Even in this digital age, it’s still important to safeguard against identity theft the old fashioned way. As we worry more and more about the possibility of stolen identity from online activity, it might be easy to forget that there are still thieves out there who might have an interest in the documents you have at home and things that come in the mail. Though nothing you do guarantees you’ll never be a target, it’s still a smart move to stay vigilant and do all you can to make it more difficult for someone to get to your sensitive information.

The question is: What exactly is considered sensitive information? Basically, anything that contains your name and address along with any account information or financial numbers qualifies. Here’s a list of what might fall into that category:

  • Credit applications – includes offers for new cards or lines of credit
  • Insurance forms
  • Physician statements
  • Checks and bank statements
  • Old insurance statements
  • Charge receipts – even though retailers have gone to a system of not showing the full card number on receipts, this is still a good practice
  • Any document that identifies you and the name of your employer, bank or school

Along with these paper concerns, you should also be sure to shred any expired credit cards or those you don’t use any more.

You might look at this list and think some of the suggestions seem like overkill, but the reality is that you’re better safe than sorry. Thieves can take information on any of these types of documents and use them in a variety of ways. One recent story outlined a scam where elderly people were receiving calls from a person pretending to be the friend of a loved one who needed money fast for some reason. By getting a name, an address and other information, these scammers were able to find out enough information about the person they targeted (and the person they claimed to be calling for) to know the names of other family members – their relationship to each other, where they worked or went to school, etc. – to make a convincing pitch for the cash. Fortunately, the woman featured in this story didn’t fall for the scam and called authorities, but it sure makes the point that safeguarding information is important. It’s truly alarming what scammers and thieves can find out about a person with just a little personal information.

So, as you’re going through your mail or sorting through stacks of papers and cleaning up your office, take the time to identify documents that need to be shredded rather than just thrown in the recycle bin. For the documents you decide you need to keep, make sure to do so in a locked filing cabinet or a home safe. Good paper management techniques could mean the difference between safeguarding your information and a stolen identity!

And, if you find you have way more to shred than the average home shredder can handle, there are plenty of businesses that specialize in this service. Just do an online search and lots of options will pop up. Some of them will even come to your home or office and do it on site. Many municipalities also offer community-shredding events, which they announce on their websites or in local publications.

Be vigilant and remember… better safe than sorry. When in doubt, don’t just throw it out – shred it.


Not sure how long you need to keep documents? For information on what documents should be kept and for how long, contact Cathy Sexton at Cathy@TheProductivityExperts.com