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With Black Friday sales ringing as early as 12:01am Friday, one of the unlikely buys many are choosing to give as stocking stuffers for the upcoming holidays are paper shredders. I know, if you didn’t get one this morning you still have time before Christmas arrives (you don’t all have to hurry out at once).
No joke, paper shredders make the perfect gift for new professionals because as men and women are graduating from college, their parents are not doing their taxes for them. Bank statements begin to pile up, tax information is spread across the desk, and pay stubs from three different jobs are probably sitting in a shoe box labeled “TAX INFO 2010/2011.” The plethora of personal identity information, strewn about the house may not lead to more than clutter, and hopefully the scattered tax information won’t end in an audit; but, it could end in identity theft if he or she doesn’t know what to save, for how long, and what to shred.
Still not convinced? According to the 2011 identity fraud survey, gathered by Javelin Strategy and Research, identity fraud was at an all time low since the company began conducting its research in 2003, “meanwhile, the consumer costs, the average out-of-pocket dollar amount victims pay increased, reversing a downward trend in recent years.” What does this mean? It means the criminals are performing fewer crimes but hitting people where it hurts—big dollar amounts from the bank. Where does this information partly come from? An easy target is tax, credit card, and other various personal information that we have littered around our homes that can be carelessly thrown away. Crooks step into your home just long enough to gather the envelopes that are in every day, out in the open places. Your TV isn’t stolen, but what’s a 500 dollar TV when there is an open account waiting to be drained?
As the Y2K generation would attest, computers are becoming more ubiquitous across the board. They are increasingly more user friendly, available, and cheap. Not only that, but the first generation PC users have evolved and changed with the technology. It doesn’t take a college grad to buy, install, and use Turbo-Tax or other off the shelf tax programs. Because of this, filing taxes online has become popular in our green, paperless society. Filing the information, saving it on a flash drive, keeping it in the filing cabinet under a key and encrypted with passwords is efficient and doesn’t require any space. Information like online banking for various accounts and direct deposit for the bi-monthly checks can be recorded digitally or sent to you via email, so… fine, you won’t need a shredder in that case. But for those who keep a paper copy of tax information, pick up their checks/pay stubs the old fashion way, and are yet to put down the check book, there is still going to be information that will need to be organized and disposed of the right way.
Many would argue three-seven years is all you really need to keep most information in the event you get audited. That gives you plenty of time to learn how to online bank and get digital copies of important information. Five gigabyte flash drives, which used to be expensive and enormous in storage space, are now common given away as key chains. Such a device would be sufficient to store and backup important information. But mission critical, before the digital world is conquered is first identifying what needs to be turned into confetti.
What to shred?
Canceled credit cards or the junk offers from credit cards are spammed from every median available: letters in the mailbox, emails upon emails, or calls at 5:30pm the MOMENT you sit down for dinner with the family. The tangible things are an obvious thing to destroy the moment you see them. And if you are like most people, you rip them into several pieces and toss them away in the garbage. What you don’t know is, like money, a thief can tape that very obvious Discover envelope back together and it can become valid again. Scary I know, but you would be pissed if you ripped a twenty dollar bill and couldn’t exchange it for a new one so let’s take the time to destroy it right.
Credit cards are usually what give us a good portion of credit scores. You should be keeping your eye on your scores from the big three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, but holding onto credit cards that you never use are things to toss in the shredder too. It can hurt your credit score to have open credit cards you don’t use, say, the ones you get at Macy’s for 20% off your first purchase that you paid off right away and never used again. They are trouble because you forget about them and are kept in places an invader would think to check.
What else is obviously marked and prevalent in many American’s homes? Bank statements. Many of us don’t even open the letters, we just put them on the desk or in the drawer because my generation didn’t suffer the check registry era, we just double checked account balances online from our smart phones. If you’re not on the paperless diet, keep this information under lock and key within your file cabinet for no longer than a year. After taxes are filed and done, these can be shredded without concern.
As for retirement statements, stock option, health insurance/flex spending accounts and other investment statements (401k and alike), you’re receiving that quarterly update. That statement includes the structure for your future, you spouses, and the rest of your family. That information should be especially secure and wiped out on a regular schedule (the same schedule you follow for destroying your tax information—about every five years).
There’s literally no reason you need to keep these around. The thief may not use the check to buy something, but they can steal the routing number and account number off the bottom, even if you have the check torn in a few pieces. The same thing goes for the “checks” that your credit card company might send you. They’re the ones with a ridiculously high interest rate that will ridiculously hurt if you lose them or treat them like paper.
Yeah, duh, a pay stub has information on it that an identity thief can abuse to take your wallet for a ride. To prove you are in a steady job, it isn’t uncommon for a bank or loaning agency to ask you to provide a few months pay stubs. From high interest loans to establishing residency for other important identification cards, your pay stubs are more important than you think. It would suck to have a check stolen; it would be devastating to find you had three legit credit cards taken out in your name, on top of a high interest loan for a car you’ve never seen.
I’m not trying to push the greener and eventually easier option to store data, I get that there are people that don’t want to, or have given up using computers; especially with information that can be destructive in the hands of an inexperienced, naïve user. And if it is the case, be responsible with the information. Keeping it in a file cabinet that has a key lock will secure and deter, but it will fill up fast. Spend the thirty dollars at Office Max and treat yourself to a new toy. Even a shredder that fits over a waste paper basket is sufficient. And, for the paranoid (smart) ones out there, fill two separate baskets at a time. And if you have a shredder that fights plastic, cut it into several pieces and do the same thing, put the pieces in separate trash bags. Spend the ten minutes once a year and correctly dispose of your personal information, it doesn’t take long or much money and is often overlooked… silly, considering the weight of the documents you are eliminating.
Categories: Identity Theft and Protection