Can someone legally dig through your trash looking for 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 dig through your trash receptacles. Legally. Think that won’t happen? Think again, my friends.
Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States today. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year—and doubled during the pandemic as fraudsters targeted COVID-19 relief payments.
Best Way to Protect Your Identity
Identity fraud is a serious issue as it is responsible for the theft of $112 billion stolen from Americans in the past six years. That equals $35,600 stolen per minute, or enough to buy a house every 9.5 minutes*.
*The typical home value of homes in the United States, at this writing, is $337,560. This value is seasonally adjusted and only includes the middle price tier of homes. United States home values have gone up 20.6% over the past year.
Some of these victims could have prevented this from happening by simply destroying their uniquely identifying documents.
If you do not know how to effectively destroy your most important documents, it’s time to learn.
What to destroy
The rule of thumb is to shred any paper or document that contains personally identifying information for all members of your household—including the kids regardless of their age—such as your signature, name, address, phone number, Social Security number, account numbers, and any other information that is uniquely yours and theirs.
That means anything and everything from the address labels on junk mail and magazines to luggage tags, pay stubs, ATM receipts, airline tickets and boarding passes; photocopies of birth certificates, medical prescriptions, school information; expired passports and most tax returns older than three years.
When in doubt, always err on the side of proper destruction.
How to destroy
Of course, there are many clever ways that one can destroy paper documents. However, if finding an effective and safe way to burn them, soak them in water in hopes of returning the remains back into wood pulp, or some other creative effort takes more time than you will consistently devote to protecting your personally identifying information, you should consider using a paper shredder.
As difficult as it is 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.
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. If you are using a strip-cutting, you need to consider upgrading to a more secure method.
Cross-cut shredders use two contra-rotating drums to cut rectangular, parallelogram, or diamond-shaped shreds. Much better because the shreds are much smaller pieces, which makes it unreasonable if not impossible to reassemble.
Micro-cut shredders create tiny square or circular pieces. Even better because the debris absolutely cannot be reassembled and confidently recycled for some other use.
Best Inexpensive Home Shredders
Destroying identifying documents is something you need now and well 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, shreds plastic credit cards, CDs, DVDs, and is convenient to use and to empty.
Amazon has come out with its own AmazonBasics brand of excellent home shredders, three of which are our Best Inexpensive picks, to help you match quality with need.
Updated and republished 5-4-21
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