You've just learned that someone has stolen your identity. But it wasn't because of online banking or bill paying -- it was because of that annoying piece of junk mail you tossed in the trash without giving it a second thought. Now, you'll never forget it, just like you won't forget to use a secure shredding solution next time.
The U.S. Postal Service is responsible for delivering mail to over 150 million homes and businesses in the United States.
Unfortunately, any one of these pieces of mail could be the cause of identity theft, with more than 17 million people in the United States experiencing identity theft in 2014.
Are you taking steps to protect your identity by shredding your mail? And if so, are you taking the right steps?
We've compiled some tips on secure shredding to help you to avoid losing your identity.
Let's get into it!
Secure Shredding: What Should I be Shredding?
Most everything that comes to your mailbox is worthy of shredding, as it has your name on it.
Here are some of the most important types of mail you need to rip to shreds before tossing it out.
Mail with Personal Information
Any personal information in your mail is a major target of identity thieves. This information includes the following:
- Your Social Security number
- Your birthdate
- Your address
- Your full name
- Your work phone number
- Your home phone number
- Your driver's license number
You can often find this information on documents such as those from your employer, your state's car registration agency or the IRS.
If you see these numbers on your mail, you are putting yourself at major risk of identity theft if don't send them through your shredder.
Let's revisit the junk mail scenario for a minute. To identity thieves, junk mail can look like pure gold.
Why? Because you might not realize this, but this type of mail typically features barcodes containing personally identifying data.
These are the main types of junk mail to watch out for:
- Membership organization mail
- Lender mail
- Insurance company mail
- Mail about a credit card offer
And don't just shred the mail itself; be sure to also shred the envelopes that accompany them, too.
Financial Documents and Those with Account Numbers
Any mail that comes from your bank or another financial institution may be attractive to identity thieves. As a result, don't keep them lying around the house for too long (read on to find out how long you should keep them).
Other items that are worth shredding because they contain financial or account information include the following:
- Voided checks
- Canceled checks
- Internet purchase orders featuring billing information
- Statements with credit card balances
- Property tax statements
- Cellular phone bills
- Utility account mail
It's safe to say that if an identity thief literally sees dollar signs by looking at an item, you need to destroy it.
Mail from School
Sadly, your children are not off limits from identity thievery. So, any mail you receive with their personal information on it needs to go through the shredder as well.
This mail may include the following:
- Birth certificate copies (not the original)
- Medical records
- Anything pertaining to school
- School field trip authorization forms
- Report cards
- School applications
Let your kids join in on the shredding party, too. It's never too early for them to learn how to safeguard their identities.
When Should I Have a Secure Shredding Party?
Knowing when to shred your documents is just as important as knowing what to shred. So, here's a helpful timeline to follow.
Shred Sooner Than Later
You need to eradicate the following items right away to reduce your chances of becoming an identity theft victim.
- Expired warranties
- ATM receipts
- Sales receipts
- Credit card offers and statements
- Cancelled checks
- Utility bills
Meanwhile, you don't need to destroy the following items automatically, but they shouldn't stick around for more than a year or two:
- Undisputed and paid health care bills
- Bank statements
- Pay stubs
- Insurance policy documents
A good time to shred these documents might be at the end of the year or during tax time. Make it an annual tradition so that you don't forget to do it.
For other documents you need to shred, seven is the magic number. Items to rip up after seven years include the following:
- Tax deduction records
- W-2 documents
- Cancelled checks related to taxes
- Receipts related to taxes
Any documents related to owning a home should remain in a secure place while you still own your home and then one year following the sale of the home.
Likewise, hold onto your car title while you still own the vehicle. And if you have any medical bills that you are still disputing, don't get rid of them until you have resolved the issues.
I've Shredded Everything -- What Now?
Now that you've shredded all of your paper documents, don't forget to also destroy those data-storing technological devices you no longer need. These include your thumb drive, SIM card, mobile card or SD card, for example.
You can use a special tool to get rid of these data files: an old-fashioned ax. Or use a baseball bat if you'd prefer (think "Office Space"). The choice is yours.
The best way to decrease the number of items requiring shredding is to put an end to as much paper mail as possible.
Many companies issue electronic statements these days and even give you the opportunity to opt out of paper mail.
The benefits? Opting for e-statements is environmentally friendly. In addition, your e-statements will be immediately available (you don't have to wait for the company to mail them to you), and you can conveniently access them whenever you wish.
So, take advantage of this, as it'll save you time and energy in the years ahead.
How We Can Help
We offer a wide range of shredders designed to meet your secure shredding needs.
Contact us to find out more about how our small, mid-sized and large shredders can keep your identity protected and thus save you money, time and stress long term.