BBB warns Americans to shred to prevent ID theft

David Yates Apr. 3, 2008, 8:20am

The Better Business Bureau is warning Americans to shred sensitive documents while cleaning out dusty filing cabinets this spring.

The BBB of Southeast Texas will host "Shred It & Forget It" on Saturday, April 12, 2008, at the Central Mall parking lot off Hwy 69 in Port Arthur between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Consumers can bring documents to be shredded for free; 10 boxes max per vehicle (Box size is limited to a standard banker's box, approximately 10 x 12 x 15 inches).

Last year alone 8.1 million Americans became victims of ID theft resulting in the loss of $45 billion, according to a 2008 report from Javelin Strategy and Research.

The report notes that, contrary to popular belief, only 12 percent of ID theft is perpetrated online. The vast majority of ID theft occurs when the thief has direct contact with the victim's personal information such as through a stolen or lost wallet, or by rifling through the victim's mailbox or trash.

"When people think of ID theft they almost immediately focus on hackers and online security," said Michael Clayton, CEO of the Southeast Texas BBB, in an April 1 press release.

"But the truth is most ID theft happens when people have failed to secure or properly destroy important financial information including paper documents, IDs, and credit cards."

Properly destroying sensitive personal and financial documents is a key step in ID theft prevention. The BBB recommends the following guide on when to shred the following documents:

Canceled checks

Canceled checks with no long-term significance for tax or other purposes can be destroyed after one year. However, canceled checks that support tax returns, such as charitable contributions or tax payments, should be held for at least seven years � long enough to cover the six-year tax assessment period, the press release stated.

BBB advises that consumers indefinitely keep any canceled checks and related receipts or documents for a home purchase or sale, renovations or other improvements to owned property, and non-deductible contributions to an Individual Retirement Account.

Deposit, ATM, credit card and debit card receipts

Consumers should save credit, debit, and ATM receipts until the transaction appears on their statement and they have verified that the information is accurate, the press release stated.

Credit card and bank account statements

Credit card and bank account statements with no tax or other long-term significance can be discarded after a year; remaining statements should be kept for up to seven years. If a consumer receives a detailed annual statement, they should keep it and shred the corresponding monthly statements, the press release stated.

Credit card contracts and other loan agreements

Credit card contracts and loan agreements should be kept for as long as the account is active in case the consumer has a dispute with their lender over the terms of the contract, the press release stated.

Documentation of a purchase or sale of stocks, bonds and other investments

Investors should retain documentation of a purchase or sale for as long as they own the investment and then seven years beyond that time. Monthly retirement and monthly investment account statements can be shredded annually after being reconciled with the year-end statement, the press release stated.

Paycheck Stubs

Paycheck stubs can be shredded yearly after the income has been reconciled with a W-2 or other tax forms, the press release stated.

Utility or monthly bills

Monthly bills should be shredded the year after being received by the consumer. This way, if it's a power bill, for example, consumers can compare this month's bill to last year's bill for any major changes before shredding it, the press release stated.

Shred-it Checklist

  • Documents that include Social Security numbers, birthdates, PIN numbers or passwords
  • Banking documents and other financial information
  • Leases, contracts or letters that include signatures
  • Pre-approved credit card applications
  • Medical or dental bills
  • Travel itineraries
  • Used airline tickets

    For more ID theft advice, go to For more information about "Shred It & Forget It", call (409) 835-5348 or (800) 685-7650.

    BBB is an unbiased organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization's high standards of ethical business behavior.

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