One common way thieves perpetuate identity theft is by stealing your personal information through dumpster diving, or sorting through your trash. Just what are they looking for? Anything with your personal information, including credit card statements, electricity bills, and so on.
One simple thing you can do to protect yourself from dumpster diving identity thieves is to shred sensitive information before discarding it. A good paper shredder will turn sensitive documents into unrecognizable bits of paper, and make you less likely to become a victim of identity theft.
Why should you shred?
Dumpster diving, though difficult to fathom the average American, is much more common than people would imagine. In fact, according to a 2008 study by Javelin Strategy and Research, of the 35% of identity theft victims who knew how their data was taken, the majority was from traditional methods such as mail theft, dumpster diving, stolen wallet, etc. and not cyber high-tech methods as is commonly believed. In reality, identity thieves have dumpster dived for years.
How should you shred?
It is important that you use a cross-cut paper shredder that will dice sensitive materials into tiny, little bits. On the other hand, a cheap paper shredder will simply slice documents into strips that can be pieced back together by enterprising thieves, revealing your personal information. Thus, if you are going to shred sensitive documents it is wise to invest in a quality cross-cut paper shredder.
What should you shred?
Anything with your sensitive personal information on it should always be shredded. These items include pre-approved credit card offers, bank statements, electricity and other bills, medical documents, mortgage or loan statements, and so on. Although junk mail without your personal information on it need not be shredded, it is better to just shred all of the mail you receive after you are done with it so you don’t overlook anything. (To learn how to stop those pesky pre-approved credit card offers, click here.)
And Always Remember…
You can’t shred what you don’t get! A paper shredder is a venerable tool for protecting your identity, but sensitive information must also be protected at its source: The Mailbox. If you have an unlocked mailbox, you are extremely vulnerable to mail theft. You are leaving your personal information unsecured and unprotected for anyone to access, and it is much easier (and cleaner) for a criminal to steal your mail from your mailbox than from the garbage anyhow.
The first defense against identity theft is a secure locking mailbox, which should be used in conjuction with a cross-cut paper shredder for ultimate security.