started doing my banking online, I worried about someone hacking into my account.

However, I realize my fear was greatly misplaced. That's because online banking is a lot safer than what I had been doing - writing paper checks and then throwing them, along with my monthly bank statement, into the trash.

Anyone could have retrieved that information from my trash can, and easily obtained my check routing and bank account numbers. They also would have found a lot of other personal documents I foolishly didn't bother to shred.

Now, I realize online banking is probably a lot safer than having statements and cancelled checks mailed to your home, or sitting outside your house waiting for trash pickup.

I still get some paper statements, and plenty of credit card offers. But I don't blindly throw them in the trash. Anything of value to a potential thief is now properly disposed of.

Identity theft is increasingly common, and it's usually not due to online banking or buying products over the Internet, as many would assume.

The perpetrators prefer the low-tech method of dumpster diving through your trash and recycling bins, often under the cover of darkness. Taking financial statements from your curbside mail box is another way these crooks gain access to your records.

It's estimated these old-fashioned methods account for 88 percent of identity theft.

If you're serious about preventing identity theft, it's a good idea to invest in a paper shredder designed for home use. Personally, I don't know how I've managed to survive this long without one.

We're More Careful Now

All of our personal documents now go through our shredder before they end up in the trash. Because identity theft is so prevalent, along with the growing "business" of "unshredding," which is the restoration of cut-up documents into a readable form, I don't just throw the shredded material in a recycling bin. But I do carefully separate anything that can be safely recycled, such as blank envelopes or inserted advertisements, to cut down on landfill waste.

We purchased an Amazon Basics 12-Sheet Cross-Cut shredder, which has a strong motor that doesn't tend to overheat, unlike some of the lower-end models.

This model also handles credit cards and CDs, for which it has a separate feed. Amazon offers free Super Saver Shipping on this purchase.

Dirt does not deter burglars
Credit: Morguefile image by sideshowmom

Trash Pickers Don't Mind Getting Dirty

An identity thief finds your trash can very inviting, even if it stinks and it's covered with grime. Security experts are well aware these criminals will resort to any nefarious means to obtain personal information.

The advent of curbside recycling has provided new opportunities for identity thieves, as many unsuspecting homeowners like to put all paper products into their recycling bin, even bank statements, cancelled checks and credit card offers. If that's what you've been doing, and nothing has happened yet, consider yourself lucky.

Even shredded documents must be handled with care, though, as special computer programs have been developed to assist with unshredding. Identity theft is so lucrative that there's evidence some criminals have organized into rings to better perpetrate the crime of identity theft.

One security expert recommends putting your trash and recycling bins out just before the truck arrives to lower the risk of someone sifting through them the night before.

Shred Credit Card Offers

I receive a lot of credit card offers, and, until recently, I threw unopened offer envelopes into the trash.

This was particularly risky because an identity thief could find one of these envelopes and obtain a credit card in my name, which would be mailed to his or her address.

Even ripping up the envelope and its contents isn't good enough. The invitation sheet could be patched back together and provide enough information for someone to apply for a card over the Internet, using a special invitation code that usually comes with these offers.

Considering how often identity theft occurs, coupled with the fact it typically takes the victim hundreds of hours to regain control of a lost identity, I think I'll be shredding a lot more of my mail before throwing it away.

One last word about paper shredders. Accidents can happen if you are not careful to keep fingers and hair away from the blades. Unplug your shredder after use, especially if you have children or pets in the house.