How Much Shredding is Enough?
All this tedious shredding, is this really necessary? Well, you be the judge. 11.1 million Americans were the victims of identity theft last year. That’s nearly 5% of the population. The average victim spent 21 hours and more than $350 trying to untangle themselves from the mess. What’s more, identity theft is on the rise, increasing each of the last seven years. So what can you do to be sure you’re not a victim?
Your first line of defense is shredding. But what exactly needs to be shredded?
The Most Important Documents to Shred
The consensus among experts seems to be to shred more rather than less. As it turns out, identity thieves can be awfully canny. If they don’t get your credit card number, they’ll steal your social security number and open a new account in your name. Failing that, they’ll find that torn up credit card offer you threw away, tape it together, fill it out and send it in. If that doesn’t work, they’ll pilfer your address from a mailing label on a discarded magazine and use it to open a cell phone account in your name.
So what should you shred? First, and foremost anything with your credit card number on it. Second, and of almost equal importance, anything with your social security number. These are the two biggies. Beyond that, shred new credit card offers from banks. Also shred the courtesy checks that come with those offers. Shred old bills, as they may have your social security number on them; and shred old tax documents for the same reason.
When to Shred Tax Documents
A word about tax documents. The IRS expects taxpayers to be able to provide records proving income and deductions claimed for at least three years from the date of a return. Which means if your 2010 return (filed in 2011) was called into question, they would want to see records going back to at least January of 2008. If they decided you failed to report income amounting to more than 25 percent of your gross income, they would want to see records going back six years, to January of 2005.
Beyond that, you are in shredding territory. Everything related to taxes should be shredded, W-2 forms, 1099 forms, tax reporting statements, end-of-year bank statements and brokerage statements, lest they provide a wealth of information to would be criminals.
Dotting I’s and Crossing T’s
What about insurance forms and physician statements? The short answer is that it depends what’s on them, but if you don’t want to thumb through every document trying to ascertain what it reveals about you, you might want to feed it to the shredder because that would be faster.
The likelihood that a thief will use a mailing label to steal your identity seems somewhat remote but it does happen. If you want to dot your I’s and cross you T’s, you should shred the covers of magazines or the backs of catalogs, anything with a mailing label on it. Some magazines do not require authentication to change a mailing address, which is the first step in losing your identity to a thief.
So is there anything you don’t have to shred? Receipts showing only the last four digits of your credit card number don’t have to be shredded as long as they don’t have your signature on them. If they do, it’s into the shredder they go because thieves can use your signature to gain access to confidential records.
Choosing the Right Shredder
Now that you know what to shred, the next question is how to shred it. Strip shredders work by cutting the paper into narrow strips that can be reconstructed by a dogged thief. For more enhanced security you want a cross-cut shredder like he Swingline EX10-05 which also shreds credit cards and CD’s. Cross-cut shredders use a dual cutting action to render materials into confetti, nearly impossible to reconstruct. Micro-Cut shredders like the Swingline SX12-08 provide an even higher degree of security.
Identity theft is no small thing. It’s a growing problem, affecting more Americans everyday. While feeding documents into a shredder may seem tedious, it only seems so because you are doing it all at once. If you do it every day, the same way you would throw something away, it’s much less burdensome, particularly with a fast, thorough shredder like the models offered by Swingline.