It’s no secret that in today’s world, identity theft is a real issue. Unfortunately, shredding documents on a home shredder doesn’t always guarantee the information on those documents is safe and secure.
With software, identity thieves can digitally reconstruct many of these documents shred and thrown out in the trash.
Whether at home or work, it is best to gather these important documents and regularly take them to a shredding service to ensure their proper destruction. Some important documents are required to hold on to for a certain amount of time (such as taxes), but they should be appropriately shredded afterward.
Here is our list of items you should think twice about before throwing in the garbage or shredding on a home shredder.
Taxes are one of the apparent items because there is so much personal information, including your social security number. The IRS recommends you hold on to your tax records for seven years in case of audits or other reviews.
After seven years, there is no need to keep these files hanging around. But even after seven years, the information on tax records is a gold mine for identity thieves. So, be sure these are shred.
Most businesses like to pay with a direct deposit now because the pay stub is easy to throw out. It is usually attached to the check that you deposit, and it outlines the details of your pay. There is often essential information, including your full name and address.
Bank statements show a breakdown of all your different accounts and how much money is in each. Armed with this information and a little more personal information, an identity thief could easily pose as you on the phone and wreak havoc.
Credit Card Statements
Your personal information isn’t all that is vulnerable. Knowing where you show and how much you spend gives insight into who you are or even the chance to sneak in some fraudulent charges without your knowledge.
Retirement Plan Statements
These statements contain details about your investments critical to your quality of life in your later years. Even if eventually caught, any breaches to your retirement funds could have massive consequences for your retirement.
Canceled or Voided Checks
Landlords, insurance companies, and bank loans often require canceled or voided checks. Be sure to request that it be shredded when done or ask for it back so you can shred it yourself.
Mobile deposit is a fantastic feature. No longer do you need to go to the bank to deposit checks. On the other hand, after you deposit a check, you should hang onto it for at least two weeks if there is any dispute to the deposited amount.
After the two weeks, don’t just tear it up or throw it out. Make sure it is securely shredded.
Expired Credit Cards
Expired credit cards can still cause harm in the wrong hands. Often your credit card number stays the same, and you get an updated expiration date. Home shredders often get jammed with plastic, such as the credit card, so they should be shred professionally.
Credit Card Applications
I’m not too fond of credit card applications that come in the mail mostly because I don’t want them and because there are so much paper and legal information that could contain personal information.
Credit card companies send out these applications asking just for your signature. Without too much effort, credit cards and other loans could be opened up in your name.
If you are like me and get lots of these in the mail, save them up and go drop them off at a certified drop off shredding center regularly.
Credit Reports & Histories
Between the ease in which to pull your credit report and the number of purchases that require a credit check, these reports and histories can be problematic. Not only current information, but past address, purchases, debts, and more can all be found on credit reports.
Any investment deals you make come with a lot of paperwork. Even after you’ve sold off investments, you should keep these documents for three to seven years and shred them.
Anytime you change doctors, whether because your insurance changed, you moved, or if you found the one you like better, make sure to get the medical records from your old doctor and give them to your new doctor. Anything the doctor’s office doesn’t take or won’t need, be sure to shred.
Medical bills are useful for proving identity or residency, but other than that, you shouldn’t hang on to these for more than a year. Saving medical bills for a year is a good idea if you think you can use it for tax purposes or any disputes with insurance. After that, shred them professionally because they do contain a lot of personal information.
Pet Medical Papers
Your pets have a paper trail, too! Vets use the pet owner’s information in all their records. Just like your medical records, make sure to request them or have them destroyed when you move or change vets.
When I purchased life insurance, I received a binder full of legal information that included my personal and beneficiary information. On my life insurance documents, there was information about my health and status to determine my rate.
You’ll need to keep these documents if required, but once the policy lapses, make sure you destroy these documents.
This goes for home, auto, disability, or any other insurance records.
Giving to charity is 👏🏽. Most charities will provide you a receipt at the time of your contribution or the end of the year. For larger or more regulated donations, there can be a lot of paperwork that is involved. Ensure you keep these records with your tax records (up to seven years) and then shred them.
Warranties are tricky little documents that are often forgotten. You hope you’ll never need warranties, so you might tuck them in a box out of the way. But warranties have information about you and your purchases, which can be used by identity thieves to scam both you and the business.
Driver’s licenses, passports, and even your children’s identification cards should all be shred when they expire.
Resumes or CV
Resumes and CVs have past jobs, current contact information, and history about you. An identity thief can more easily guess passwords and security questions when they have more information about you.
Report cards might seem small and trivial, but any document with personal information is a liability. Hang the report card on your fridge, brag to your friends, reward you kids, but when it’s time to take it down, shred it!
Travel itineraries contain information about where you are going to be and when.
Used Airline or other Travel Tickets
Boarding passes often have your frequent-flier number on them, which identity thieves can use to log in to view travel plans, book, or even cancel trips.
School applications, loan applications, renter applications all contain very personal information. Whether your application is accepted or not (especially when it isn’t), ask that any unnecessary paperwork be returned so you can shred it.
