Much has been made of people’s identities being stolen through cyber attacks and other online means, but the majority of these thefts are still being carried out the old-fashioned way by criminals finding documents bearing social security numbers and other personal information.
Identity theft is a growing problem with consumers reporting more than 490,000 incidents in 2015, up an astounding 47% from the year prior, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Certainly, a good reason for this increase is online data theft, but a surprising number of Americans are still having their personal information stolen because of improper disposal of paper documents.
The best way to combat this kind of identity theft is by regularly shredding paper documents when it’s time to dispose of them. But what documents should you shred and which ones can you just toss in the recycling bin? Here are our tips:
Anything containing your social security number – This is the number one bit of data that identity thieves want to get a hold of. With your social security number they can open checking accounts and credit cards – and sometimes even take out loans.
Your social security number can be found on a number of documents, including:
- Pay stubs
- Tax returns
- Medical bills
- Health insurance cards
- Loan statements
Bank and mortgage statements – First off, you should keep these statements for up to seven years for tax audit purposes. After that time, there is no need to keep them and you should dispose of them.
These documents should be shredded. While they sometimes may contain your social security number, they do contain your bank account statements and crafty scammers can produce bogus checks that they can use to cash checks from your accounts.
Utility and other bills – Utility bills may contain personally identifiable information. Experts recommend that you keep these bills no more than a year. To avoid having your data exposed, you should then shred them.
Anything with your signature – It’s highly recommended that you shred any documents that have your signature on them. That’s because a clever criminal can learn to copy your signature, and combined with other personally identifiable information they get their hands on, they could open accounts in your name and do real damage to your credit.
Receipts – While you may want to keep some receipts for your tax records, any others you don’t need to shred and can toss into the recycling bin. Credit card receipts don’t contain your entire credit card number, so you don’t run the risk of someone gaining access to your card should they come across these receipts.