One of the biggest nightmares I have ever endured was identify theft after my wallet was stolen during college. Gone with it were not only my debit and credit cards, but also my social security card and dependent military ID card. Luckily, the nightmare only lasted a few days, but for millions of other people, identity theft can be a lifelong nightmare. In fact, according to Business Insider, identity theft affects 11 million people a year, at a cost of $54 billion. Though safeguarding your wallet is one way to protect your identity, another way is to get a great shredder.
I was recently asked by Fellowes, Inc. to test out its new Fellowes 79Ci “PowerShred” shredder. Over the years I have collected a large stack of (paid) bills and other paper with personal data, and thought this would be a great opportunity to not only do some serious shredding, but test out the true power of the Fellowes 79Ci. Let me just say: Though this shredder is quite the beast (and obviously designed for those who work in an office), it definitely got the job done for me. While my pile of papers primarily consisted of bills and bank statements, the Fellowes 79Ci can shred everything else that is important, too. Not sure what you can shred with a Fellowes 79Ci shredder? Here are 10 things you should always shred:
Old tax returns
Part of the reason I shredded my bills — and held onto them as long as I did to do so — was because they contained very personal financial information. With this data, an identity thief could gain control of my financial life. Tax returns carry just as much (if not more) of your financial information and can be a great asset in stealing your identity. According to MSN Money, you should save your tax returns for about three years — but after that, shred them up. Keep in mind when shredding anything that you’ll want a shredder that shreds your documents into as tiny pieces as possible so they can’t be pieced back together. The Fellowes 79Ci shreds documents into an impressive 399 particles, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure anyone has the time, patience, or skills to put that kind of 8×11 paper puzzle back together.
Canceled credit cards
A few of the favorite things I shredded with the Fellowes 79Ci were old, canceled credit cards. To climb my way out of debt that I created during college (a habit I don’t recommend for anyone), I decided to cancel my credit cards several years ago and live without any at all. Due to a lack of a shredder, these credit cards have been tucked away deep inside my dresser drawers for years. However, the Fellowes 79Ci handled this job beautifully — and quietly. I’ve previously seen shredders jam up at the presence of plastic, causing them to make awful noises and even sometimes start burning. However, the Fellowes 79Ci not only has a special flap to help you easily shred credit cards and other plastic media, but it is incredibly quiet regardless of the shredding job — which is great for those who work with others, or live in an apartment like me and are afraid to draw attention to their quirky, midnight shredding habits.
Another quick way to destroy your financial life is not only using convenience checks provided by your credit card company, which allow you to borrow against your line of credit, but letting these fall into the wrong hands. Be sure to shred these immediately to ensure no one can use them for you, and thereby negatively impact your credit.
Do you often cancel checks — or find yourself writing void on others that you deposit with your mobile phone? In this instance, keeping checks with account and routing numbers laying around your house can put not only your financial well-being in jeopardy, but those who pay you. Be sure to always shred any canceled check as soon as you’re sure the check is effectively void — especially if other personal information, such as an account number, is on the check. I shredded a few of these at the same time with the Fellowes 79Ci and it handled them with no problem — and I was rest assured that no one would ever be able to piece them back together, even when the shreds went out in the same trash bag.
Just like cancelled checks, you may not realize that your pay stub (if you get one) is also a source of personal information that could lead to identity theft. On MSN Money, Phil Blank, the managing director of security, risk, and fraud for Javelin Strategies and Research, says you should “absolutely shred your pay stubs… Some (financial) institutions will ask you as validation the amount of your last deposit; if they have that pay stub, they can give the bank that information.” Additionally, he adds that “They’ll know who your health care provider is and what bank accounts you have.” If you have saved several pay stubs over the last few months or years, the Fellowes 79Ci can easily shred dozens of these at a time — and if it can’t, its Jam-Proof technology will measure the thickness of a paper stack and automatically stop a paper jam before it occurs. That said, it takes quite a bit of paper before you’ll fall out of the safe green to yellow light range.
As I mentioned, anything with your bank account information should be shredded, and that obviously includes your paper bank statements and bills.
To avoid having to shred your statements every month, some experts recommend just making the switch to online statements. On MSN Money, Blank recommends that you “turn off bank statements and get as many as you can via email. The most commonly perpetrated means of defrauding people is to steal things out of their mailbox.”
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of things you should shred; copies of anything with your social security number or credit card number should always be shredded, and don’t forget about utility bills, transcripts, or medical records, either. Together, these can often be used as a way to verify your identity if both happen to land in the wrong hands.
Now that I actually have a shredder (and a powerful one, too!), I feel more secure knowing that the likelihood of facing identity theft (again) is significantly reduced. And that should I ever develop a stack of things to shred again, I can get the job done quickly, which saves me not only time, but frustration that other shredders tend to cause.
Do you use a paper shredder? If so, what things do think are important to shred? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.