Fraud and identity theft are even more common in this digital age. Information is easier than ever to dig up. While online data security is certainly a problem, something as seemingly innocent as a piece of junk mail tossed into the trash and picked out by an unsavory character may be all that person needs to put the pieces together and commit fraud.
Think about it. Let’s say you get yet another “amazing” credit card offer in the mail. Your name and address are printed on the front. Our bad guy does some snooping on social media and digs up your birthday, kid and pet names, mother’s maiden name, where you went to high school and college, your favorite sports team … security questions = answered.
The point is, as harmless as that little postcard may seem, it does display personal information about you, and you shouldn’t just throw it in the garbage. Shred it.
So, do you have to shred every piece of paper that passes through your life? No, but you do need to shred quite a bit; likely more than you shred right now.
How Do I Know What to Shred?
So glad you asked. Rather than giving you a specific list of documents to shred like tax documents, bank statements, and so on, I’m going to tell you what information needs to be shredded. You don’t have to consult a list or google, “Should I shred X?” Just ask yourself whether any of the information below is found on the document. If the answer is yes, shred it.
Full Name and/or Address
It’s some of the most basic information about you, but information we generally take care not to reveal on the Internet. It may be the last piece of the puzzle someone needs like in the example above. A lot of junk mail has both printed right on the outside.
Social Security Number
Even if it’s only the last four digits, this combined with your name and address is an identity thief’s dream come true. Don’t let it turn into your nightmare. Shred it.
An account number for anything—bank account, credit card, Netflix subscription, utilities—could compromise your security. It’s a key piece of information that no one but you should have. The account number, name of the service, and a call to customer service may be all it takes to get our bad guy access to your account.
So, likely every bill you get in the mail needs to be shredded. Consider signing up for paperless billing and statements to cut down on the number of these documents coming to your home in the first place.
Any documents or receipts containing a copy of your signature (or worse, your original signature) need to be shredded. Speaking of receipts, shred those whether they have your signature on them or not. Even though your credit or debit card information is truncated, it’s more information than you want Mr. Bad Guy to have. The exception is if you’re paying cash. In that case, there is likely no information about you on the receipt.
More Things You Should Know
Kids and the Deceased are High Risk
Yes, there’s more. Did you know that little kids and deceased adults are also at risk of having their identities stolen? Deceased individuals are some of the easiest targets because no one is likely to notice what’s happening right away. Funeral programs should be shredded because in addition to containing personal information about the deceased, they’re essentially advertising easy pickings to the bad guy.
Don’t Forget about Things That Aren’t Paper
Identifying information is printed on more than just paper documents. Packages mailed to you have an address label slapped on the box. Prescription bottles have personal information printed right on the label. Digital data on devices needs to be destroyed too. Old credit cards, flash drives, CDs, floppies (if you remember those), laptops, and smartphones need to be wiped before being thrown away. Some shredders can handle CDs and credit cards.
Remember to stop and think about what information about you might be contained on non-paper items before chucking them into the trash.
Things You Can Do in Addition to Shredding
Shredding safely disposes of personal information, but there’s more you can do to stay safe. We talked about opting for paperless billing and statements already. That’s a great way to cut down on paper and sensitive information alike. It’s also really helpful to develop a paper management system. Many of these documents need to be kept for some length of time before you can shred them (e.g. tax documents).
Designate a “shred bin” in your home where you put everything that needs to be shredded rather than put out with your regular trash. For documents you need to keep a copy of, but not the original, scan and save them digitally. Where should you keep digital documents? Somewhere secure and, ideally, in more than one place. An external (password-protected) hard drive and a “cloud” drive (also password-protected) are good options.
Some documents should never be shredded like birth certificates, social security cards, and marriage certificates. Keep them safe and secure at home (you don’t carry your social security card in your wallet, right?). A fire-proof safe will keep them secured from intruders and protected from disaster.
Check your credit report at least once a year to make sure nothing on there is fraud or incorrect information. There’s only one site authorized by the Federal government that isn’t trying to sell you something: https://www.annualcreditreport.com. Don’t get taken in by any of the other “free” credit reporting sites.
Should You Buy a Shredder?
Yes, either get yourself a shredder or a shredding service. If you buy your own, a crosscut shredding pattern is best. If you have a significant amount of shredding or need to get caught up from the last few years of paper pileup, a service might make more sense.
Did you know GOLD holds free shredding events once per quarter for our Members? Bring your shred bins from home, and we’ll unload your car and shred all your sensitive paper documents on site. View the list of upcoming shred event dates here.