Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Trash Scavengers: What Could Go Wrong?

Trigger warning: This post contains an amazingly gross scheme that is not for the tender of tummy. 😉

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.

For example:

  • 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:

Get yourself a tall kitchen trash can that has a step-on lid. This, you will use only for junk mail…and for one other kind of debris. Line the trash can with a sturdy plastic drawstring garbage bag.

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.

Author: funny

This post may be a paid guest contribution.


  1. The volume of mail you must receive baffles me. I get one, maybe two, pieces of mail per week. Anything related to bills or financial accounts is delivered digitally. Clients pay electronically. I opted out of catalogs and pre-screened offers several years ago so those have stopped.

    • It may have something to do with living in the state of Arizona: when it comes to free enterprise, any interference is regarded as un-American, un-Christian, yea verily even inhuman.

      The mail carrier has two stacks inside his truck: one stack contains first-class mail sorted by address. The other consists of wads of third-class mail and advertising circulars, also sorted into piles for individual addresses. So when he stops at your house, he administers two doses to your mailbox: One fistful of junkmail, which usually contains about a half-dozen items, and one short stack of real mail — which as you point out, on some days may contain nothing.

      I would say in a given six-day week about two to six pieces of real mail arrive. There are a few catalogs that I actually _like_ to get — The Vermont Country Store, for example, is a real hoot, and pictures of beautiful, unaffordable Thos. Moser furniture are always welcome — but because I don’t buy from catalogs most vendors have quit sending them here. I did put my name on the “Opt-Out” list, but as I recall it’s only good for 5 years, and even during the initial “good-for” period, it did nothing to block those kinds of pitches. Hustlers get your name, address, and demographic information from all sorts of sources, including the State of Arizona, the AARP, every store whose “membership card” you accept (that’s why I lie about my name and address to get those damn cards), charitable organizations, political groups…the sources go on and on and on.

      Hence, each week enough junk mail comes in to fill a tall kitchen trashcan.

      All of my clients also pay electronically, and though I prefer to get credit-card and bank account statements in hard copy (it’s an age thing…), it’s now so easy to download that data directly into Excel that it makes sense to have those things delivered digitally. That would remove six (count’em, 6) pieces of hard-copy mail per month. Medicare and the Medigap insurers deluge you with paper; there seems to be no way to stem that flood. And if you deal with a doctor or hospital (such as the Mayo) that does not take Medicare assignment (meaning they don’t accept direct electronic payment from the gummint), you have no choice but to receive payment as checks, deposit them to your bank, and then charge up the bill on your credit card and pay that amount to the credit-card issuer.

      I no longer bother to check the mail every day: it’s not worth the effort. I’ll open the mailbox once or twice a week. With that heavy-duty locking Fort Knox thing out at the curb, I can safely leave the junk and the couple pieces of real mail sitting out there until I feel like bothering with it.

  2. This is an ingenious idea! But like MD, I just don’t get a lot of mail these days. I have been receiving a lot of credit card offers but these are shredded before being discarded.
    Also, people just don’t go through the building dumpster here like they did at the old address. At my old building (miss it so much), a man came by once a week, climbed into the dumpster, and removed anything still usable. I guess he re-sold stuff on eBay or Craigslist. Never saw him take anything that looked like any kind of mail.

    • Yeah, we have a lot of bums here. The alleys are easy to travel in without being seen, and they contain dumpsters each of which serves four houses. The dumpsters are small enough to pull out trash without having to climb into them but large enough to cut down on the number of separate bins you’d have to sort through.

      We have three kinds of dumpster-divers:

      * Metal collectors. These folks are usually fairly tidy, and they’re not looking to steal anything. They gather cans and discarded metal items and haul them up to an outfit in a nearby industrial district that buys the stuff.

      * Yard sale entrepreneurs. Some people in these parts will put on a huge yard sale every three or four months. It’s a side gig — an under-the-counter business that can be modestly profitable. My neighbor who used to do that would clear around $600 per sale in “found money,” no whiff of which ever wafted the taxman’s way. They regularly patrol alleys and go through trash bins searching for throw-aways that can be refurbished or just peddled as-is.

      * Bums and thieves. These are drug addicts looking for stuff they can eat, wear, or sell for enough to cover a fix; and identity thieves looking for documents containing personal or financial information that they can exploit.

      The City is talking about gating the alleys, so that only residents and emergency workers can get into them. This is generating some resistance, first because they plan to soak residents about $1200 apiece for the privilege; second, because the City would then abandon maintenance of the right-of-way, leading to still more blight in the neighborhood; and third, because they propose to have both garbage and recycling picked up from the front sidewalks, doubling the amount of trash the dump trucks scatter in people’s frontyards and up and down the street.

      Some of the credit-card come-ons contain plastic replica credit cards, along with a thick wad of advertising paper. The only way to shred that junk is to take the time to open the envelope, remove the contents, run the plastic “credit card” through the shredder, then run the paper contents through; then run the envelope through. Multiply that by, say, 12 such offers per week, and you accrue a fair amount of time wasteage. I’m out of patience with having to fart with that!

  3. What a shame you are not allowed to burn. In this neck of the woods we get our fair share of “junk mail”…which I shred and use to start the fire in the woodstoves…it works out great as we do not have trash collection. Between recycling and shredding the junk mail our trash output is pretty minimal. It is really troubling to hear the lengths you have to go to, to feel safe with your trash disposal….

    • Some days we can…but fewer and fewer. The city ALWAYS puts the eefus on fireplaces at Christmastime . But nowing there are no bureaucrats roaming around at 10 p.m. Christmas Eve, most people ignore the annual Christmas fiat.

      Today we’re told (eeek!) OZONE OZONE OOOHHHZOOONE! This, after wind has been blowing for several days. Must not burn in fireplace, must not burn in firepit. And it’s the weekday today, so one could be at some risk of a ticket if one dasted to fire up the junkmail. Or anything else.