Identity theft topped the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) national ranking of consumer complaints for the 15th consecutive year with a total of 332,646 complaints. Although most identity theft now occurs electronically, your identity can still be easily stolen by criminals who make use of what you toss in your garbage, too.
Trash facilities and recycling areas can be a treasure trove of personal and private information for creative dumpster divers. Unless you shred documents that contain identifying information— credit card receipts, credit applications, insurance forms, doctor billing statements, canceled checks and bank/brokerage statements and even expired charge cards.
It is estimated that financial losses due to personal identity theft totaled $24.7 billion — that is over $10 billion more than the losses linked to all other property crimes.
Those seemingly never-ending credit offers you get in the mail and toss unopened into the garbage —particularly the pre-approved variety are a windfall for unscrupulous identity thieves. Clever characters complete these blank applications, obtain a credit card or business cash advance loan in your name, charge it to the max and close the account before you receive the first billing statement. To better protect yourself, it is recommended that you tear or shred the unopened envelope before throwing into the garbage.
The best way to get rid of those infernal prescreened credit card offers is by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) to opt out. You’ll be asked to provide your Social Security number so the consumer reporting companies can match you with your file.
If you are sending sensitive outgoing mail that includes personally identifying information, you should bring to post office collection boxes or your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you’re planning to be out of town for an extended period of time and aren’t able to pick up your mail, contact the US Postal Service (USPS) at 1-800-275-8777 or online at www.usps.gov to request a vacation hold.
The USPS will hold your mail at your local post office so you can pick it up whenever you are back from vacation or extended travel.
The Federal Trade Commission has more information on identity theft and prevention tips at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/.
We sometimes notice mail that can contain private information nearby the mailboxes at some of our Philadelphia apartments, so we hope you find these recommendations about how to better safeguard your personal information helpful.