oman shredding a piece of paper

How to Protect Yourself from ID Theft and Why You Should

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.”

oman shredding a piece of paper

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.

Why shred?

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 8 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 for all member 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, and airline tickets; 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 shredding.

How to shred

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 stripp-cutting, you need to consider upgrading to a more secure method.

Paper and Cross-cut



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.

AmazonBasics 6-Sheet High-Security Micro-Cut Paper and Credit Card Shredder



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

Paper and Micro-cut

Best Inexpensive Home Shredders

Of course, there are many clever ways that one can destroy paper documents. However, if finding a 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 wish to devote to protecting your personally identifying information, you should consider using a paper shredder.

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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4 replies
  1. Kathy says:

    FREE shredding…fill your kitchen sink about 1/3-1/2 full with water. Slowly add paper, one page at a time and swish to make sure all pages are soaked. Then with your hands start tearing the paper apart into small pieces. Grab a handful at a time and squeeze into a tight ball, about the size of a ping pong ball or smaller. Throw in trash. Anyone digging through would have to pull the wet paper part, tearing it apart even more, plus the shreds are from different papers.

  2. Gina Stevens says:

    Mary, can you weigh in on home title theft? Frightening ads for title theft insurance are all over TV, yet homeowners insurance agents and LifeLock consultants seem totally unaware of title theft. Is title theft insurance a scam or is this ANOTHER insurance we need? Thanks for your continuing support.

  3. Steven says:

    I love this site and all the ways to save. I especially like all the DYI versions of commercial products you provide. Thank you. I would like to know if you have a DYI formula to clean and shine live plant leaves. Thanks again

  4. Glenda Steffee says:

    In my area, shredding events are rare and I still worry about putting bags full of shredded paper on the curb. My plain shredded paper is bagged and in the garden shed. I add it to the compost in layers with other materials. I also use it as mulch/weed barrier in the vegetable garden and landscape paths. A thick layer of shredded paper covered in mulch will keep out the weeds and help hold moisture for plants, shrubs, flowers, etc. Do NOT add shredded photos or glossy prints – those may harm some of you plantings.


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