Despite all the warnings you hear about the dangers of identity theft, it continues to be a steady problem for police in southern Nevada.
Inside your home, there are documents that thieves can use to turn your life upside down. Still, few take steps to keep that information private.
One way to protect yourself is by shredding those documents. This includes obvious documents such as bank statements. However, there are some that will put you at risk you might not have considered.
It's not as if people are ignoring the message about shredding documents. Every day, workers from dozens of shredding businesses fan out to thousands of companies throughout the valley. They place sensitive documents in bags and dump them in 7,000-pound shredders.
"It destroys anything that gets near the blades. Believe me, anything but hardened steel can go through there," said Bob Linden with Shred-It.
Drivers then dump the shredded paper on the floor of a North Las Vegas recycling plant where it is scooped up, bailed like hay and shipped for recycling.
Businesses are vigilant about protecting your personal info. Unfortunately, most people are much more careless.
Cheryl Guthrie was one of the 9 million Americans who fall victim to identity theft each year. She was in the middle of a move when she dumped personal records in the trash. She didn't think twice about it until unknown charges and overdraft notices started showing up on her bank statements.
"It's devastating because I'm on a limited budget. I had charges on there that exceeded what my balance was," Guthrie said.
Because there's no law forbidding dumpster diving, nothing can stop thieves from rummaging through your trash on a hunt for personal data.
"The more information you have available to thieves, the more they are going to take advantage of it," said Robert Frimet, a security expert who teaches casinos, banks and financial institutions to combat money laundering and check fraud.
We asked Frimet and North Las Vegas police officer Chrissie Coon to come up with five not-so-obvious things you need to shred right away.
First, you should shred any tax returns more than three years old. Newer ones should be stored in a safe.
"Tax returns are especially troublesome because they have your Social Security number, your number of dependents, your children, your spouse and your address. So that is data they will certainly have a field day with," Frimet said.
Secondly, no matter how impressive your child's old report cards are, shred them.
"Those documents can have personal information for your children – their name, address, or date of birth. That information can be used by a suspect to establish a false identity under your child's name. Ultimately, that can cause a lot of problems for your child," Coon said.
Third, thieves can create a fake ID or get free medical care by obtaining your medical records.
"They'll rack up medical bills in someone else's name. Again, a victim may not know about it until the bill goes to collections and pops up on their credit card," Coon said.
If you hold on to old work identification cards for prosperity, shred them.
"If they have your information on a barcode, on that ID, they can buy barcode readers and they can pull that information off the identification," Frimet said.
Those in the shredding business say it's the most innocuous thing that may open the door to a thief. Our fifth item is your old family photos. They often include names and can facilitate ID theft.
Police say anything with your name, physical or email address or other personal information is valuable to thieves. Getting justice can take years, if you get any at all.
Frimet said you should check your credit report twice a year for suspicious activity. If you become a victim, you will need to do the following:
Notify your bank if it's bank-related.
Notify credit bureaus.
File a police report.
Copyright 2012 KVVU (KVVU Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.
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