By Bowman Richards
It’s the time of year for spring cleaning, and many people are throwing out old household items and personal documents to clear out some space. If you’ve been working from home throughout the pandemic, there’s probably even more clutter. And with tax season wrapping up, it might be time to get rid of some older documents you’ve been holding on to. It’s likely that many of these papers will end up in the garbage – but you might want to think twice before just throwing them out.
A lot of documents have personally identifiable information (PII) on them – information that is unique to your identity – including statements, bills or pay stubs. All papers with PII should instead be destroyed securely to protect yourself from identity thieves. Yes, people still dig through trash cans!
To prevent that from happening, consider using a secure shredding service to destroy and dispose of your documents.
Benefits of secure shredding
The main benefit of secure shredding is that it protects you. Nearly 1.4 million people were victims of identity theft in 2020, more than double the number from 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Secure shredding facilities use industrial-grade equipment to destroy documents to tiny particles rather than strips as at-home shredders do. Plus, they’re mixing your destroyed documents with hundreds of others, so even if thieves could get a hold of your information, they wouldn’t be able to put it together.
It also helps protect your company, your clients and your brand. Whether you own a business or are an employee of one, secure shredding keeps confidential information out of the wrong hands and eliminates data breach risks. Your clients’ information should be securely destroyed, too, so that you maintain privacy standards. Plus, if they know you’re carefully and defensibly getting rid of dated physical files, it will gain their trust. If your business has branded products, items or uniforms, shredding prevents them from re-entering the market in the wrong hands, protecting your company’s reputation. Additionally, if your branded items grant security clearance, product destruction keeps your business – and your clients – safe.
What to shred
Anything with PII on it – your name or address, for example – should be shredded. Be sure, though, that the documents you’re shredding don’t have to be retained for your records before they are destroyed. The FTC recommends shredding receipts, statements and paid bills immediately, but says that pay stubs, bank statements and medical bills should be held onto for one year and tax-related documents kept for seven years.
It’s not just paper, though – destroy your data, too. This includes USB drives, flash drives and old media equipment like computers with potentially sensitive information. Even if the equipment or drives are erased, some PII can still be found on devices by thieves with easily attainable software who are experts in stealing information. A 2017 study by the National Association of Information Destruction (NAID) found that 40 percent of resold electronic devices contained PII, including usernames, passwords and credit card information. This data can be recovered by thieves, and it’s easier than you think.
The only way to be sure your information is protected is to have it securely destroyed. Hard drive and media shredders use specialized equipment to apply massive force onto the device, crushing it and cutting it into pieces.
Where to do it
Take your documents and data to a NAID AAA Certified shredding facility to be sure your information is destroyed securely. This means that the company takes several steps to ensure it complies with industry security standards so you can have peace of mind, including:
- Employees adhere to pre-employment and random criminal background checks and drug screening
- All workers sign confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements
- The company provides certified proof that shredding output is unreadable
- The business maintains at least $2 million in general liability insurance
- There are comprehensive written security policies and procedures
- The secure destruction area is monitored with alarm and closed-circuit camera systems
Securely shredding documents and data with your information will ensure that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Pile everything together and take it to a local shredding center, many of which have walk-in hours. Some companies, like Richards & Richards, offer “seal and shred” bags you can take home to fill up over time. Bringing these documents in is convenient and will save you time and worry. Plus, NAID AAA Certified shredding facilities recycle everything they securely destroy – it’s a win-win!
Bowman Richards is the owner and president of Richards & Richards Secure Shredding in Nashville, Tennessee, the oldest and most trusted name in shredding and destruction services in the city. A Certified Secure Destruction Specialist, Bowman has been a member of the International Secure Information Governance & Management Association (i-SIGMA) and its predecessors since 2008 and currently serves as president-elect of the organization.