The last thing you want to have happen when you're doing your taxes or clearing away your paper clutter is to have your identity stolen. You can safely get rid of those papers that have personal information (like social security numbers, account numbers, or your address) by shredding. Prevent identity theft, shred your old tax records that you no longer need*. Shred any current charge receipts and statements that you don't need for tax purposes or reference. Shred the credit applications, insurance forms, credit offers, or other deals you get in the mail that contain your name and personal information. Shred physician statements, checks and bank statements. Any paper that has personal financial information on it — shred it.
* Wondering how long to keep papers?
Build your paper retention guidelines with this Keep or Toss worksheet
Here are some tips that will make shredding easier.
Invest in a good shredder. I describe it as an investment, because the total cost is more than just the purchase price. Factor in decreased frustration and increased reliability. I prefer Fellowes and recommend at least a medium or moderate duty rating (professional or home office). A shredder that does a cross-cut or confetti cut is a must have. Don't bother getting one that just cuts the paper in strips. Get a machine that can handle staples (saves time) but you may not need one that shreds credit cards or CDs though most come equipped to handle even those.
Each of the Fellowes shredders on Amazon.com has an excellent chart that evaluates the different shredders. You can also compare shredders on Fellowes.com. Look for the run time capability of the machine. Many household shredders can't be used for more than 8 minutes at a time without damaging the machine. If you've been holding off on shredding and plan to do large batches eight minutes is not enough. Look for longer run times. I suggest at least 12 minutes.
Here are some shredders to check out:
Place the shredder where it’s handy. Place it where you go through your mail or next to your files so you can shred as you go. You’re less likely to let the paper pile up if you’re shredding as you go.
Shred in small blocks of time. If you are already caught up with your paper clutter, then shred as you go. If you have a stack to shred then do it in small packets of time. Remember even a medium duty shredder isn’t supposed to be operated for more than about 12 minutes at a time.
Get rid of your shredded paper. If you’ve chosen a cross-cut or micro-cut shredder, it is safe to throw away your shredded papers in the regular trash. Toss in your used coffee grounds, used kitty litter or other deterrent. But consider composting your shredded paper (if you're already composting).
I got the idea from a backyard composting brochure from Recycle Hawaii years ago. What better way to ensure the final secure disposal of my shredded information than in a pile of wet coffee grounds and papaya skins. Composting your shredded paper isn’t just for Hawai'i though.
Your local recycle website might have information on how to compost in your area. They will probably suggest that you mix your shredded paper with the same amount (or more) of green waste. Check out 4 Uses for Shredded Paper in the Garden by Mother Earth Living. Keep the glossy paper, colored paper, envelopes with that clear window (cellophane), credit cards, etc. out of your compost.
Use a shredding service.If you have a lot of paper to shred, it might be better to have it shredded for you. Think of the time you’d save and the energy you’d have by letting someone else do the shredding for you.
Find a certified shredding service in your area through the National Association for Information Destruction, Inc. Ask at your local office supply store or search for local shredding services on the internet. Ask questions to ensure they are a reputable company. I haven’t found a list of minimum requirements for shredding services but I ask about cross-cutting, particle size, how do they keep the paper secure until it’s shredded, and what happens to it after it’s been shredded. You can also ask your bank or doctor’s office who they use.
Should you shred everything that has your name and address on it? Not necessarily, since your address is probably already out there on the web. An envelope addressed to you may not provide any more information to the bad guys then they already can get on the internet. But that magazine subscription or catalog label may have an account number that is connected to your financial information. And of course anything with your birth date, social security number, and account numbers.
More resources to help prevent identity theft, things to do if you suspect identity theft and how to protect yourself online:
From the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information — www.consumer.ftc.gov
StaySafeOnline — staysafeonline.org
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If you want help in getting your files under control, consider joining my monthly Paperwork Party™. It's virtual. You can be anywhere your paperwork is and still get your questions answered. By seeing others working on their paperwork, you'll feel motivated and energized to focus on your paperwork. I'm there to answer any questions you have as you sort, file, or organize your papers. You're not alone!
*FYI: I do receive $ from Amazon when you click on product links and purchase items from Amazon.
I don't know what you look at or buy and so far I've been able to buy 2-3 cups of coffee each year from the income. Most items are available elsewhere, but with Amazon, I can show you what I'm writing about.