Dispose of Documents to Prevent Identity Theft

Identity theft is increasing dramatically in the U.S. today. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumers reported more than 490,000 incidents in 2015, a startling 47 percent increase over the prior year’s number of reported identity theft crimes. While identity theft can happen to anyone, certain activities—such as posting personal information on the Internet or losing your wallet—can increase your risks. Improper disposal of paper documents can also be an issue. Consider these tips on what you need to shred and what you can safely recycle before your next desk or filing cabinet purge.

  • Shred anything containing your social security number. This is the holy grail of personal information in the eyes of would-be identity thieves. If they get their hands on it, they can open credit cards and fake checking accounts in your name. Your social security number may be included on employer paperwork, medical bills, health insurance cards and statements, credit card, banking and loan statements and more.
  • Shred your bank and mortgage statements. Paper statements sent for checking, savings, personal lines of credit, your mortgage and other loans will include your account information and—in many cases—your social security number. Experts advise saving these for three to seven years for tax purposes, but after that time has elapsed you should shred and recycle them. For maximum protection, shred everything you receive from your bank before putting it in the recycling bin—even if it’s just a policy change document or new product advertisement.
  • Shred your bills. From gas and electricity to water and trash collection, utility and service bills often contain sensitive information and may even include your social security number. Once you’ve reviewed the accuracy of the charges, shred and recycle them.
  • Shred anything with your signature. Did you have to sign the receipt at the drycleaner in order to pick up your order? Did you write an old-fashioned paper letter and then decide not to send it? A good rule of thumb is to shred anything that has your signature on it before putting it in recycling.
  • Recycle standard receipts. Receipts that don’t include your signature can be tossed in the recycling bin without shredding. This is true even if they contain the last four digits of your credit card number. However, receipts from ATMs for deposits and withdrawals should be retained for two years—according to experts. You can then recycle them.
  • Recycle junk mail, catalogs and magazines. Coupon books, sale’s flyers, catalogs and other junk mail can be recycled without shredding. The only information they contain is your address. The same goes for magazines after you’ve read them.

Keep in mind, cross-cut or diamond-cut shredders are better than those that simply turn documents into long strips of paper that are easy for identity thieves to reassemble. If you don’t want to invest in your own equipment, check your local government website for a shredding program or secure document recycling event. Some banks also hold periodic community shredding events.