Your Trash, Their Treasure

Every weekday in Colorado Springs, thieves can go hunting, finding thousands of targets parked and waiting to be snatched.

You may not think there's anything of value in those trash cans you set out--after all, everything in there, you threw away. But it can prove a gold mine for crooks.

11 News Call For Action investigator Betty Sexton decided to do some digging herself, and see of she could find any morsels that crooks could use to damage your credit or steal your money.

Betty: "I'm Betty Sexton with KKTV."
Kenneth: "Nice to meet you."

Kenneth Hansen gave Sexton permission to rummage through his garbage. He doubted she'd find anything that would appeal to crooks.

Betty: "You seem pretty confident."
Kenneth: "I am, because I have paper shredders."

And Hansen was right. Sexton didn't find anything compromising because he shreds all of his papers: bills, bank statements, credit card offers.

Hansen says he's cautious now because a crook opened a credit line a few years ago in his name. He's still paying the price.

Kenneth: "I can't get a credit card for nothing."

In another part of the Springs, Sexton asked Cindy Garrison for permission to dig through the trash bags left on the side of her house. In one, Sexton found a box of old checks, which wouldn't only give a crook checking account information--the carbon copy duplicates would help a crook forge a signature.

That's not all that's waiting for thieves.

Betty: "Some of these, you know, are applications for credit cards. ... See, this is from JP Morgan. ... And it's just cut in half so, I mean, it would be easy enough to piece together."

The reason behind the exercise is not to embarrass anyone, but to show how easy it is for the bad guys to steal your identity.

Det. Steve Williams with the Eugene, Oregon police department once tracked down one of the most notorious identity thieves in the country.

Stephen Massey, 51, was released from federal prison in 2014 after serving two stints behind bars for running an identity theft ring and a counterfeit check scam.

Williams says Massey opened up 400 different credit card accounts, stealing upwards of $80,000, taking trips to Vegas, buying luxury goods and otherwise living it up.

Sheriff Bill Elder with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office says identity theft is a lucrative crime, but one that can often be prevented.

"They're looking for opportunities to take someone's possessions and use them for their good. And if they can convert that, they will do it. I would just say: be protective of your documents, be protective of your personal information."

Saturday, you'll have a chance to get rid of all of your sensitive documents at the annual "Letter Rip." KKTV is partnering with El Paso County, the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado and Mobile Record Shredders to offer you this opportunity to safely dispose of your old financial papers. Letter Rip will take place from 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. on Vermijo Avenue, just south of Centennial Hall. We want to help you become another statistic. More than 17 million people are identity theft victims every year.