To avoid identity theft, you need to shred paper and plastic documents with information you don't want someone to get hold of, like Social Security and bank account numbers.By Matt Brownell, MainStreet
Cut your risks
According to financial services consulting firm Javelin Strategies and Research, identity theft affects 11 million people a year, at a cost of $54 billion.
If you don't want to become a statistic, a good place to start is to get a shredder.... More
Shredding documents isn’t just for accounting firms and people with something to hide -- every day working Americans have houses full of documents containing potentially compromising information, from Social Security numbers to bank account information.
To dispose of them, security experts recommend getting a good cross-cut shredder, which makes your documents into confetti, as opposed to the long strips that a determined thief could reconstruct.
Once you've got your shredder, following are the things to put in it.
Old tax returns
As a general rule, you should save your tax returns on the chance you get audited. But after three years, you’re in the clear -- that is, unless the Internal Revenue Service suspects you are guilty of fraud, in which case the agency can audit you as far back as it likes.... More
"Keep three to four years of tax returns in a firebox," says Brent Neiser, the senior director of the nonprofit National Endowment for Financial Education. Shred anything older than that.
The biggest concern here is Social Security numbers. Yes, that's numbers, plural.
"Your dependents’ Social Security numbers are on those, too," points out Gabby Beltran, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center.
Anything with bank account numbers should be shredded, and that obviously includes your paper bank statements. That’s especially true for that box of old bank statements you just found in your attic that you don’t know why you kept in the first place.... More
“There was a time when Social Security numbers were printed on brokerage and bank statements,” says Neiser, who adds that he just went through and shredded all of his old statements.
To avoid having to shred your statements every month, some experts recommend just making the switch to online statements.
“We recommend people turn off bank statements and get as many as you can via email,” says Phil Blank, the managing director of security, risk and fraud for Javelin. “The most commonly perpetrated means of defrauding people is to steal things out of their mailbox.”
Credit card offers
Unless you’re going to actually take up the bank on its offer and open an account, you should destroy these mailed offers right away.
“A lot if identity theft happens within families, so don’t leave them lying around,” warns Neiser. “Somebody in the house who knows your basic information could fill it out.”... More
Whether you need to shred or simply rip up the offer is a matter of disagreement among advisers, though. The priority is making sure someone doesn’t open a card in your name, but since there shouldn’t be any information like your Social Security number on these offers, you probably don’t need to obliterate them into tiny pieces.
“Offers are good to tear up -- I put them in the kitchen trash, around food items,” says Neiser.
Still, tearing it up may not be enough to stop someone from opening up a credit card and shredding your credit rating. A couple years ago, MainStreet reported that someone tore up a credit card offer, then taped it back together, sent it in and got a credit card from Chase.
Old photo IDs
Maybe you like to save your old college ID and security badges from previous employers for sentimental reasons; we won’t begrudge you a little scrapbooking.
But if you want to dispose of them, consider using a shredder.... More
While a photo ID alone isn’t enough to steal your identity, keep in mind that the ID -- and the…