Action Line: Shred documents to protect yourself from identity theft

Identity theft hits millions of Americans each year and, as tax season winds down, many will be looking to get rid of their old tax documents.

Whether you’ve filed your taxes by paper or online, you’re likely left with a stack of tax documents that you’re supposed to hold onto for up to seven years.

But before you toss what you no longer need in the trash can, shredding those important documents can guarantee they won’t make it into the hands of criminals.

Read: Free post-tax shredding events

Pro-File Record Systems is just one of many companies that specialize in document management services for individuals and businesses and, with the end of tax season, comes an uptick in business.

“With the amount of material that we shred every day, you can rest assured that there is no way someone can come in and recreate a single document,” said Minna Sugimoto of Pro-File Record Systems. “In the 20 years that we’ve been doing this, we’ve seen more and more people want to take those extra measures to be super proactive about how they’re handling their confidential information.”

That also includes having someone store them instead of shredding them. “Storing it is important as well,” Sugimoto said. “You don’t want to just be leaving it around for people to access, especially if it has confidential information.”

But you want to make sure you select a reputable company for the job. “There are going to be people out there who give you their business card and say, ‘Hey, I can do it cheap. I can shred your materials. Give me your box of financial documents.'”

The Better Business Bureau recommends shredding things like banking documents, medical bills, pre-approved credit card applications, and any document that contains Social Security numbers, birthdates, PIN numbers and passwords.

Here are more tips to protect your identity:

  • Shred statements and applications you get in the mail that you don’t want to keep. These include credit card applications, insurance forms, financial statements, health forms, billing statements from utilities and phone service.
  • Cut up expired credit and debit cards. Make sure you cut through the numbers.
  • Protect your Social Security number, all account numbers and passwords. Don’t carry these numbers in your wallet. Give out personal identifiers only when absolutely necessary. Beware of unsolicited e-mails and phone calls if someone asks for the numbers.
  • Secure personal documents at home. If you have roommates or if you employ outside help or contractors in your home, make sure personal documents are in a safe place and not lying out in plain sight.
  • Minimize personal information printed on checks. You don’t need to include your Social Security number, driver’s license or phone number.
  • Monitor bank and credit card transactions for unauthorized transactions. Crooks may start with small transactions to see if you notice.
  • Pay attention to billing cycles. If bills don’t arrive on time, follow up with your creditors.
  • Don’t create obvious passwords. Avoid using your birth date, child’s name or birth date, mother’s maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
  • If you conduct business online, use your own computer. A public computer is less secure.
  • Never use email to communicate sensitive personal information. Don’t respond to emails asking to verify your personal information and identifiers. Neither your bank, credit card company, online payment system nor the IRS will call or email asking you for confidential information. They already have it.
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