To Shred or Not to Shred?

Can someone legally dig through your trash looking for tasty credit card receipts, account numbers, or even your Social Security number? In the decision California vs. Greenwood, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that the “expectation of privacy in trash left for collection in an area accessible to the public… is unreasonable.”

In other words, when you throw something in your trash and then drag that container to the street for pickup, it is available to anyone willing to overlook the disgusting smells and textures of your trash can or dumpster.

Think that doesn’t happen? Well, think again. It has, it does and sadly, it will continue.

25910937 - man is shredding a piece of paper

WHY SHRED

In 2015, more than 13 million people fell victim to identity theft felonies in the U.S.

Identity fraud is a serious issue as this band of thieves have stollen $112 billion in the past six years. That equals $35,600 stolen per minute, or enough to pay for four years of college every four minutes.

Some of these victims could have prevented this from happening by simply shredding their uniquely identifying documents.

If you do not know how to effectively shred your most important documents, it’s time to learn. 

WHAT TO SHRED

The rule of thumb is to shred any paper or document that contains personally identifying information such as your signature, name, address, phone number, Social Security number, account numbers and any other information that is uniquely yours. That means anything and everything from the address labels on junk mail and magazines to luggage tags, pay stubs, ATM recipes and airline tickets; photocopies of birth certificates and expired passports to tax returns older than three years. When in doubt, always err on the side of shredding.

HOW TO SHRED

As difficult as it is for me to imagine, some shredded documents can be reconstructed through painstakingly tedious work by motivated identity thieves with pressure-sensitive tape. If the “shreds” a machine produces are fairly large strips, that becomes yet another potential hazard to your identity. That makes the idea of just tearing up your documents before you put them into the trash a total waste of time. Even a child could put them back together.

Generally, paper shredders range in size and price from a small and inexpensive unit designed for a certain amount of pages, to large units used by commercial shredding services. Shredders also vary in the way that they cut or shred paper.

Strip-cut shredders are the least secure, using rotation knives to cut narrow strips as long as the original sheet of paper. These strips can be reassembled, making a strip-cut shredder the least secure.

strip

Cross-cut shredders use two contra-rotating drums to cut rectangular, parallelograph or diamond-shaped shreds. Much better, because the shreds are much smaller pieces which makes it unreasonable if not impossible to reassemble.

crosscut

Micro-cut shredders create tiny square or circular pieces. Even better because the debris cannot be reassembled.

micro

BEST INEXPENSIVE HOME SHREDDERS

If you do not have a paper shredder you need to look into getting one. This is something you need now and into the future. The need will not go away until you do. That means you want a quality shredder that performs well, can handle more than a couple of pages at a time and is convenient to empty.

Amazon has come out with its own AmazonBasics brand of excellent home shredders, three of which are my picks for the best inexpensive home shredders, dependent of course on what your budget can bear.

AmazonBasics 6-Sheet Cross-Cut Paper and Credit Card Shredder. This is a nice machine that can run for up to two minutes before needing to cool down for 30 minutes. It has a 6-sheet capacity and also shreds plastic credit cards (one at a time). Comes with small trash can on which it sits. To empty, one must lift the shredder off the trash can.  About $25.

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet High-Security Micro-Cut Paper, CD and Credit Card Shredder. While this model produces tiny, almost confetti-like shreds and operates for up to 2 minutes before needing a 40-minute cool down it handles 33% more paper per pass, making it more efficient. It too will shred one credit card at a time, but also CDs. The pull out basket is very easy to About $45.

Amazon Basics 24-Sheet Cross-Cut Paper, CD and Credit-Card Shredder. This is the heavy-duty, industrial strength home shredder in that it will shred up to 24 sheets at a time, can run for up to 25 minutes before needing to cool down.  This is a great machine and well worth the price. About $155.

24cross

Shredding, while mandatory for the paper in your life, doesn’t address at all your private information in the hands of merchants, service providers and social media. That’s where LifeLock Identity Theft Protection comes along side to protect you. For more info on LifeLock, take a look at this post.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jane

    After shredding, I mix my shreds with something unpleasant: Coffee grounds and melon seeds are great! If I had a cat, I think used kitty litter would be a fantastic deterrent. If I had access to recycle the paper, I would divide the shreds into different bags, tossing them for different pick-ups. Finally, when I had a yard and compost pile, moderate amounts of shreds can be safely composted. Thank you, Mary, for always leading us!

    • Angela

      I mix mine with something unpleasant or mix into multiple batches of garbage. My husband thinks I am crazy. I think I am cautious. We live in a condo and our garbage is all in one dumpster for a week. I am not taking any chances.

  • Ann

    I used to use my shredded paper for animal bedding when we had a guinea pig. Worked fine and didn’t have to buy bedding.

    My town and my bank each have at least one day per year that they offer shredding services. You can generally bring 1 paper bag of material. I collect it in a paper bag for those events. That way I don’t have to shred it myself. I don’t worry about junk mail with my address. Really, anyone can access your name and address. I do shred junk mail offers for credit cards, as I don’t need anyone opening on in my name. Also, any papers that include account numbers – bills, statements, etc.

    You could also use those papers for fire starters if you have a wood burning fireplace.

  • Cally

    i find a bonfire or campfire handy for permanent disposal…. we burn leaves and use a fireplace for heat, lots of opportunities if you live in an area where this is allowed.
    😉

  • Sheila Wood

    I don’t know about in the US, but in Canadian cities, AMA (in my case, Alberta Motor Association) has one or two days a year where members can bring their shredding to be done for free, as part of their membership fees.

  • Betty Thomas

    I was wondering if the risk is as great for me and others who live in rural settings. I do shred everything you suggested and then it goes into a dumpster on our property that is picked up once a month and taken to the county dump site. I have seen people at the county dump that sift through for furniture to salvage etc… My shredded material is always in a separate bag but I can stop doing that by dividing it among my kitchen trash. I will invest in a better shredder also, mine is the strip shredder. Thanks Mary!

  • EF

    There is a community bank in Illinois that offers free “shred days” each year for customers and non customers. AN on site shred service shreds the docs with the person present.

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