Invasion of Privacy: Part One

By: Marcie Kobriger Email
By: Marcie Kobriger Email

Talking trash isn't something journalists should do, but we're not just talking trash -- we're taking it, digging through it, and looking in it for buried treasure.

We got in about 12 dumpsters in the South Bend - Mishawaka area; over two nights, in less than three hours we hit up car dealers, banks, pharmacies, and attorneys offices.

While sorting through seemingly endless bags of trash, we found your standard fare; coffee cups, take out, banana peels mixed with discarded, useless pieces of paper.

But eventually we did find some things a criminal might care about; bank balances, check reorder forms, prescriptions, even court documents with people’s personal information, including their social security numbers.

We took what we found to the South Bend Police Department. After an explanation of how we got our information, Captain Phil Trent tells us everything we have, we got legally.

“There’s not that presumption that it’s off limits, especially in the parking lot where the dumpsters are. What you did was legal in the state of Indiana,” Trent says.

However, it would not be illegal for us to try to do anything harmful with the information. But could we even do any damage with what we were able to dig out of the trash?

With a person’s social security number, address and date of birth, a criminal could set up a false identity and try to steal money from the person’s account.

We had all that information on four people. All four sets of information were found in bags tossed at a personal injury attorney’s offices. And all four people could be in line to get some big settlements sometime soon.

“If you’re going to steal somebody's identity, wouldn’t you rather steal someone's identity that has a couple thousand dollars in the bank? The goal is to do the least amount of work for the maximum payoff,” Trent points out.

Once that information is tossed in the trash it could lead to a maximum payoff for a dumpster diving identity thief, and that thief could be as hard to track down as where the leak of your information came from.

“You have one social security number, one date of birth, and one name and that is on potentially hundreds or thousand of documents or data sources, so which one of those pieces of paper got out? Who knows?” Trent says.

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