By Officer Larry Jacobs, SSPD

Every week, many Americans go through the routine of pulling their trash can out to the nearby curb in the morning so their trash can be hauled away while they’re away at work.

The routine is such a regular part of modern life that when moving into a new neighborhood, we make it a point to immediately learn what day “trash day” is.

Well, trash day is what most of us call it. Identity thieves, on the other hand, have another name for it.

They call it “cash day.”

Identity thieves refer to it as cash day for a simple reason. They know they can prowl neighborhoods looking for trash that they can turn into cash.

What most of us carelessly toss away as unwanted junk mail or outdated documents can be just like winning the lottery to the trained identity thief.

The types of items identity thieves seek include:

  • Expired credit and debit cards
  • Credit and debit card receipts
  • Unused credit card checks
  • Credit card statements
  • Pre-approved credit card offers and applications
  • Checking and savings account statements
  • Canceled checks
  • Investment account statements
  • Pension account statements
  • Paycheck stubs
  • Wage and earnings statements
  • Phone and utility bills
  • Retail invoices and statements
  • Tax returns and statements
  • Medical bills
  • Insurance claim information
  • Auto, health and life insurance policy information
  • Expired identification documents like driver’s licenses and passports

Even an unsophisticated thief can use the various items in your trash that contain your name as a starting point to steal your identity.

An identity criminal will have an even easier time causing you harm if your trash contains other documents that supply information, such as return addresses on envelopes that indicate where you bank; who your doctor is; where your investments are held; what company your mortgage is maintained by; and other similar information that provides a blueprint of your life.

Fortunately, identity theft resulting from items stolen from the trash is the easiest type of crime to prevent.

By simply shredding any document, receipt, address label, or piece of paper with identifying information like account numbers, we can stop identity thieves in their tracks.

But the key is to shred documents. Simply ripping an item a few times by hand will not do. Identity thieves will spend hours putting ripped documents back together like a jigsaw puzzle. After all, they know there can be a huge financial prize for solving the puzzle.

For that reason, it is important every household have at least one quality cross-cut shredder. A good cross-cut shredder will turn any document into tiny useless scraps of unreadable paper in a matter of seconds. Even better is to keep a shredder with each waste basket where you toss documents containing personal information. In many homes this will mean the kitchen and home office or other areas where you review mail and pay bills.

Remember: Don’t toss out your identity to a waiting thief. Use a shredder.

Officer Larry Jacobs is with the Crime Prevention Unit of the Sandy Springs Police Department.