Your trash, their treasure

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – An identity is stolen thousands of times every day, leading months or years of headaches and financial ruin.

It doesn't take much for crooks to get started – all they need are some gloves and a bag of trash.  To see just how easy it is to find personal documents, WMBF News' sister station WECT decided to dive right in.

Retired Wilmington Police Detective J.J. Lightner helped to dig through Peggy's trash.  She's a friend on Facebook who's very careful about what she throws away and what she shreds, or so she thinks.

It only took three bags to find part of a label off an order form that a crook could use to gain personal information.  The label showed her name and address, which is enough to give someone a start into stealing her identity.

Peggy said she usually rips her junk mail in half, like most people, instead of shredding it.  But Lightner says that's not the best idea because it only takes seconds to put the pieces together.  All junk mail should be shredded especially credit card offers.

"They can call [the 1-800] number and pretend they are her," said Lighter.  "If you know what you are doing, you can get away with a lot."

Today's crooks are savvy and they know what they're doing.  Once they start, they won't stop running up charges under your name.

"Once they get this [trash], it could turn into a line of credit, and that can be used as reference for something else, and it just snowballs," said Lightner.

In less than 10 minutes, WECT was able to find three ways to start working on Peggy's identity.

"My shredder is going to be getting a lot more use!" said Peggy. "It's scary that someone would be getting that much information from digging in the trash."

The attorney general says there are some simple steps you can follow to keep your identity safe.  He says to shred things like:

  • Pre-approved credit card offers
  • Old bills
  • Out-of-date account statements
  • Anything that has your personal information

Roy Cooper's office sponsors shred-a-thons all year long.  If you don't have a shredder at home, bring your financial records to one of these events and they will shred them for you free of charge.

If you can't wait for a shred-a-thon event, there are companies that charge to shred documents:

  • A Shred Ahead (910) 350-1227
  • Data Technology Services  (910) 392-6411
  • Shred-It 1-800-717-4733
  • OCS Waste (910) 296-0730

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