Identity Theft Prevention: What You Should Know

papers-for-shreddingWhy Shred?
With identity theft on the rise, and more sophisticated internet tracking and computer hacking techniques, it’s becoming increasingly important to protect your identity. Many jobs now require identity and credit checks; therefore, it’s crucial that this information not be available to those seeking to access it.

According to identity theft protection company Solus, the U.S. Supreme Court has indicated that someone can legally dig through your trash. This implies that someone can legally go through your trash looking for credit card receipts, bank account numbers, your Social Security number or other pertinent information.

According to the American Heritage Bank in Tulsa, Oklahoma:

By shredding all documents, you are taking one of the most important steps towards protecting your personal information, business information and to safeguard your credit. Shredding documents reduces the chances of your personal information being taken by an identity thief.

What to Shred
There are numerous recommendations on what types of papers and information to shred. If a document is questionable, it’s best to error on the side of caution and shred it. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse  recommends shredding anything that contains your Social Security number as well as anything with your bank and/or financial account information.

In addition, most sources recommend shredding anything and everything that holds personal information. This includes items with your signature, any account numbers, medical information, and legal information. Even that annoying junk mail with pre-approved credit offers.

Below is a listing of suggested documents to shred. Note that you may want to hold on to some of them for a few years, simply for documentation and proof of payment purposes. But once you no longer need them, do not place them in the trash. If the information is available on-line, shred the supporting printed documents right away.

• tax documents (older than seven years)
• investment statements
• bank statements
• canceled checks
• paystubs
• any kind of credit card offers and applications
• courtesy checks from banks
• monthly bills
• old credit cards
• anything related to taxes and receipts with your signature
• ATM receipts
• credit card statements
• utility bills
• insurance policies

Much of the above information is attributed to a New York Times article, referencing the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Organization and Process
So how do you keep track of which documents need to be shredded? A method that works very well is to keep a ‘shredding’ box in an accessible place in your home. This could be on a closet shelf or in a large cabinet. The box should be large enough to hold 8”x10” papers. However, if you do not have this much space, a smaller box is fine. You will just have to fold over the papers that you place into it.

If you have credit applications that come in the mail, put them in the box right away. Once you have reconciled your bank and/or credit statements, place the ATM and credit/debit receipts in the box. Once your bills are paid, add these to the box as well. If you have on-line records, add the supporting paper documents to your shredding box.

How and Where to Shred
Paper-shredding-prevent-identity-theftYou can invest in a relatively inexpensive home-shredder for less than $100. Strip cut shredders, which cut paper into long spaghetti-like pieces, are the least expensive but are also the easiest for identify thieves to piece the shreds back together. It is best to purchase strip cut shredders that cut as small as possible, preferably 1/8 inch. Typically a bit more expensive, but highly recommended by professionals in the identity theft field, are cross-cut shredders. These types of shredders will cut your paper both lengthwise and crosswise, turning the paper into confetti. These smaller pieces of shredded paper are quite difficult and time consuming to reassemble, making your information even safer.

Another option is to take your ‘shredding box’ to a free shredding day at your local bank or at an event in your community. It works well to put these dates on your calendar. This will help you go through your papers in a timely manner, in working towards the ‘shred event deadline.’ These events are frequently offered on Saturdays in the spring and summer.

We will be posting these types of events for the Northern Chicagoland area on our website the week prior to the event. First Bank and Trust’s schedule can be found here. North Shore Community bank also generally hosts several shredding events during the summer.

Once your material is shredded, make sure to place your shredded paper in your recycling bin, and not the trash!

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