At the risk of sounding like the victim is to blame in cases of identity theft, all too often consumers unwittingly make it easier than it should be for an expert thief to do serious, long-term damage to a person’s identifying information and accounts. While the criminal is obviously the person in the wrong, there are steps you can take that will make you not worth his effort.

Hopefully you already know about keeping your accounts secure, especially online accounts, by maintain strong passwords and keeping them secure. Safeguard your personal identifying information, even things that might not seem all that pertinent. In the wrong hands, information can be pieced together about you that leads a thief to your valuable data.

Even though paperless billing and statements are a popular, cost-effective, and green alternative that many businesses are choosing, there are still a variety of papers that will come to your house each month that can lead thieves to your information. You may already know about shredding documents like bank or credit card statements, but are you shredding your utility bills? The address labels off your magazines? Your insurance statements after a doctor’s visit?

All of those seemingly useless things can actually tell a thief a lot about you. Your utility bills can be used as a required layer of proof to open accounts in your name, and your insurance statements can lead a thief to maxing out your lifetime medical benefits. Even your address label can tell a criminal a lot about you; the magazines you subscribe to, especially something like parenting magazines or upscale travel magazines, can make you a more optimal victim by telling him more about your lifestyle and what your finances may be like.

A sturdy cross-cut shredder can give you a lot of peace of mind, especially if you get into the habit of routinely destroying all pertinent documentation, even something as simple as a store receipt. The more information you leave lying around intact—okay, I do mean in your trash, but that’s still “lying around” for someone trying to gather enough information to steal your identity—the easier it will be for a thief.

Besides feeling good about knowing your identifying documents are destroyed, you can also feel good about shredding for another reason: it’s good for society! Animal shelters often take donations of shredded paper to use in the animals’ cages as clean, disposable bedding. Your old bank statements can be a source a hygienic care for an animal in need. Community gardens also take donations of clean shreds in order to compost them, and many of these organizations donate a portion of their produce to local food banks and soup kitchens.

If your volume of documents to be shredded each month is too high for you to shred it yourself—say, you own a small business or you’ve taken control over an aged relatives household and now have two households’ worth of documents each month—there are a number of professional services to handle it for you. Many of them will even come to you, shred your content on-site, and haul away the pieces.

Even better, shredding by the pound is a common for-profit service offered through sheltered workshops that hire developmentally disabled adults, such as the Gone For Good program at the United Cerebral Palsy Center. Again, your need for security can benefit your community when you send your documents for shredding.

However you choose to destroy outdated but sensitive information, remember that a good rule is when in doubt, shred it. If you’re not sure you need to shred it, if there’s even a question in your mind, then do it.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit