December 5, 2015

What Kind of Mail Should I Shred to Keep My Identity Safe?

You’d be surprised how much information lurks on most of the documents you have in your home.  Even address labels from magazines, catalogues, or junk mail contain the beginning of a trail that leads all the way back to every facet of your identity.  While such paranoia assumes a dumpster diver is smart enough to work that trail, the fact remains that not all ID thieves are lazy individuals who only seek out targets of opportunity.

So start with anything with your name and address on it and work up from there.  Banking records come next: statements, receipts, expired ATM cards, cancelled checks, voided checks, and any notice from your bank with a PIN number or an account number on it.

Did you have to photocopy any vital documents, recently, such as a birth certificate?  Shred that ASAP.  You will also want to get rid of any pay stubs, insurance records, medical or dental records, resumes, report cards, or transcripts.  Did you check your credit report recently—on paper?  That was a good move. Now shred it.

Next, let’s have a look at your bills.  Credit card bills are a definite shred.  While you’re at it, shred any of those pre-approved credit offers you have floating around.   You will also want to shred utility bills, car note bills and mortgage statements.  These items are just as bad as your banking information for leaving you wide open to a rip-off.

Any records of your stocks, bonds, 401K plans, or legal transactions have got to go.  Your tax records contain the SSNs of everyone in your family, so they absolutely have to go.  Do you have any copies of your signature on anything?  Shred them so that thieves and forgers can’t duplicate them.

Even old plane tickets, itineraries, and luggage tags can represent a danger.  Be safe rather than sorry and shred those too.

And all of the ID cards we get on a regular basis, the ones that eventually expire?  Student IDs, driver’s licenses, medical insurance cards?  Shred those too, even if you can’t make heads or tails of what an ID thief would do with them.  The answer is “more than you think they can,” and it doesn’t cost you more than a few second’s worth of time to take them out of an identity thief’s hands.

You might even want to shred letters from old friends or family members, Christmas cards, and anything else that you got through the mail that you might want to throw away.  If it’s nobody’s business but your own, then make sure nobody else can read it or exploit it.

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