Identity theft is unfortunately becoming increasingly common. Thieves can get personal information about you, steal your identity and generally create havoc in your life by signing up for credit cards etc… in your name. One way they do this is by taking your details from documents your throw out in the garbage. It has therefore become essential to destroy any documents containing personal information that you intended putting in the garbage. If you are unable to burn your documents or if you simply have too many to make that a sensible option then you really ought to buy a paper shredder.
A paper shredder is a mechanical device that cuts paper into thin strips or small pieces. To protect your identity from theft by so-called dumpster divers you need to shred or destroy all bills, tax documents, credit card statements, bank statements, etc… Bear in mind too that documents you dump in the garbage can end up in foreign countries, as your municipal waste disposal service decides to dump them in countries in Africa rather than in the local waste dump or incinerator. Yes, they do do this.
TV documentaries have shown waste being transported half way around the world to be dumped in landfill sites in places like Nigeria, where local people can then sift through the rubbish and get your personal information.
Given how little paper shredders cost there is really no reason not to get one and use it. Light-weight shredders will destroy your paper documents, but there are heavy-duty shredders that will also shred CDs, DVDs, etc… A cheap shredder will cost around $40, a heavy-duty shredder will cost around $600.
There are different types of paper shredder available. Some of them just cut your documents into strips, but there are also cross-cut shredders, industrial shredders, heavy-duty shredders, and high-security shredders.
Before buying a shredder you should bear in mind too that they can be dangerous. Every year there are people who lose fingers in shredders, particularly young children, so check out the safety features if you think this is likely to be a problem.
The safety features to look out for are sensors that switch the shredder off if fingers get too close to the paper entry, very thin paper entries, safety locks to ensure that children cannot switch the shredder on, safety flaps that hide the cutters when the head is removed from the waste basket, safety interlock switches which prevent the shredder head from being operated if it is not in waste basket.
Standards have been created to define the level of security a paper shredder offers. These levels are:-
1 = 12 mm strips
2 = 6 mm strips
3 (confidential) = 2 mm strips
4 (Commercially Sensitive) = particles measuring 2mm x 15 mm5 (Top Secret or Classified) = particles measuring 0.8 mm x 12 mm
6 (also Top Secret or Classified) = particles measuring 0.8 mm x 4 mm
Finally, when buying a paper shredder, go for a shredder that is more powerful than you think you need – the ratings are always over-optimistic. Consider getting a shredder that also shreds CDs, DVDs, credit cards etc…
Get a shredder with a bin that is easy to empty.
Get a shredder with auto-stop/start and reverse modes. Auto-start switches the shredder on automatically when you insert your paper. Reverse mode is useful for clearing paper jams.
And don’t forget safety. If there are children or pets nearby, get a shredder which offers the best safety features.