As I’ve remarked, because my neighborhood has a problem with identity thieves and transients sifting through the trash, normally I would not throw out anything that has a bank account number on it, or a credit card number, a Social Security number…that kind of thing. But even without those items of information, someone who is raiding your trash for data to sell to identity thieves can still unearth stuff that can do you a lot of damage. In the identity-theft department, plain old junk mail can present some serious threats.
- Any solicitation or notice that comes in from AARP signals that you’re a senior citizen and therefore a particularly vulnerable species of pigeon.
- Notices from Medicare, your Medigap insurance, and Social Security: same issue.
- Pre-approved credit card solicitations: All the thief has to do is change the address, and voilà! He’s got a new card in your name.
- Periodicals. These tell an aspiring thief what your interests are and hint at how affluent you are. All those weekly Economist magazines, for example…maybe you’d just as soon not have your name and address on their labels. A copy of American Hunter tells an alert burglar you’re a member of the NRA, which means you have at least one firearm in the house…and how convenient: there’s your address!
- Catalogs. They reveal just how expensive (or cheap) your taste is and where you shop. They also contain a bar code that can reveal vulnerable information about you.
- Anything you throw out unopened because it’s stamped “Standard Mail” instead of “First Class Mail.” Cox (among others) inundates me with “special offers,” always delivered by junk mail. Trash digger finds one of those, bingo! He knows the house is served by Cox, not by CenturyLink.
- Renewal notices. Costco just sent a notice for renewal. And yes, it does have my account number on it.
- Business announcements. Fidelity sends libraries-full of prospecti for the many companies my money managers invest in. I don’t read them, because I don’t have that much time left in my life. Neither do I shred them — these things are fat, saddle-stitched booklets: just one of them would jam the shredder. A guy who understands what he’s looking at can parse out where my savings are invested.
- Insurance company solicitations. Bar code: personal information.
- Reminders to re-up your membership in a political party. Your political leaning is none of some thief’s business.
- Requests for donations. Ditto your charitable inclinations.
- Paychecks, checks for reimbursement or for freelance gigs, wage & earnings statements, tax returns and statements, bank statements, credit-card statements, medical bills, insurance bills, insurance claims and information, and random ID documents. These are usually sent by first-class mail and so are easy to differentiate from junk mail. Still: because they’re juicy pickings for identity thieves, they should never land in an unlocked mailbox. In fact, they probably should never come to your mailbox at all, locked or not. Payments to you should be made electronically — either direct-deposited to your bank account or sent through PayPal. As for those other obvious targets: get yourself a hefty steel locking mailbox. Intercept these documents at the mailbox, file them as need be, and shred them before discarding.
To shred all of the piles of junkmail the postperson delivers six days a week would soon add up to hours of wasted time. I do not want to spend any of my time tearing open envelopes and feeding their contents, a page or two at a time, through my shredder. Burning them in the fireplace is illegal, and it leaves a big mess to clean up.
Registering with the Opt-Out list to waylay prescreened credit card offers is about as futile as signing up for the National Do Not Call list. Both of these sops for angry citizens are simply ignored by mail and telephone solicitors. Signing up for do-not-send lists just wastes still more of your time.
So…is there an easier way to deal with the stacks of junk mail?
Sure, if you have a pet dog or cat.
Here’s the strategy:
Every time you visit the mailbox, drop the junk mail directly into the lined trash can, unopened.
Every time you clean the kitty turds out of the cat box, toss them in on top of the day’s layer of junk mail. Every time you pick up the dog mounds out of the yard, toss them in on top of the junk mail. When you change the cat box, pour the used cat litter over the accrued cargo of junk mail.
Keep this stash outside in the yard, since it’s likely to get a bit odoriferous before it’s time to haul the garbage out.
When the time does come, though, pour a cup or two of plain tap water over the combined mail and animal excreta. Tie the bag shut with the drawstring right before you toss it out. Over the course of a few hours in the city’s garbage bin, this will convert a yucky mess into a truly revolting mess.
And that will be your gift to your data-hunting garbage scavenger. He won’t have to break into more than one of those bags of layer cake to decide to pass on your trash.