Dumpster diving is the activity of foraging through another person’s garbage or trash in order to obtain discarded materials.
Dumpster diving is often aimed at stealing the person’s identity (i.e., identity theft). Many different types of fraud and scams are accomplished through dumpster diving. Once the culprit gets a hold of the victim’s personal information, they can sometimes gain access to even more personal data.
A wide range of personal information can be obtained from discarded materials, including:
- Driver’s license information and social security information
- Date of birth
- Handwritten signatures
- Medical information
- Bank statements, credit card and bank account numbers
It is generally considered legal for people to rummage through trash that has been left in a public area such as a curb for pickup. Once the garbage is placed in such a place, the person has basically forfeited their ownership rights to the items, as the property is now in the public domain.
Note that when a person discards trash, they have no "reasonable expectation of privacy" in the discarded items, which means that the police can search through the trash without first obtaining a warrant.
However if the dumpster or garbage bin is still in an enclosed area or is on private property, a person could be cited for trespass or even for theft if they try to rummage through the garbage. Also, some cities or counties may designate certain garbage processing areas as off-limits to the public. These distinctions may vary slightly by jurisdiction.
Lastly, while the act of dumpster diving may not itself be illegal, using a person’s confidential information for criminal purposes is illegal. It can result in criminal consequences like a fine or jail time, as well as civil damages for losses.
Identity theft and other dumpster diving related crimes can be prevented by taking steps such as:
- Be sure to shred or destroy any information that is private and confidential. This includes your name and address on any mail or periodicals.
- Don’t place your trash out earlier than is necessary, and retrieve your bin as soon as possible.
- Report any instances of suspicious behavior in the neighborhood.
Dumpster diving can lead to some very serious legal situations. You may wish to hire a criminal lawyer if you are experiencing identity theft or if you feel that dumpster diving may have affected you. Your attorney can help represent you in court and can advise you on how you might be able to recover any losses or damages due to the violations.