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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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.

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.

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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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