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Safety Report: Shred Documents to Protect Your Identity

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You can chop, cut, and rip personal papers into pieces but a crafty crook can find one readable name, number, or account company and steal your identity. Shredding protects your private information by destroying those documents.   

Caroline Walters, the university records officer at the University of Virginia, is cleaning house, safely disposing of thousands of documents detailing personal information for UVA. Walters uses a high-security level six crosscut shredder in the university's records management office. This admitted "records geek" schedules a regular records management day once a year, right around tax season time. 

Walters recommends shredding your bank and credit card statements after two years.  She stated, "Anything with your social security number on it or any type of account numbers, credit card numbers."    

She recommends the same time frame for utility bills, and she suggests shredding all but your most recent pay stub once you receive your W2. Walters says to keep copies of tax returns and any deduction receipts for three to seven years, which is how long the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has to audit your returns.   

After that, Walters says, "If you don't shred it and it just goes into the regular trash or recycling bin, someone can come along and just take that from you." 

You should hold on to paperwork for major purchases - like televisions, appliances, and computers - until you are ready to replace them, and then put the receipt down the shredder. 

Walters stated, "Sometimes even just a piece will give people the information they need to steal your identity or get access to your accounts or know where you have accounts." 

Al LaLuna owns Greene County-based Document Destruction of Virginia.  The mobile shredding company travels to homes and businesses around the commonwealth and pulverizes personal papers on the spot. 

"These trucks are designed to make sure nothing can be put back," LaLuna stated.  "The only time we touch paper is to put the boxes in. Everything else is done hands-free, so no one can see what's being put through there." 

But for an added sense of security, you can see your documents being destroyed.  The truck tears and pierces paper into unreadable pieces, then mixes it all up in a container that can hold up to 10,000 pounds. 

LaLuna said, "Everything that goes down the road here is already destroyed. So, if for some reason it did fall out - the truck was in an accident or something like that and it was on the side of the road - it's already shredded."

LaLuna's service costs 18-cents a pound plus container fees, and everything is recycled.  He said, "It's bailed and sent to a pulp mill."  

Whether destroying documents on a 1,000-pound scale or shredding a few pages at a time, protecting your personal information is a priceless investment.

Walters recommends keeping retirement accounts, social security statements, and education records forever. There is also no time limit for the IRS to ask for records if you file a fraudulent tax return or do not file one at all.