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Blog: Minimizing Financial Clutter

My clients have many different philosophies about the subject of shredding. Some of them (gasp!) don't bother shredding ANYTHING a practice I strongly discourage.  Others won't discard ANYTHING with identifying information on it until they have shredded it.  You can imagine the volume of papers that accumulates, waiting for that elusive date when their owner finally has time to sit and shred them all.  And some of them shred SOME THINGS, like old bank statements and checks, but worry that they should be shredding other things, too.
My mission this week was to find out definitively what we really need to shred to help prevent identity theft and what kinds of things we can safely recycle without first obliterating them.
I was surprised to learn that the Supreme Court declared that it is not illegal for someone to look through my trash can when it's out at the curb!  Nope, when you put your trash outside for collection, it is fair game for identity thieves or for anyone else who feels the need to know your business.  Identity thieves, those clever devils, collect enough bits and pieces of your information from your trash a social security number here, a signature there that they can pretend to be you.  Soon, "you" have opened new credit card accounts, rented a new apartment, bought a new car, etc.   You find out about it when creditors start hounding you for payments for the things "you" bought.
What Must I Shred?
The short answer is:  any documents that someone could use to try to impersonate you.  They include:
         Your signature
         Account numbers (all )
         Social Security numbers
         Date of birth
         Maiden name
         Financial information (all)
         Medical records
         Legal documents
         Copies of vital documents
         Pre-approved credit card applications
         Online usernames
         Expired credit cards and ID cards
         Report cards and transcripts
         Employment records
EVERYONE should shred these documents before discarding them.  There is no gray area here.
Identity vs. Privacy
It seems to me that the desire to maintain one's privacy is the area that causes the most anguish for people.  Whereas most of us can easily understand why it is important to shred papers containing our Social Security number before we trash them, some of us feel the need to shred even more kinds of papers.  What about those address labels on catalogs and magazines?  Names and addresses on junk mail?  Don't they contain information that someone could steal?
Well, my research revealed that some experts recommend shredding these kinds of documents, too.    
I just did an experiment.  I entered my home address in Google.  It took me 2 more keystrokes to bring up my name, business name, and phone number.  Not very private.  My personal feeling is, if it is this easy for someone to find out who I am because they know my address, why should I bother shredding catalog mailing labels?  Do identity thieves have software that reads secret information about me in the bar codes?  I don't know, but I have personally made a decision to take that question off of my worry list.  I feel secure in the belief that if I diligently shred my "must shred" documents, I will be doing my part to minimize the possibility of someone stealing my identity.
Your Homework for This Week
1.       If you don't already own one, buy a cross-cut shredder.  Get a good one.  Keep it plugged in near the area where you open your mail.  No space for a shredder?  Get a pair of shredding scissors http://www.containerstore.com/browse/Product.jhtml?CATID=62523&PRODID=10020976
2.       Shred unwanted "must shred" mail immediately. 
3.       If you have a large quantity of papers to be shredded, consider hiring a mobile shredding company.  They bring a truck right to your home or office and shred your boxes of documents right in front of you!  You don't even have to remove staples.  I have used Shred-it with good results.  http://www.shredit.com/  Alternatively, look for document destruction companies in your area.

posted on: 8/9/2009 11:30:00 AM by Katherine Trezise
category: Finances

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Minimizing Financial Clutter

by Katherine Trezise

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About Katherine:

Katherine Trezise is president of Absolutely Organized, based in Baltimore, MD. She is president-elect of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization. Katherine holds a masters degree in business administration, is a Certified Professional Organizer® and a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®. Absolutely Organized specializes in helping people organize their homes, paperwork and financial records to make room in their lives for the things, people and activities that are most important to them.

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