While more light still needs to be shown on all the electronic data breaches that are occurring every day, the less flashy and attention-getting forms of attaining personal identifying information should not be overlooked. These "low-tech" strategies for stealing one's information include stealing wallets or purses, mail theft, sifting through dumpsters for documents, and spying over your shoulder while you handle personal identifying information. The easiest of these forms of identity theft with the lowest risk of detection is looking for your documents in the trash, otherwise known as "dumpster diving." It is of utmost importance to be vigilant against these forms of theft and one of the easiest ways to minimize low-tech ID theft is to keep a shredder handy around your house or office.
The Identity Theft Resource Center maintains a cutting edge Data Breach Report on the type and number of data breaches in the United States. While electronic data compose the overwhelming majority of data breaches, paper data breaches still make up over 15% of all data breaches reported so far this year. While 15% may seem low, people must be aware that paper breaches can often be much more devastating than electronic breaches. While an electronic breach can be just as devastating, the information compromised in an electronic data breach may be just an e-mail address, a password, or user name.
With Congress starting to take notice of cybersecurity, it is likely that low-tech ID theft, especially paper breaches, may increase as businesses begin to make a greater effort to upgrade their information technology systems. Paper breaches will often have significant amounts of your personal identifying information (PII) with extras such as what your signature looks like, fingerprints, or copies of your photo identification in a file. This is the mother lode for an identity thief. Now, the safest route to take is to simply shred every single piece of paper you throw away, but obviously not everyone wants to take the time and effort to shred that much paper on a daily basis. While you do not have to shred everything, you should always shred the following documents as soon as possible: tax returns, bank statements, credit card offers, old photo identification cards, pay stubs, convenience checks, canceled checks, old Medicare cards, and canceled credit cards or debit cards.
These documents all contain sensitive personal identifying information that an identity theft can use to do considerable damage to you. Use a crosscut shredder, which means that the shredder won't just cut the paper into long lines, that cuts the paper being shredded into hundreds of pieces which makes it virtually impossible for an identity theft to put back together. For documents containing PII that you must absolutely hang onto, the best thing to do is to scan these documents onto your computer, transfer them to a thumb drive, and then delete them from your computer. Store the thumb-drive either in a safe storage area like a safe or hide it somewhere that a thief would have trouble finding it.
"Shred for Your Protection" was written by Sam Imandoust, Esq. Sam serves as a legal analyst for the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to the ITRC Blog.