Identity theft can happen in a lot of different ways. Some of them are difficult to avoid, if not impossible. Others are easily preventable with a little knowledge, experience, and understanding, plus a little bit of effort. Preventing identity theft with a paper shredder to destroy junk mail and other documents is an important start.
Shred Records Files and Documents to Protect Against Identity Theft
One of the easier methods how to steal someone’s identity is to obtain documents or other papers that have personal information printed on them. Everything from old tax returns, to receipts, to old contracts, or even a utility bill can be a wealth of information for an identity thief. Easier still is to do identity theft while getting a fraudulent credit card at the same time. This is frighteningly easy thanks to banks and credit card companies sending out hundreds of thousands of credit card offers, complete with pre-filled information like your name and address.
While neither your nor the identity thief would be able to interpret it, the various letter and number combinations printed on the credit card application or special zero percent interest balance transfer offer can also direct the credit card company to approve your credit application right away. These numbers tell the bank that your name has already been approved based upon either having pulled a credit report already, or because of the list your name came from.
The credit reporting companies don’t actually make much money by charging people to look at their own credit reports, or even from the fees they charge lenders to get your credit report, although they are only too happy to collect those fees too. Instead they earn huge amounts of money by selling your information to banks and credit card companies in the form of mailing lists. These lists can be selected by the card issuer to include people living in a certain area, with a household income over a certain amount, and with a credit score over 725. If your name comes off of that mailing list, a pre-approval code is almost certainly sitting on that free cash back credit card offer you got in the mail.
Of course, the biggest gold mine for identity thieves are those "courtesy checks" that credit card companies send by the millions through the mail. Whether it is a zero percent interest balance transfer offer, or just a "friendly reminder" that you can use your cash advance credit line really easily, these checks offer a bonanza for identity theft.
Writing a nice big fraudulent check for merchandise, or even for cash is a nice bonus, but that’s not all. Your name and address are on the checks, of course, and not just any name, but your name as it appears on your credit card. Since most people use the same format (with or without middle initial, with or without full names, etc..) on multiple accounts, that info is very nice to have. But, the best part of all is that these check don’t have the security features of real bank checking account checks. And, since they come from the credit card company on paper printed on a laser printer with paper tearing perforations between each check, they are really easy to print up on a printer so that the thief can write even more bad checks courtesy of your credit card account.
What can you do to stop identity theft from occurring in this manner?
The answer is to shred your mail, records, and files that have personally identifiable information. For many people, this ends up being a tedious and overly time consuming task. That means the new paper shredder they bought to stop identity theft gets used for a while, then instead, a "to be shredded" stack gets created, and finally, people have so much to shred that they don’t even bother.
To avoid shredding burnout, follow these tips for smart identity theft protection with a document shredder.
Best Tips For Shredding Papers to Stop Identity Theft
- Don’t Buy the Cheapest Paper Shredder – The cheapo shredders at most department stores and some office supply stores will only add to the shredding problem. These paper shredders overhead quickly, so you can’t shred very much at a time. Their blades and cutting mechanisms jam a lot and they get dull fast. In short, you’ll have to buy a new one very soon. It can be hard to tell which paper shredders are the junk ones. The best bet is to use the warranty information. Don’t buy any shredder that only has a one-year warranty or less. Also, make sure the warranty covers the WHOLE SHREDDER, not just part of it.
- Don’t Buy the Expensive Paper Shredder – You don’t need the top-of-the-line shredder either unless you generate a lot of documents for a business or you handle other people’s personal information. No one is going to put the effort into putting back together your shredded documents, so it doesn’t matter if your shredder does diamond cut or strip cut. Also, you don’t need one to shred CDs or credit cards. Instead, buy a good shredder that can shred more sheets at a time. Buy the shredder that can do the most pages per pass instead of one that does less pages but has extras like a credit card shredder or CD shredder. Get a shredder that can handle at least 8 pages at a time and that has both an OFF and REVERSE setting. Shredders without either are cutting corners.
- Don’t Shred Everything – There is no need to shred everything, only the papers that have your personal information on them, or are part of an application. When you get junk mail, tear it open. You don’t have to be careful, it doesn’t matter if anything rips. Just do it fast. Throw the outer envelope, the return envelope, and any generic advertising materials (usually the color glossy pages) directly in the recycle bin. Shred anything that has your name or address on it, and anything that is a check or application, as well as anything that has a spot for your signature. Watch for fine print on the back of the papers as a way of detecting things that need shredded.
If you want to have less credit card junk mail show up in the first place, have your name removed from the credit bureau mailing lists that get sold to junk mail marketers by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT. Remember that this removes your name only for your current address. Opt out again whenever you get a new MAILING address, including a PO Box!
It will take about six-months for you to see an actual reduction in the amount of credit report related mail you get. That is because the marketing companies put together their campaigns in advance and your name will still be on the list they got three months ago that they are using to prepare a mailing for next month. So, stay vigilant with your junk mail shredding until then.
Obviously, shredding your files, mailings, and documents won’t prevent all identity theft,
but it can greatly reduce your chances of getting hit.