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•  Dumpster Diving
•  Shoulder Surfing
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Return to Identity Theft

Many people go about their daily life not realizing that they may be at risk for identity theft. Here is some of the ways your personal information can be stolen by identity thieves, as well as some preventative tips to avoid being a victim.

Dumpster Diving

This method is pretty self explanatory and can easily be avoided. Most people wouldn’t expect anybody to go through their trash; identity thieves know this. That is why they often go through your trash searching for anything containing personal information about you. People sometimes throw away things that they don’t even realize can be used to steal their identity, such as pre-approved credit card offers, account summaries, bills, or any paper or notes that contain personal information like your name, birthdate, and social security number.

Preventative Tips:

  • Pay Attention. Pay closer attention to what you throw in the trash.
  • Shred it. Invest in a paper shredder to properly dispose of any papers containing personal information
  • Go Paperless. Get your bills and account summaries sent online. This will result in less mail that needs to be shredded and thrown out.

Shoulder Surfing

Shoulder surfing is when identity thieves watch or listen to you, usually when you are in public and aren’t aware of their presence. Thieves will listen to your conversations you have in a public place, either in person or over the phone, waiting for you to reveal important information. Thieves also wait for you to reveal personal information by watching you from a distance, either far or near. They may watch you enter your information into an ATM machine or read information you write down, whichever the case, they do it without you even realizing it has occurred.

Preventative Tips:

  • Watch your Back. Look over your shoulder anytime you enter personal information into a machine or write it down.
  • Hold your Tongue. When you are in public, don’t talk about or discuss personal information. Avoid calling any financial providers when you are in a public area.
  • Protect your Information.When you do have to write down or enter personal information while in public, make sure to keep it as hidden as possible. Conceal the information with your body or use a free hand to keep it hidden when writing.


Skimming can be done in a variety of ways, but it is basically the act of copying your payment card information to be used without your knowledge. Skimming can be as simple as a merchant employee copying your card information when making a purchase.

Other identity thieves use skimming devices that copy the magnetic data on your card so that they can create a duplicate of your card. More elaborate ways these devices are used is by placing one on an ATM machine with a hidden camera that records you entering your PIN code; this is done to make duplicate cards that can be used for PIN based purchases.

Preventative Tips:

  • Be Cautious. Try to only use ATM machines at banks or established businesses that you trust.
  • Pay Attention. Don’t let your card out of your sight. If the merchant has to charge your card from a loacation away from you, you may consider paying with cash instead.
  • Check your Statements. Check your monthly statements each month for any purchases that were not made by you.

For more information, read about identity theft scams often used by thieves.