How much of your mail is hanging around on your kitchen counter waiting to get dumped in the trash?
If you are like most people, you pick up the mail after work on the way into the house. But after wrangling the kids, getting dinner prepared, starting everyone on the nighttime routine and cleaning up the house, we totally forget about the mail and are way too tired to spend the time sorting through it.
I get it. I'm right there with you. There is the temptation to just throw it all in the trash unopened. Half of it is probably junk anyway. Especially those credit card offers you don't want and didn't ask for. But the time spent going through the mail and disposing of it properly is peanuts compared to the time we would spend on the phone with creditors and the credit agency trying to resolve the impact of identity theft.
How much time? Think as much as 130 hours. And that doesn't include the stress, frustration and the days off from work needed to fix it. You may not think it can happen to you, but the risk of identity theft is real.
And, one of the simplest ways to protect ourselves and mitigate risk is to take the necessary steps to protect our sensitive information that comes in the mail.
I know. Shredding documents isn't sexy, but it's no longer a practice just for law firms, hospitals, and accounting companies. Every day, people like you and me should make the investment in a home shredder, and use it on a regular basis. It's cheap, easy to set up and can quickly get rid of those everyday mail items we should immediately shred.
So if you are wondering what you need to shred, here are 7 things you should shred right now to help protect yourself from identity theft.
1. Credit card convenience checks
We get these from our credit card companies to draw cash from our credit accounts. They come in the mail looking like a regular statement, but the checks are attached in the back.
If you plan to use these checks, keep them safe with your regular bank checks. If not, then shred them right away to avoid them ending up in the wrong hands.
2. Any photocopies of private information
Beneficiary information, copies of your drivers' license and tax returns are all treasure troves of data for criminals. Old tax returns (more than 3 years old) can be especially dangerous because they can contain more than just your SSN. They can also contain your spouse and your children's SSNs, which are prime data for criminals.
Stealing a child's identity can go undetected for decades until your child really needs their credit for a student loan, to purchase a house or to open a credit card.
3. Bank & credit card Statements
As a rule, you want to shred anything that has your bank account or credit card information. That includes your bank and credit statements.
4. Credit card offers
Pre-approved credit card offers come in the mail all the time. And with the right information, someone in your household (or even familiar with your Facebook account) could open an account in your name.
You might think that sounds harsh to not trust our family members. But it does happen. In 2014, 550,000 fraud and identity theft victims reported that their information was compromised by people they knew. Family members, neighbors, and even coworkers all have some access to your sensitive information and could possibly steal your identity. Yikes.
5. Pay stubs
Aside from having all your income and even some direct deposit banking information, pay stubs could help provide information (which when coupled with other public data) that could put you at risk. You don't need these hanging around for anything. Not many companies request paystubs for more than two months anyway.
6. Canceled checks
Voided checks are still a risk because they have your bank account, routing number and your address listed on them. This gives anyone the ability to write fake checks with your account information, or order real checks using your data. Even if you have a voided check, be sure to shred it.
7. Expired credit card
Even though your credit card has expired, don't just throw it away. The magnetic strip still has encoded information on it. So take the proper precautions and dispose of it the right way by shredding it.
This also counts for canceled credit cards (when you close a credit account) or removing authorized users from your card. And while we are on the subject of removing authorized users: just because the user is no longer on the account, doesn't mean they still can't use the card. Their card is still fully functioning and you would be liable for the charges.
It seems almost every day there is a data breach. And that's just the companies we know of. It's no longer a question of if it will happen, but when the next one will happen. So shredding is a great start, but it's one part of a larger process.
Physical deterrents can't be the only part of the solution. But at least you lower the amount of paper clutter in your home and know that you took an active role in protecting yourself and your family. Don't wait. Go through your stack of mail today and set aside the sensitive information for shredding later. You'll be glad you did!