Identity theft protection is serious business. The array of ways in which identity thieves can steal your important information is dizzying: the internet, hacking into corporation's websites or as easily as going through your trash. We talked to Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center, about simple ways you can protect yourself by properly storing, organizing and shredding your mail.
Which type of mail is it most important to shred? I always shred anything with my social security number on it. What else should we look out for?
The important thing to remember here is that virtually all mail with any type of personally-identifiable information on it has the potential to lead to identity theft. I recommend shredding or securely storing any document that contains your or your family's information including:
- Birth dates
- Social Security numbers
- Bank information
- Credit card numbers
- PIN numbers
- Convenience checks sent with billing statements
- Unused credit cards after you've cancelled them
- Old tax documents from years past (NOTE: Tax documents should be securely stored for 7 years per the IRS)
Remember that we leave a paper trail of our life wherever we go, and this trail can be pieced back together by savvy thieves.
Which features should consumers consider when buying a shredder?
The first thing to look at is the "cut type" or the size of particle shreds the machine creates. I recommend the high-security "Cross-Cut" blade which destroys a single sheet of paper into about 400 pieces.
Another important consideration when purchasing a shredder is the machine's safety features. Fellowes created a technology called SafeSense which disables the shredder when hands or pets come too close to the paper opening.Read my review of the Fellowes Cross Cut Shredder. (I gave it 4.5 stars.)
What are the most important steps to avoid identity theft?
- Shred any type of document that you no longer need that contains any type of personally-identifiable information. Mailboxes and garbage bins are key places identity thieves go to find proprietary data.
- Keep your Social Security Card and number in a locked safe place. Do not carry it with you.
- Be cautious when using a debit card and use a credit card whenever possible. Identity thieves can empty your bank account very easily after obtaining your debit card numbers whereas there are more protection measures in place when someone steals your credit card.
- Beware of scams in which someone asks to verify your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers. Just because someone calls you or sends you an e-mail does not mean they are legitimate.
Which tools are must-haves for an organized home office?
While I'm not an expert at tools for organizing your home office, I can give some tips for spring cleaning your home office to cut down on the risk of identity theft. And two critical tools for that are a
- Cross-Cut shredder, and a
- Locking file cabinet
Sort through the piles of paperwork on your desk and in your office drawers. Place them into two categories: "save" and "shred." Be sure to shred any old receipts, especially those with an entire credit card number on them. Organize the "save" pile into labeled folders and be sure to put anything confidential into a fire-proof lock box. The "shred" pile should be properly disposed of with a Cross-Cut shredder.
Do you advise people to move documents online to cut down on paper clutter? Are there security risks involved in that?
Placing documents online does not reduce identity theft risk unless you have quality hardware and software security features. Be sure to pick complex passwords (letters, numbers and symbols) and change them often. And don't forget to shred the documents you no longer need once you've moved them to electronic form.
Everything you need to know about managing mail, financial documents and paper clutter in one place.