It’s that time of year again. You’re getting ready to clean out your closet — and your wallet. But be wary of simply throwing out every stray item you come across. Certain items can lead to big problems if they fall into the wrong hands, particularly when it comes to identity theft.
Here are four things you shouldn’t simply throw away while you’re spring cleaning this year.
1. Old Identification
Avoid chucking your old driver’s license and passport, no matter how bad your hair may have been in the photo. While the pictures can change, some of the personally identifiable information (PII) may stay the same. (Take your Social Security number, for instance.) Thieves can also glean info from the biometrics page on your old passports and this information can be used to perpetrate all kinds of identity theft. In lieu of trashing, store old IDs someplace others won’t think to look or can’t easily remove like a safe. Or run them through a cross-shredder before trashing.
2. Credit Cards
If you’ve been dealing with debt, it may seem like a good idea to trash those extra credit cards in your wallet. But there’s no guarantee a dumpster-diving thief won’t find the payment method and run up a big balance in your name. Formally cancel any credit card accounts you no longer wish to use (consider first whether or not doing so is what’s best for your credit score.) And cut up old/expired cards, too, in lieu of just chucking, to be extra-safe.
3. Financial Statements
There may not appear to be enough information on any of your old financial statements to cause too much harm, but thieves can be more savvy than you think. They could potentially use small bits of info contained in those pages to bypass security questions guarding an account. (Ever have a customer service rep ask for your home address before proceeding with your questions?) Put hard copies of documents through a shredder or consider switching to e-statements if you’re looking to accumulate less trash.
4. Junk Mail
It may seem counterintuitive to keep your junk mail, given its name, but you should think twice before tossing this correspondence in the trash. It could give clever thieves enough information to commit fraud or steal your identity. Pre-approved credit card solicitations, for instance, are particularly problematic, since criminals may be able actually apply for the credit card with a few other pieces of pilfered information. You can opt out of receiving these applications in the mail by calling 888-5-OPTOUT. In the meantime, take these through a shredder, too.
Remember, if you do have reason to believe any of your personal information has been compromised, you can keep an eye on your credit. A sudden drop in credit scores or mysterious line items on your credit reports are signs identity theft is occurring. You can look for red flags by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.
If you do find errors related to fraud or otherwise, you should dispute them with the three major credit reporting agencies
More on Identity Theft:
- Identity Theft: What You Need to Know
- How Can You Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?
- What Should I Do If I’m a Victim of Identity Theft?
Image: Marili Forastieri