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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

How To Prevent Dumpster Diving Identity Theft

by Wesley April 20, 2022

Warehouses and commercial properties have a long list of responsibilities when it comes to running a profitable business and maintaining efficient operations. There are always challenges that need to be handled quickly, and when unexpected obstacles present themselves, finding a solution is essential.

Identity theft is considered one of those obstacles that can bring down your business, specifically dumpster diving identity theft. Now, you might be thinking, what is dumpster diving identity theft? It is exactly what it sounds like and poses a major threat to business owners and their employees.

Failing to properly secure your property’s dumpsters has the potential to cost your company more money than you realize. In this article, we will walk you through the consequences of dumpster diving identity theft, as well as provide a comprehensive four-step process on how to prevent it:

  1. Discard Documents
  2. Secure Files 
  3. Building Security
  4. Dumpster Locks

First, we will answer a few important questions about dumpster diving identity theft to establish some basic knowledge.


What is dumpster diving?

Dumpster diving is when somebody sifts through garbage looking for items to collect. Perhaps for basic survival, finding things to sell, or in more severe cases, criminal activity.

Dumpster diving identity theft would fall into the criminal category because someone is trying to obtain personal information illegally.

But dumpster diving can be a completely innocent enterprise. Whether someone is doing it to find their next meal or to reuse leftover materials that would have otherwise gone to a landfill, there is nothing harmful about dumpster diving. These are admirable qualities in people who truly care about the environment and want to limit the amount of waste humans produce.

In New York City, a group called the “Freegans” forges in the streets for their food and groceries in dumpsters. The goal is to minimize environmental impact by consuming resources that people throw away. This is a prime example of how dumpster diving can be an ethical activity that also aspires to reach a higher objective for the benefit of our society.

But not everyone goes dumpster diving for those purposes. People have found a way to utilize dumpster diving for illegal schemes that potentially lead to massive monetary gain, such as dumpster diving identity theft.

Is dumpster diving legal?

Legally speaking, dumpster diving is allowed in all 50 states. However, the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court case California v. Greenwood set some limits. To provide some context, California resident Billy Greenwood was arrested for narcotics trafficking after police found evidence while searching through his trash.

The court ruled Greenwood did not have Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizures because it was determined that one’s discarded trash is not personal property out on the street. Justice Byron White said in his majority opinion, “The garbage was placed at the curb for the purpose of conveying it to a third party.”

So why does that outcome matter for dumpster diving identity theft? The ruling essentially legalized the right to search through someone’s trash. Although this particular case dealt with illegal drugs and law enforcement practices, it indirectly condones dumpster diving as a lawful activity when a dumpster is placed out on a street.

As long as another local city, county, or state law is not broken in the process, people are free to explore dumpsters for any unwanted items. This excludes commercial properties in which a dumpster is located behind a gate or fence. If someone were to breach those perimeters while dumpster diving, that would break the law for trespassing.

Other possible dumpster diving offenses could be disorderly conduct and property damage. Business owners still can call the police or file a complaint whenever they feel like there was wrongdoing, and certainly when they believe dumpster diving identity theft took place.

What information can be collected by dumpster diving identity theft?

Most people would agree there is nothing wrong with scavenging for food and reusable products. Some would argue it is a skill that requires a keen eye and creativity to successfully pull off. Cities and municipalities are constantly promoting recycling initiatives that aim to reduce human impact on the environment. Why is dumpster diving any different?

The answer to that question is simple, follow the rules, and there is nothing wrong with performing this activity. It becomes problematic when you start using it to conduct unlawful behavior like dumpster diving identity theft. A bunch of critical personal information can be gathered from a business’s dumpster, including the following:

  • Bank Documents
  • Credit Card Numbers
  • Social Security Numbers
  • Tax Information
  • Home Addresses
  • Photocopies of Drivers’ License/Passport

Passwords, access codes, and pin numbers are other examples of important information that could be written down and then thrown away without taking any precautions. These are everyday numbers and codes we use to secure some of the most vital material in both our professional and personal lives.

Sensitive information like this should never be in the hands of someone outside the business. And it should always be the responsibility of employers to make sure there are processes in place to prevent it from happening. Later on, we will discuss the specific measures to avoid dumpster diving identity theft.

How prevalent is dumpster diving identity theft? 

There are not many databases that keep track of dumpster diving identity theft specifically, but identity theft, in general, has become common practice for thieves. Whether it is through cyberattacks, phone call scams, or a break-in, identity theft impacts thousands of people in the United States annually.

Dumpster diving identity theft would be considered a type of physical identity theft. Much like someone who steals mail, burglars a home, or lifts a wallet in public, it requires a person to physically search through trash for personal information.

Exposing personal information in your trash puts you at risk for dumpster diving identity theft. This article is about how businesses can mitigate risk and not put themselves in a scenario where someone has the slightest chance of dumpster diving identity theft.

1. Properly Discard Sensitive Information

Preventing dumpster diving identity theft may not be at the forefront of every business’s security strategy, but it is something to always be cognizant of for the welfare of every employer and employee. And it does not matter if you run a small business and take out the trash yourself or you work in a large office building with no control over who handles the trash or empties the dumpster.

Dumpster diving identity theft is completely avoidable if sensitive information is discarded properly. This may seem like a mundane task with very minimal effect on a company, but being able to execute a simple act like this could very well save your business

It starts with implementing good habits. When getting rid of documents, always check to make sure someone’s personal information is absent from the page. This becomes extremely difficult for offices that handle hundreds, possibly thousands of papers every day, but it is necessary.

