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How to Effectively Shred Your Identifying Information 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.”

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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 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.

Paper and Cross-cut


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.

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 cannot be reassembled.

Paper and Micro-cut

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.

Paper shredder


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.

Paper and Credit card

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.

Paper shredder

Updated and republished 1-24-20


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  1. Susan Geddie says:

    What about the identity theft ink rollers that obliterate the information you want to hide? I bought one that seems to cover all the information with permanent ink. It’s a lot quicker than shredding. Just wondering if it is as secure as a good shredder.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Given what you say, if the identifying information is “obliterated” it should be safe. What we don’t know is if ID thieves have an antidote for that ink that removes or neutralizes the ink. That does seems farfetched.

  2. Kathy says:

    I fill the kitchen sink with about 5 inches of water and layer paper needing shredding in there. Within a minute the paper is soaked enough to just pull it apart with your hands. Then I take a handful of the torn paper and squeeze it into a ball about the size of a ping pong ball. Toss into the trash, repeat until all gone. The whole process takes a couple minutes. If anyone even tried to reconstruct the pages they would tear the paper worse while trying to separate the torn sections. MUCH cheaper than a shredder and doesn’t take up space.

  3. Anne says:

    Keep a bucket of water handy and throw your paper into it. You can easily tear wet paper and wad it up in a ball and toss it in the trash. Let anyone try to undo that mess.

  4. Jackie says:

    We take and put all materials that need to be destroyed in a plastic bag hidden under our home, (there is only one way down there and no one would find the door to it the way we have it covered up. When cold weather comes we simply put it under and throughout the wood we use for heat and it is burned up For credit cards we snip them really small and put them in different trash cans throughout the house. We then put the bags in different dumpsters we use for putting our trash in. It would be nice to have a shredder because that would make the paper easier to us in the stove and it would be easier to start the fire in the morning if I need it or in my cook stove when I use it when it is really cold.,

  5. Pat C says:

    In my community, City Councillors host ‘Environment Days’ where you can drop off recycling, toxic waste (like oil, insecticides etc), get info and also drop off material to be shredded. They throw it straight into the Shred It truck while you watch. I’m not sure it there’s a limit to how much you can drop off. If there is I may spend my Saturdays this spring and summer going to all the Environment Days to get rid of all my paper that needs to be shredded! Check and see if your community has something similar. If not, suggest it.

  6. Gina says:

    I have always burned all receipts, soliciting mail, etc. No need to worry about any remains of identity. Doesn’t cost me a thing.

  7. Gina Stevens says:

    It’s amazing how much we have to shred. As a retiree, who recently moved, I’m amazed at how fast my alma mater and credit card companies found me. Thanks for the continued help in navigating this fast-paced world.

  8. Betty Thomas says:

    I appreciate this information so much Mary. As I was emptying my shredder the other day I noticed the long thin strips came out together and really undisturbed. It seemed to me that it would be easy to reconstruct. I started searching for a better tool and YAY, my mailbox holds the answer once more. A young friend, fresh out of college did not have a lot of disposable cash or savings. Her identity was stolen and someone filed taxes in her name before she did. The resulting mess and the time to solve the problem was daunting. So please, even if you think you don’t have much to steal think again. Our financial indentities need to be protected like Fort Knox! It is so worth it to have a good shredder. Thank you.

  9. Kay Jones says:

    My credit union offers shredding several times a year. I don’t have enough items to justify spending money on a home shredder.

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