The chief security officer of a Fortune 1000 company was talking to his staff recently about whether to do background checks on all the housekeeping staff, or to escort the housekeepers with security personnel.

If your facility is suffering from theft at night, what other option do you have? Security video can’t watch everyone all of the time, right?

As I pondered this question, it dawned on me that the best course of action may be to ignore the problem. It won’t go away. but you can put it in the same place you put other problems you ignore, like all the sensitive information thrown out in dumpsters behind your building.

Treasures in the Dumpster

I’ve rooted through more than a few corporate dumpsters in my time as a security professional and still get shocked by the “treasures” I uncover.

Wireless phone shops are sometimes bonanzas. Ever wonder what happens to the form you fill out with your name, address and Social Security number when applying for a phone? That single, slow, obnoxious paper shredder behind the counter fills up by two o’clock in the afternoon and the rest of those private forms just get piled on top. Go see for yourself. Walk into any cellular phone shop at four in the afternoon and look for the trash pile with a shredder underneath.

Office buildings with doctor’s or lawyer’s offices are gold mines of confidential information, if you can get around the Panera leftovers, Twinkie wrappers and disgusting “medical waste” bags. Yeeech. Names, addresses, Social Security numbers and, most frighteningly, health records! Actual health records with medical histories, prescriptions ordered, blood work. And legal settlements. Divorce settlements. Sad, scary stuff.

When we find such information in a security audit, we launch an awareness campaign around trash, recycling and shredders. Not surprisingly, recycling bins, like dumpsters, are repositories for plenty of corporate secrets.

But bank dumpsters are the worst (or best, if you’re a bad guy). The large bank branches in wealthy neighborhoods attract the most valuable dumpster data of all: personal financial statements of millionaires. You heard right. Dive into a dumpster in Lake Forest or Bal Harbour and commandeer the bank accounts of the very rich.

I’ve noticed that certain well known banks are particularly lax in shredder placement. Private bankers, every night, throw out tons of paper with names, addresses, bank accounts, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and even mother’s maiden names are thrown out in bank dumpsters around the U.S.

Crime on Private Property; No Crime on Public Property

Climbing through these dumpsters is usually a crime (if not performed as part of an authorized security audit, of course), since they sit on private property – often behind that crooked wooden gate in the parking lot. But I know of more than one national bank branch located in wealthy neighborhoods with dumpsters in the alley, that is, in the public domain.

Some communities have laws that inhibit trash picking, but in general, the U.S. Supreme Court protects dumpster diving and trash picking on public property, ostensibly to permit law enforcement to gather evidence without a warrant. You don’t have to be a freegan (a person who chooses to live off food and property retrieved from trash) to see the value of that kind of accessibility. Identity thieves and all-around scum bags can benefit, too.

The personal financial statements of the very wealthy that I mentioned are the documents used to “apply” for high end personal and business loans and usually have all the info needed to set up bank-by-phone and an Internet account. After all, the very rich don’t usually do their own banking. Their accountants do it for them the old fashioned way, by balancing ledgers against monthly statements. Enough time for a bad guy to set up wire transfers, print checks and connect to a Paypal account.

Keeping an eye on housekeepers may help an after-hours theft problem, but it is by no means the most cost effective way to protect against corporate or personal loss. A good light and a camera and recorder on the parking lot dumpster will be money very well spent.