Thieves may want your trash

March 2, 2007
By

JOHN RUCH

Police are warning residents to shred personal papers before throwing them out, after a bicycle-riding man was seen plucking documents from trash on Rockview Street three times in January.

“The key here is to shred all your information,” said E-13 Police Community Service Officer Carlos Lara. “[Residents] should get a shredder or cut them into the smallest pieces they can. You need to protect your identity at any cost.”

“Once it hits the sidewalk, it’s mine,” the possible identity thief on Rockview calmly told witness Bob McDonnell.

And he’s right—there’s nothing inherently illegal about taking anything, including personal documents, from someone’s trash. Anything you throw away is no longer yours, even if your information is on it and it’s still in front of your house.

Lara urged residents to call 911 anyway if they see someone going through their trash. Identity thieves can sometimes be charged with littering or otherwise scared off from the area.

But the real key is making sure there’s nothing legible to be stolen.

For three consecutive weeks in January, McDonnell told the Gazette, he saw a man going through his neighbor’s trash. The man was not taking normal trash-picker trophies like clothing—he was “looking at white envelopes and white documents,” McDonnell said.

During the second sighting, McDonnell said, he confronted the man by saying, “You don’t have any business in that trash.”

“Very calmly and without expression,” the man responded that anything on the sidewalk is his and challenged McDonnell to call the police before fleeing on his bike.

In one case, McDonnell said, the man simply dumped a garbage bag out on the sidewalk so he could go through its contents.

Any irony of the man’s trash-picking method, McDonnell said, was that he tore up the documents as he looked at them, apparently so he knew which ones he had already examined.

McDonnell said he was already aware of the dangers of throwing out legible personal documents and has since warned his neighbors. He described the trash-picker as having reddish hair, standing about 6 feet tall, about late 20s or early 30s in age and wearing round glasses, jeans, sneakers and a light jacket.

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