Discovery of tax records in trash offers important reminder to protect personal information

The story of a Houston man, who says he found more than a dozen complete 2021 tax returns tossed in a Houston west side dumpster, offers an important reminder to protect our personal information. 

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission received more than a million and a half complaints of identity theft, which was more than double the complaints from the previous year.

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A clumsy mistake is all it takes to leave your personal information vulnerable. When Michael McCollum found people's tax returns in the trash, he says he brought it to our attention because he recognized the potential danger. 

"Potential ID theft opens a whole bunch of doors to the criminal element," he says.

Financial expert Jake Clopton deals with client's personal information for a living. 

"There are two types of people: The people that have been hacked, and the people who have been hacked and just don't know it yet," he says. 

Despite strict security protocols, Clopton and others say we've got a personal responsibility to protect ourselves, and question anything that requires our personal information.

Here are some tips you can do: 
- Limit the kinds of information you carry.
- Properly dispose of items that include sensitive information, when you're done with them.
- Ask questions of any transactions that require access to social security numbers or bank accounts.
- Close any accounts or subscriptions that are unused.
- Make sure to use strong and unique passwords for online activity.

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Most important, in a digital and online world, don't respond to unsolicited requests or contests. 

"If I initiate the contact, for some reason, and they need my information for something that I'm trying to do, that's kind of a good rule of thumb, right there," says Clopton. "Anybody who comes to me, and asks for personal information, is not getting it."

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They are important safeguards, because all our information has a price for crooks who get ahold of it. A name, social security number, and date of birth can be bought for $1.50. While a complete package that includes addresses, phone numbers, emails and back accounts can be sold for $100. 

From that trade of illicit information, comes the billions of dollars in losses that consumers suffer each year.