When In Doubt Shred It: Clearing Out the Family Files

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Cleaning out the clutter in your home is always a good idea. Mountains of papers can overwhelm your home office if you don’t deal with these documents. Simply throwing old papers in the trash, on the other hand, is never a good idea. Your trash can become an identity thief’s treasure. MSN reported that identity theft affects 11 million people per year and costs an estimated $54 billion annually. Identities are commonly stolen by snatching a person’s personal information online, which, thanks to the rise of social media, it has made it easier than ever to obtain a person’s personal information.

High-tech methods are not the only tool in the identity thief’s tool box. Dumpster diving is still a common method for identity thieves to find targets for their next scam. Among the key dumpster diving facts reported by CNN is that dumpster diving is the main source for finding personal information in 1 percent of all identity theft cases. It might not sound like a high number, but failing to shred sensitive documents can easily put you at risk of falling into that group.

Where do you begin when it comes to shredding? Here are a few suggestions on what you can do with documents that contain your personal information:

Save Important Records

Some documents are not meant to ever be shredded. You should hold onto and file away records that offer evidence of important past events. This includes financial statements, medical documents, proof of ownership or purchase on major assets and proof of identity documents.

Tax returns and related documents should be retained for a minimum of three years. Monthly credit card and bank statements need to be stored for at least a year before discarding. Loan statements should be kept until the loan is paid in full. Medical bills need to be saved for a minimum of five years and as many as 10 years. Receipts for major purchases, such as jewelry, should be filed away indefinitely for insurance purposes. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse suggests, when in doubt, to keep important records for a minimum of 10 years.

Store Sensitive Information

Putting records containing important personal information — from birth certificates to wills – under lock and key is the best deterrent to potential identity thieves. A good option is to purchase a locking file cabinet or safe and put all of your sensitive documents in one location. You can also scan those documents onto a secured hard drive or flash drive, but retain physical copies of certain records – such as a birth certificate – in a safe place.

Any document that contains personal information, such as bank account numbers, social security numbers, date of birth and your address, should be shredded immediately if you do not need to retain it for your personal records.

Eliminating Electronic Data

Simply moving documents to your computer’s trash folder and emptying it isn’t good enough when it comes time to replace it. A better choice is to wipe your hard drive clean and reinstall your operating system. The best method for erasing data if you plan to recycle a computer or resell it to another party, according to Tech News Daily, is to physically remove and destroy the hard drive itself.

Obsolete mobile devices are a little more tricky. You can use apps designed to wipe your tablet or smart phone and restore it to factory defaults. Still, the best course of action is to physically destroy the mobile device so it is non-functional. If you plan to discard old CDs and flash drives, break them into smaller pieces so they cannot be used.

For more tips visit In Order to Succeed on the web and follow In Order to Succeed  on Facebook and on Twitter.