Dumpster diving as a method of identity theft is low-tech, easy and startlingly effective. It can be done anywhere people generate trash-at apartment buildings, businesses, and even college campuses. In a society that is becoming more alert every day about the risk of identity theft in online buying, many people think nothing of throwing away junk mail, bills, medical forms and bank statements, all of which contain information that can be used in identity theft.
Springfield Police Officer Grant Story said this holds true in Springfield as well.
"I don't want to call it an epidemic, but I also don't want to say it's not a problem. Of course, any time someone gets their identity stolen, it's an aggressive crime and it's painful," Story said.
Law enforcement officials and apartment managers do what they can to address Dumpster diving, but the only effective form of prevention has to be done by individuals before they discard their trash, something that many students don't realize.
Though several apartment managers near campus reported that they have not noticed a problem with Dumpster diving, The Standard news team observed several different instances of Dumpster diving in alleyways just a few blocks from campus, in particular the alley between Jefferson and Kimbrough streets.
Local law enforcement is also limited in what it can do to manage the problem. Story said that if he sees someone going through a Dumpster, he intervenes, but from there, it gets complicated.
"There is an ordinance against dumping in someone else's Dumpster, but as far as taking things out of a Dumpster, that has been less addressed," Story said. "If a person is rummaging through a commercial Dumpster, say at an apartment building, they're certainly at least trespassing. With someone's personal trash receptacle that doesn't belong to the trash company, it gets a little fuzzier. When you put your trash out, you are essentially abandoning it. A bag of trash sitting next to the street is considered abandoned property."
The best solution is to take action before the trash reaches the Dumpster, Story said.
"What we recommend is to go through your junk mail and make sure anything with your identification information on it is not in a form that someone could use against you," Story said. "It certainly never hurts to buy a cheap shredder and shred anything you're not sure about."
Items containing your full name, date of birth, Social Security number, home address or other personal identification should never be thrown away without being shredded. Bank statements and account numbers are especially dangerous to throw away.
Though Story said that elderly people are most often the targets of identity scammers, students should still be careful when giving information over the phone or online.
"College kids are more likely to get caught on get-rich-quick scams, where somebody will have them send in $50 now to get something later, which of course never happens," Story said. "Often you get people calling up and claiming to be officials from a company and stealing people's information that way."
Story says a good way to test for phone scammers is to offer to call the business back.
"If you ever have any doubts about someone you're talking to who's trying to get information from you, try to ask for the name of the business and a phone number and just calling them back before you give them any information. Usually if it's a scammer they will either refuse to give you a number or give you a false one," he said.