What is Identity Theft, and Should I Worry?

Identity Theft
Identity Theft -Image by Don Hankins

Identity theft is having someone steal enough personal information from you that they can impersonate you well enough to obtain a credit card, bank account, apply for a loan, register a car, get a drivers licence or apply for a passport or mobile phone account in your name.

The danger is, all of these things can result in you being liable for unpaid debt, crimes or other fallout from someone posing as you behaving badly or illegally.

A lot of identity theft is performed on-line, but in this article, I want to discuss the more personal and local version. Your garbage bin.

Much of this information can be gleaned from papers you throw in the garbage. We all get mail every day with personal information. From bank statements and Centrelink documents to invitations to get new credit cards or increase our credit limit. Most come with much of our personal information pre-printed. These are absolute gold to an identity thief. They raid letter boxes on a daily basis, looking for this kind of information.

When I started my last business, we advertised it locally (and laboriously) by trudging from house to house around much of Launceston area putting flyers in letterboxes. I once received an irate phone call from someone telling me we had stolen a letter from his box when we dropped off the flyer.

When I explained the the fliers were being distributed by me, my wife and my son, and leaving a flyer after robbing the box would not have been the brightest idea for us, he apologised and hung up. He had lost a piece of vital mail that day…

AFP Identity Crime Page
AFP Identity Crime Page

The Australian Federal Police have an excellent on-line resource under the title Identity Crime. It is worth a read. There are many other resources, but for Australians, this is a pretty good one.

I was prompted to visit this subject by an excellent post on Unclutterer.com  about shredders. I am sitting looking at my shredder, a Fellows P-35C purchased from Officeworks.

It replaced a series of cheap shredders that failed when fed too much paper, or just burned out. I have never been one to overload my shredder, but the cheap, low powered models are prone to choking and jamming if paper is fed in off-centre.

The fact is, with care, even the cheapest shredder will do its job, but spending a bit more is well worth the cost. My current shredder will handle five sheets of paper and cuts it into confetti rather that strips. It cost around $70.

Shredders need to be maintained. I spread a little 3 in 1 oil on a sheet of paper and feed it through the shredder occasionally.

We recently had an episode here in Australia where the opposition turned up in parliament with a sensitive document that a government minister had shredded. The document was retrieved from the bin and taped back together and produced in parliament to much laughter and hoots of derision. I decided that my next shredder would be a cross-cut shredder!

For those home based, a bonus of shredding is the ability to turn shredded paper and other junk mail into Paper Log/Briquettes and use them in the fire. There are a number of tools to do this, unfortunately most of the are US based, and freight is expensive.

For those on the road, papers can be used as fire starters or soaked, screwed up into logs, dried and burned. The simple option is to simply burn any papers with personal information. A smoky option, but a simple one.

On the road, we tend to use fires or braziers, and paper to get the fire going is always in short supply, so save those personal documents and feed them to the fire

The key is, DO NOT put anything with personal information in the bin. Grey Nomads have been fined for disposing of waste in public bins based on papers found by council inspectors, and any paper can lead to identity theft. Dispose carefully!

Image courtesy of Don Hankins 

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