Paper shredders and incinerators are probably the most common methods used to destroy papers with sensitive information on them. Another approach is going through every line of a document and blacking out names, addresses, and accounts with a marker. It sounds tedious and will take some time, but the trade-off makes dumpster diving identity theft nearly impossible.

Larger businesses and corporations may have the ability to hire extra staff to handle these assignments. You may think it sounds ridiculous to hire someone, pay them a living wage, offer benefits like health insurance and a 401K just to go over papers, but for some companies, it is worth it.

Dumpster diving identity theft could end up costing you a lot more money than hiring extra staff or investing in office equipment. Buying a paper shredder is a pretty small step when you think about what it could save you or your employees in a worst-case scenario.

2. Safely Secure Files

Discarding employee personal information is only one component of preventing dumpster diving identity theft. Every company needs to store these materials inside some version of a filing cabinet, business safe, or private computer server. Despite these areas of the office not having a direct connection to dumpster diving identity theft, it is correlated to your overall office filing system.

Just as every business owner has to get into the mind of the customer you are looking to attract, a secure filing system forces you to consider ways to prevent information leaks. Dumpster diving identity theft is only a few steps removed from mishandling these files and aligns very closely with ideas of general loss prevention.

File cabinets are commonly used to keep business records and personal information of clients and employees in most office settings. One of the easiest ways to enhance file cabinet security is to have locks installed by a professional locksmith and get them replaced every few years to maintain a level of consistency in storing sensitive information.

File cabinet lock replacement follows the overall theme layered throughout this article, which shows that by forming these simple habits and procedures, every business can spend a little bit of money to ward off something as drastic and crippling as dumpster diving identity theft.

3. Improve Building Security

Without a secure perimeter, everything else in your commercial property has the potential to be put at risk. Many businesses often forget to factor this into their building security. But in fact, dumpster diving identity theft can be reduced with a few exterior security adjustments.

The most obvious outdoor security barrier is a gate or fence. Perimeter security serves as the first line of defense for many business buildings. It acts as the boundary you are not allowed to cross unless given permission. And as we learned earlier about the legality of dumpster diving, trespassing is one of the main reasons why someone cannot search through your dumpster.

Installing security cameras in the appropriate locations is another effective form of building security. In the event dumpster diving identity theft takes place, you will have sufficient video evidence that authorities can use to track down the perpetrators. The sheer presence of security cameras can also be a deterrent.

Law enforcement authorities and security experts would agree most criminals are looking to act under some form of secrecy. Knowing your illegal actions are being captured on video is a pretty good reason for any criminal to not follow through. And something like dumpster diving identity theft carries substantial consequences when found guilty.

Outdoor lighting can also be an integral part of your business’s perimeter security. Taking advantage of motion sensor floodlights, as well as other forms of general lighting in outside areas around the dumpster, is good at eliminating secrecy for dumpster divers. Lights help get rid of some of the blind spots that trespassers can use to gain access to the dumpster.

Illuminating the parking areas and other open spaces around your building will create an unwelcoming environment for someone looking to perform dumpster diving identity theft. It may not be as effective as a security camera system or a fortified gate, but all of these measures work together in bolstering your building’s external security.

4. Lock Your Dumpster

Additional security around your commercial property is an asset for any business looking to restrict trespassing that could lead to dumpster diving identity theft. But an overlooked preventative measure is locking the dumpster itself, and to do that, businesses need to find the right lock.

High-security padlocks are going to work best on dumpsters because they are portable and effective pieces of hardware. Taking into account you are securing an outdoor dumpster, it is very difficult to find something better than a padlock because it acts as its own security system.

Dumpster diving identity theft is enticing to criminals because dumpsters are out in the open. Once someone has already made it to the dumpster, the only thing left to do is open the lid and start searching for valuable information.

Padlocks are unique in that they latch onto the hasp that is already on the dumpster lid. All you need is a trusted lock and a key. There are further steps you can take to reinforce a padlock and heighten its ability to lock a dumpster, but that would require the craftsmanship of a locksmith.

For an affordable rate and a small window of time, a locksmith is capable of installing a dumpster lock quite easily that will add another line of defense against dumpster diving identity theft. Businesses can utilize the expertise locksmiths offer for all building security both inside and outside the office as well.

The final thing that is very important to remember when locking your dumpster is knowing when trash pickup day is. The time may vary slightly, but you should have a good idea of when the dumpster is emptied each week, which means someone will have to unlock the dumpster lid. Minimizing the amount of time your dumpster is unlocked will always reduce the chances of dumpster diving identity theft.

Closing Thoughts 

People’s lives are ruined every day in America from identity theft. It illegally strips away your name and valuables for someone else’s benefit. Dumpster diving identity theft is a real threat to businesses that endanger their employees if confidential information is not disposed of properly.

Security cameras, walled gates, motion lights, and high-quality padlocks are great prevention strategies. However, determined criminals may not be fazed by any of it. Ambitious people will find a way to achieve their goals no matter what obstacles are put in front of them.

Fortunately, professional locksmiths understand how to pair these different forms of security together for maximum protection against dumpster diving identity theft. Your business can rely on technicians to give you the best advice and then execute a plan to install the necessary hardware.

Category: Commercial, Safety & Security

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