What is Dumpster Diving Attack and How To Prevent it

Learn what can dumpster divers do and the security implications that arises to you.

Maintaining personal privacy is by no means just taking care of our online activities and monitoring our online presence.

Our physical behaviour in the physical world tends to reveal so much about us. Unknowingly to many, the unwanted trash we dispose of daily may become a treasure trove for someone interested in it.

Just as the old saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

A recent study by the University of Southern Indiana reveals that the average American disposes approximately 680 pounds (308 kg) of paper waste every year. These consists of paper bills, invoices, grocery bags, gift boxes, etc.

This article will cover how someone could quickly gather sensitive information about us by merely rampaging through our garbage and taking it to another whole new level, all to commit identity theft and more.

What is Dumpster Diving

Dumpster diving is the name given to an act of searching through unwanted trash to look for valuables in the form of either physical items that can be produced for monetary profits or in the form of sensitive information about an individual that can be manipulated for identity theft purposes.

What is Identity Theft

Identity theft is a criminal offence in which one accesses the victim’s information without the victim’s knowledge and permission and uses it to commit illegal activities such as fraud and cheating.

This act usually involves impersonation, and it can also be used to sell this confidential information online for profits. One example will be opening new credit accounts under the victim’s credentials and using the victim’s credit card without consent and under impersonation.

What can dumpster divers find in your disposed waste?

A motivated dumpster diver can easily find, and not limited to, the following; 

  • Credit card & bank information
  • Utility bills
  • Insurance policy
  • Health-related information
  • Property notices
  • Any other government letters addressed to you
  • Passwords you scribbled
  • Notes that you had written before (e.g. containing email addresses, account numbers)
  • Your handwriting and signature
  • Your unwanted belongings reflecting your interests, personality and character

What are the motivations behind dumpster divers?

A motivated dumpster diver does it for mainly these reasons;

  • For money – criminal activities involving identity theft or buying & selling identities online,
  • For a hobby, for fun, or revenge,
  • For corporate espionage and business intelligence purposes,
  • For finders-keepers mindset – finding valuables to keep or to sell for profit,
  • For survival – finding food and other necessities,  
  • For the love of the environment – helping to recycle and reuse materials properly,
  • Either a combination of all of the above.

Doing this for monetary purposes is often the primary motivation here. It does not matter if you are neither a famous nor a wealthy personality.

The sole purpose here is to gain as many real identities as possible for their first step. After that, finding how to make money in the later stages will come naturally. There are also dark markets online to buy and sell real identities.

What are the implications of a dumpster diver holding to all my sensitive information?

For credit card information, your full real name, your residential address, your actual bank account number and your daily purchasing habits are now openly displayed for a dumpster diver to see. 

They may choose to use this information for impersonation when calling the bank, for example, to change a new credit card towards a new residential address of their choice. 

The bank may ask for more details for verification, and the rest of the information you disposed of is crucial here. 

Insurance policy often details your date of birth and age. It also details your health declaration. To couple this with hospital and clinical letters, a good dumpster diver will be able to depict a fuller picture of your profile. 

Professional dumpster divers will take what they found in your trash to another level. It is now easier to find you online using open-source intelligence (OSINT) techniques since they have all the necessary information. These include your photo, your interests, your employment and your network of friends. With all these, impersonation through identity theft happens naturally from this point onwards.

How to prevent identity theft from dumpster diving?

1. Convert all physical letters into electronic bills whenever possible

These days, almost all banks and government bodies will encourage people to go green and offer paperless e-statements to your email address. In some cases, you may be even offered discounts and pay less if you opt for e-statements. So make fair use of this opportunity to go green and go privacy at the same time. Just make sure you have a reliable email address set up so that you will not lose it.

2. Never dispose of letters that contain your unique identifier

It is highly advisable to keep them at home and avoid the convenient act of disposing of them in a trash bin as long as it contains your unique identifier. The simple act of tearing away papers using bare hands will tell you that this method is reconstructable for a motivated dumpster diver. It would be best if you had a small reliable shredding machine at home.

3. Proper shredding of papers that contain sensitive information

In workplaces, we often see shredders, and we are continually being encouraged to use them, especially for sensitive documents. This practice applies to our home environment too, where we store personal documents containing our self-identity details. 

Every home should have a decent portable shredder for our daily use. Not only can these shredders handle paper documents, but most can also take in plastic materials such as CD, DVDs and credit cards.

4. Engage a professional shredding company for those items that are hard to destroy

Depending on your documents’ location and size, it may be best to store them without discarding them for some time and call your professional shredding company to come down to perform a mass shredding exercise. You can take the opportunity to dispose of bulky items as well, such as shredding voluminous files and even books.

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