Sunday, May 20, 2007

To Shred or Not to Shred - That is the Question!

Shred It or Regret It

It’s rampant. It's evil. It's coming to a town near you. It's IDENTITY THEFT.

Identity thieves may not exactly steal your life, or your home, but they can steal your money and make life a nightmare for you for a long time. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, identity theft is American's fastest growing crime and over 7 million people per year are victims of this crime.

I found getting ready for Shred-It Day this weekend to be particularly draining. It probably had to do with the arduous task of sifting through mounds of paper in our file cabinets. Cleaning out our files was our Friday night project (are we exciting, or what)! While my husband complained about having to go through all the files, I asked him to keep in mind the amount of time I had spent over the years, doing all of the filing.

It was hard to figure out what to keep and what to purge. Just as we cleaned out one file cabinet, I tackled another only to be met with another pile of papers to sort through.

We had to weigh out what to should keep for tax purposes, what I want to keep for sentimental reasons and what we simply don’t need. After a couple of hours be were done, and were getting rid of at least 75% of what was in our filing cabinets. I felt like a weight had been had been lifted off my shoulders.

Let The Shredding Begin

On Saturday morning it was so simple. I gave the shredding company my boxes of papers and all of those personal records were gone, saving me hours of time standing in front of our home shredder to avoid the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.

Not shredding all of our personal documents is not a risk I am willing to take. The average victim of identity theft will spend over 600 hours and $1,400 dollars of their money clearing their name after an identity thief strikes.

Below are a few easy things that you can do to help reduce the risk of having your identity stolen.
  • Shred shred shred. Buy a good cross-cut shredder, and get the most heavy duty one you can afford. Be sure it will take staples and credit cards, as well as several sheets of paper at once. Shred anything with your name, address, and of course, any account numbers on it. It only takes a minute and it's worth it.

  • Mail your outgoing letters and bills from the Post Office rather than your home. I know it sounds annoying, but when that little red flag is up indicating that you have outgoing mail for the postman to collect, it's also a sign for thieves to nab your mail, which often contains checks. The thieves "wash" the checks of all ink except for your signature, then poof they have a blank check, signed by you to write to whomever they want.

  • Protect your Social Security Number and credit card information. There are only about a ton of email and phone scams out there these days, so don't be fooled. NEVER give personal information over the phone or in an email and, don't click through on any emails asking you to "verify your account information" or warning you that your Ebay or PayPal account has been compromised! It's just a scam to get you to input your personal information to a bogus site that will collect it and use it for fraudulent purposes.

Taking these simple steps will help reduce your risk, limit your exposure and avoid the nightmare of identity theft.