We’re not talking about old socks or broken picture frames. Personal items can be described as any evidentiary support that identifies a person’s sensitive information from social security numbers to the current bank balance.

There is a misconception lately that due to the increasing number of breach of securities in large corporations lately, that data thieves have forgotten about the old-school physical rummaging of materials, also known as “dumpster diving”. Do not make this mistake. There are still criminals out there still relying on your discarded papers in order to gain information on you for what can ultimately lead to identity theft.

Identity theft if the worst-case scenario. There are more ways in which they can make your life that much harder without you even realizing until it may be too late.

We have all gotten those “pre-approved” credit card loans in the mail on more than one occasion. Unless you completely shred these prior to throwing them away, dumpster divers can find ways to submit the application for these credit cards under your name. Before long, they’ve maxed out the card and have obviously not made any payments.  So due to this, your credit score lowers leaving you with little to no chance of being approved for a loan.

Many institutions take steps to protect your information but you are still at risk of receiving mail that reveals your social security number, your phone number and email address, any banking and employment history and of course don’t forget the obvious one, your home address.

With over 4 million tons of junk mail being delivered across the United States each year, that is a lot of diving for any thief.  Considering there has been no decline in the number of dumpster divers still wading through the masses of trash, it is clearly still an effective method.  So, what can you do to protect yourself?

Firstly, perform an online search for ways you can opt-out of pre-approved credit card offers. Some companies offer a short-term suspension or a permanent way of getting off the list.

Secondly, go paperless. If you are receiving financial statements in the mail, consider signing up for electronic statements (e-statements). You simply create an online account with your bank or other institution and it is usually easy to navigate to the selection page.  You can also download and/or print your statements if you need hard copies. Estatements help you monitor your transactions almost in real-time. Unfortunately, there are some business transactions that can still take 2-3 business days but that beats waiting for the next round of statements in the mail. When you sign up, ensure you have a secure password that nobody would be able to guess.  This method is also more environmentally friendly and some institutions reward your choice by lowering or eliminating fees.

Another way to protect yourself is shredding any papers before throwing them out. Shredder prices vary depending on your needs. If you only need it for papers opt for one that can also handle staples. There are shredders that can also shred CDs and paper clips for example but they’re more designed for busy office spaces.  Experts recommend getting what’s known as a “cross-cut” shredder. Rather than just slicing your papers into long strips or confetti-like squares, cross-cutters break them down into completely unreadable pieces which in turn save space and can safely discard in the recycling bin so another win for the environment. Of course, you can always use shredded paper for hamster cage bedding or something similar.

Another good tip for protection is to keep an eye on your credit report. If you notice anything askew, report it immediately to your credit card company or credit bureau.