8 things to shred now to avoid identity theft

Documents in your home could help an identity thief

HOUSTON - Eight types of papers in homes everywhere can put homeowners at risk of identity theft and should be shredded right away, say a cyber-security expert and an online magazine called 'The Street.'

In 2011, identity theft cost this country $37 billion.

The number one thing that should be shredded according to 'The Street' is old tax returns.

The website advises people to keep the latest three or four years of returns but shred the rest.

Cyber-security security expert Chris Evans advises people to save seven years in case the records are needed for an IRS audit.

Evans is employed by Delta Risk and said bank statements should also be shredded.

"You need to make sure that there aren't any fraudulent charges on there," Evans said. "Make sure it balances with your checkbook or however you register that and then when you're done with it, run it through the shredder."

Also shred any unused credit card offers that come in the mail. Evans warns that someone else could get credit in your name. People are also urged not to throw out old photo IDs.

Keeping IDs for sentimental value is fine, but if they are thrown in the trash an identity thief could replace your picture with theirs. A driver's license ID has a lot of personal information.

Number five, pay stubs. There is much information there that could get into the wrong hands.

Credit card convenience checks should also be shredded. Evans said some people simply recycle them.

"All it takes is a 'pay to' and fill it out and a signature on it and then it gets presented to the bank," Evans said.

Old canceled checks are next on the list. Even if they are voided they still have a name, address, account number and routing number.

Canceled credit cards should also be shredded. Evans said if your shredder cannot handle them, cut them into pieces.

People are also urged to purchase a cross cut or confetti shredder instead of a strip shredder. Evans demonstrated how easy it was to reassemble documents shredded with a strip shredder.

"It took me about 10 minutes to piece this back together," Evans said.

He also reminds that nowadays many banks and other institutions maintain records electronically. He said the information is safer on their website than it is at a home in paper files or the trashcan.

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