Unfortunately, paper containing private information can go from your hand to someone else’s hand all too easily unless you take measures to prevent it.
Paper and information go together. Unfortunately, paper containing private information can go from your hand to someone else’s hand all too easily unless you take measures to prevent it. It might be surprising, but going through someone else’s trash, whether the trash of a business or an individual, is not illegal. Once you put something in a trash can or dumpster, it is fair game for anyone who wants it. If this is disturbing, you might want to consider purchasing a paper shredder. In addition to computer identity theft, you have to be concerned about making your personal information available to anyone who goes through your trash. If you don’t shred private information like credit card receipts and bank statements before you throw it away, you are inviting an identity thief to take advantage of you.On the dramatic end of the spectrum, you might imagine anxious Enron executives shoving reams of incriminating evidence into a behemoth with huge metal teeth. Regardless, all companies and individuals have sensitive material that they have to dispose of periodically, and simply tossing it into the trash bin is not the best way to get rid of it. For many years, the government has shredded documents before disposing of them. It has recently passed legislation mandating that information be effectively rendered unreadable before disposal. While this law especially applies to businesses disposing of important personal medical and financial information on employees and clients, no one should toss documents containing sensitive information into the trash without first destroying them. Papers containing names, phone numbers, social security numbers, credit card numbers, customer information, financial and health data, and trade secrets are just a few examples of papers that should be shredded to help prevent identity theft.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has strict guidelines for protecting the privacy of patients’ health information, with heavy fines and penalties for noncompliance. Since businesses and government agencies must dispose of documents properly, they often use paper shredders. Shredding paper reduces the volume of waste and is better for the environment. Some companies even recycle their shredded paper by using it as a packing material. When this is done, however, care must be taken to ensure that the papers have been sufficiently destroyed to prevent anyone from piecing them back together.
Identity theft is a fast growing crime. In the last five years, more than 12.7 percent of Americans reported being the victims of identity theft. Add to this the finding that only about 25 percent of victims actually report the crime to the authorities. In the last two years, the misuse of credit card accounts has increased to 71 percent and identity theft has increased by more than 41 percent. Unfortunately, identity theft is virtually without risk to the perpetrator. In 2002, American businesses lost an estimated $33 billion dollars due to widespread identity theft. The average victim lost more than $10,200, which does not even include the cost needed to recover from this abusive and destructive crime.