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.
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 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.
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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.
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.
Micro-cut shredders create tiny square or circular pieces. Even better because the debris cannot be reassembled.
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, dependent of course on what your budget can bear.
Cross-Cut paper and credit card shredder
This AmazonBasics 6-Sheet Cross-Cut Paper and Credit Card Shredder 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 a small trash can on which it sits. To empty, one must lift the shredder off the trash can.
Micro-cut paper and credit card shredder
This AmazonBasics 6-Sheet High-Security Micro-Cut Paper and Credit Card Shredder produces tiny, almost confetti-like shreds and operates for up to 3 minutes before needing a 30-minute cooldown period. It can handle 33% more paper per pass, making it more efficient than its 6-sheet cousin above. It too will shred one credit card at a time. The pull-out basket requires very little effort to empty.
Cross-cut paper, CD, and credit card shredder
This is the heavy-duty, industrial-strength AmazonBasics 24-Sheet Cross-Cut Paper, CD and Credit-Card Home Shredder shreds up to 24 sheets at a time and can run for up to 25 minutes before needing to cool down. This is a great machine and well worth the price.
Updated and republished 1-24-20