Birth Certificate Copies
Copies of your birth certificate are often used for travel, medical, and school checks. But because they are “just copies,” they are usually not considered as important as the original. Both the copies and the original certificates contain the same information and can be used for nefarious purposes. Be sure to shred any birth certificate copies as soon as you are done using them.
You can always make another copy when you need it again. Coming back from identity theft isn’t relatively as easy.
Outdated Will or Living Directives
As you grow and your life changes, your Wills and Living Directives will undoubtedly change too. There is no need to hold on to old Wills, and you should securely shred them once they are outdated.
Phone logs don’t get mailed out as much anymore, but some people still get their phone bill, including a record of every phone call, phone number, or even text message sent. 😱
The pharmacy always asks if you have any questions for the pharmacist before handing you a bag of your medicine with a medical notebook stapled to it. Most people probably open the bag, take out the medication, and discard the rest—bad idea.
After you finish the medicine, be sure to tear off the label and shred it.
Luggage tags contain your personal information in case your luggage is lost or misplaced. But it is also the easiest way to grab personal information about an individual.
Old School ID
Most past school IDs contain little information about you, but how many of the security questions as “Who was your high school mascot?” Shred it.
I’m not saying, “Get rid of your pictures,” but if you have duplicate or you digitized your photos, and you are thinking of just throwing out a physical copy. Don’t.
Old Membership Cards
Planet Fitness, Costco, even library cards are all membership cards that should be adequately shredded when they expire or are no longer used.
Documents for your Child
Schools, especially elementary schools, are notorious for sending home dozens of papers with your kids. Some of the documents are innocuous, but permission slips, book fair logs and even report cards (see above) all have information, such as your signature, you’ll want shred when possible.
Vehicle Maintenance Records
Every few months, I get a card in the mail from the dealership reminding me what services my car needs. Every time my car gets serviced, the dealership sends me home with a packet of information about my vehicle, warranties, recalls, and fixes that they recommend.
Securely store what you need, shred the rest. And when you sell the car, make sure to shred all of the vehicle records.
Just like the dealership, CARFAX will often send out reminders about your car’s maintenance, value, or new “incidents” related to the vehicle. You can always look this up online, so there is no need to keep it.
Envelopes from Family Members
Older adults are especially at risk for identity theft. If you get a letter from grandma each birthday or a Christmas card from Aunt Carol, be sure to shred the envelope that contains the family member’s address.
Don’t just toss junk mail in the garbage. Junk mail often contains credit offers or other promotions that someone could use to make money or other purchases in your name.
Utility bills contain your personal information as well as information about your home. With it, someone could impersonate you with the utility companies to change or even cancel service.
Most magazines are begging for business and because of that, signing up for magazine subscriptions is as simple as filling out a card in the back of the magazine to extend or expand your subscription.
Like magazines, newspapers are fighting for each subscription. Leaving your personal information on your newspaper as you toss it out could spell trouble for you later.
Labels on boxes are probably the most overlooked item on the list. Amazon and other delivery boxes contain your name and possibly member information right on the label. Inside the box, you’ll often have a return slip or other papers with even more personal info.
Recycling these boxes is always a great idea, but remember to peel off the label and remove any papers from inside the boxes to be shred.
Stores send coupons out, and to track their effectiveness, they will place barcodes that can pinpoint which vouchers were redeemed and by who. Software can easily decode these barcodes that may contain membership or other personal information.
Whether they are ones you ordered or free ones coming from IKEA, McGee & Co., or any other, you should shred them when you are done. Like magazines, catalogs may have order forms that could be used by someone place orders in your name.
DMV, Vet, Doctor, Oil Change, or any other reminder contains information about you. Someone could easily use this information to change or cancel appointments. DMV and registration info could be used to gain access to even more details about you.
Purchase orders should be kept and stored securely for at least three years. After that, if you need to keep a record, keep it digitally with minimal sensitive information. Items such as date, items purchased, and the amount should be all you need for future reference.
This goes for both personal and business transactions. Receipts contain the last 4 of your credit card and customer ID or membership numbers. This information can be used by someone to impersonate you or your business for malicious purposes.
You shouldn’t ever put passwords or sensitive information on Post-it Notes. But if you do need to write down sensitive info quickly, be sure to destroy it as soon as possible securely. Never leave a sticky note alone with such information.
Like Post-it Notes, information can quickly be added to flash drives and forgotten that it is there. Because flash drives are getting smaller and their storage is getting bigger, security risks have risen with flash drives. Even deleting and wiping these drives isn’t enough for the best hackers.
The only sure way to get unrecoverable data on drives is to have them destroyed by a professional shredding company.
CDs with Data
Although not in use much anymore, your home or office may container old CDs with sensitive information. Documents can be recovered from even the most scratched up CDs. Like Flash Drives, make sure CDs with data are correctly destroyed.
Laptops / Tablets / Smartphones
Data on Laptops, Tablets, and Smartphones can still be recovered even if wiped clean. If you are trading in your device, most companies have privacy policies and guarantees. But, if you have an old device that doesn’t have trade-in value, don’t just toss it out.
The best way to destroy electronic data is by punching and pressing the drive. Punching out the center renders the device useless and makes it impossible to recover any data.
Items with your Signature
The simplest thing to remember is anything with your signature should be shred!