An important, but unpleasant part of being a private investigator involves sifting through trash, a.k.a dumpster diving. Evidence such as credit card receipts, pictures, letters and other clues found in garbage can provide game-changing information.
But, the growing risk of identity theft has caused stricter laws against dumpster diving. Investigators who recover trash in violation of local rules could be at risk of having to defend themselves against trespassing or theft charges. Here are some things to look for when researching whether dumpster diving is legal in your area.
Know your local laws
State and local laws regarding access to trash vary, so the first thing you need to do is learn what your local laws have to say. For example, the laws in your area covering dumpster diving could be so lenient that you can have free access to trash in most situations. There are also laws that may define “public areas” more strictly than in other locations, which would affect your ability to dig through trash in areas such as street curbs or a dumpster next to an apartment building. And then you have places like Layton, Utah, where the city has banned dumpster diving entirely by imposing a city ordinance.
You should have a solid knowledge of the local governing rules before searching through any trash. Things you should pay close attention to include:
Private property vs. public property
The location of the dumpster on the property can play a large part in whether the trash digging is deemed legal or not. If the trash is placed on the curb, it’s more likely to be considered in the public domain. If the trash container is right next to a house on a private driveway, your activities may be considered trespassing. Again, this distinction is entirely up to local laws.
Collecting trash near an apartment building or other multi-unit living area is a situation that requires thought and knowledge of local laws. If the trash is located in a gated area of the complex, or in some other area not easily accessed by the public, you could be risking being accused of trespassing. It may be worth inquiring whether the trash collectors will cooperate with you during your investigation, or learning whether it makes a difference to the law if you received permission from the property owner before proceeding.
The same rules regarding private property often apply to office buildings, so private investigators need to tread carefully in these areas. Over the years, businesses and organizations have become extremely sensitive to the threat of people stealing corporate trade secrets from the trash, and some courts have implemented legal measures to protect these organizations’ interests.
Locked vs. unlocked trash containers
Just because a trash container is unlocked, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s okay to rummage through. The legality of this depends more on the local laws and the location of the container than whether it is unlocked.
Keeping yourself informed is the best way to add dumpster diving to your services while also staying on the right side of the law. Discussing the law with a lawyer, your peers and your state association should give you a firm understanding of what is and isn’t legal.
Read More @ PInow.com