People have a lot of questions concerning what to shred. For instance, do you need to shred all the credit offers you get? What about monthly utility bills or basic receipts that block out most of your credit card number? To find out, I turned to Paul Stephens, an identity theft expert and director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
Mr. Stephens said the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse recommended shredding anything that has your Social Security number and any account information. In addition, there are other papers he recommends shredding, including any kinds of mailings from your financial institution (like advertisements or changes of terms). While such papers don’t have your account information, they do “give the fraudster a little more information” that could be used to commit identity theft, Mr. Stephens said.
Other papers to shred include any kind of credit card offers and applications (even taped-up ones with wrong information can be used to obtain cards, as this article attests); courtesy checks from banks (Mr. Stephens recommending calling your bank and asking them to stop sending them); monthly bills; old credit cards (if your shredder can handle them); anything related to taxes and receipts with your signature, which identity thieves could use to forge other documents. In addition, you should shred anything with any other kind of personal identifying information that you wouldn’t want identity thieves to find.
But when it comes to a document that just has your name and address, you may feel comfortable throwing it away if that information is listed and publicly available elsewhere, he said, especially if it’s just a catalog or an advertisement that isn’t from a financial institution. Still, “our recommendation would be to shred it anyway,” Mr. Stephens said.
As for receipts that just show the last four digits of your card number, Mr. Stephens said it’s O.K. to just trash those if they don’t have your signature.
And most important, Mr. Stephens said, avoid strip shredders and instead use cross-cut, confetti or diamond-cut shredders. “Those are the three types that make it almost impossible to piece something back together,” he said. “On the other hand, if you use strip-cut shredders, which are the cheapest, they are almost useless.”
Finally, you also might want to consider throwing away shredded credit cards, and even other papers, over multiple trash collection cycles.
What do you shred versus just throw away? What are your purging tips?