Don't be a recycling identity theft victim

By Anthony GiorgianniConsumer Reports

Would you want strangers to know how much you earn? Read about the recent medical services you received? Or see that your insurer is threatening to cancel your auto policy for nonpayment?

If you're simply throwing this and other sensitive paperwork into the recycling bin, that's exactly the type of information you're exposing to the world. And identity thieves may be targeting recycled paperwork to obtain peoples' personal information.

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In just one New York town’s public recycling facility we found payroll stubs, credit card offers, medical billing statements, late payment notices, and more, all with recipients’ names, addresses, and account numbers. During our visits, the recycling facility was busy with people coming and going, and the documents were in the paper recycling bin available to anyone who wanted them.

Check our paper shredder buying guide and Ratings, and learn how long to hold onto important documents and paperwork.

Here are examples of what we found:

  • A deposit statement, including a non-negotiable direct deposit payroll check for $5,013, along with the person's year-to-date earnings and withholding.
  • A  medical billing statement with 13 pages of charges for office visits and procedures, including blood tests, a chest x-ray, and electrocardiograms.
  • A  monthly mortgage billing statement, including $178 in late-payment charges.
  • A  retirement earnings statement, including a non-negotiable direct deposit check for $878 and year-to-date earnings.
  • An auto insurance cancellation notice from Geico.

Even if the info can’t be used to steal your identity, you probably don’t want your neighbors knowing such personal information.

What to do: When recycling old paperwork, carefully tear it up or, even better, shred it.

Anthony Giorgianni

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