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12 December 2006, 19:47

Study shows rubbish bins facilitate identity theft

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According to a dumpster diving study carried out by Fellows (manufacturer of computer accessories - including shredders) although many internet users may be worried about identity theft by online fraudsters, they rarely worry about security when disposing of confidential paper documents. The study involved searching through paper waste from 1135 private households and 869 commercial businesses for confidential data. The data found was evaluated by the Faculty of Economics and Behavioural Science at the Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg.

A total of 4311 names and addresses were found, with roughly the same number of private households (37 percent), businesses (31 percent) and customers and business partners (28 percent) affected. The large number of names and addresses was due to the fact that in some cases complete lists of customer data were disposed of as waste paper, without any further precautions being taken. There were even complete patient cards, which had been discarded by doctor's surgeries. A further 897 signatures were found, of which more than 50 percent were from businesses.

Private households disposed of bank statements, blank forms, payment and credit card statements, en-masse. Even some PINs, TANs and letters with login details were found. This makes it easy to assume another person's identity and carry out fraudulent activities. These details could, for example, be used to place internet orders at the victim's expense, book flights or even open bank accounts under a false name.

It seems a large part of the population still underestimates the danger arising from misuse of incorrectly disposed of printed documents. What is disturbing is the degree of carelessness displayed by businesses, especially as they are required to ensure that documents containing personal data are properly disposed of.


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