Chapter 9 – Document Security and Destruction

Document security must become a top priority. Destroy by shredding or protect Critical and Sensitive Information with locks.

This one discussion covers three different situations.

a) At home.
Thieves have been known to dumpster dive looking for information casually tossed away like credit card statements, bank statements and canceled checks. Other valuable information includes credit card receipts that contain the entire account numbers. Do you own stocks or mutual funds? Most statements contain some really neat information like your full social security number. A thief finding these statements in the trash has hit a gold mine. He gets the gold mine, you get the shaft.

Think utility bills are unimportant? Think again. Remember your Identity is like a brick wall. Each piece of information is a brick and the more bricks you give a thief the more equipped they will be able to build a fake wall – a fake identity. Your phone bill is often a valuable brick as it contains more information then just your telephone number – it contains your account number which may be different than the phone number or contain additional security check codes. It can also contain the phone numbers of people you call regularly. People the thief could contact to obtain more information about you.

Also extremely valuable are old credit cards with old expiration dates. Although a few banks have figured this out, many still change the expiration date by 2 or 3 years leaving it the same month. It takes little effort to attempt to use an expired card and just increase the date by a few years. If it works, great! If not, the thief has lost nothing by trying. You are right now assuming that the thief can not use an expired credit card because it will be detected when it is run through the machine at the store. Wrong!

Very True Story Time: I used one of my own “expired” cards to buy something on the internet by entering the account number and a new year, same month, for the expiration date. The new card was at home, I had failed to put it in my wallet. The expiration factor was cleanly and easily defeated.

Capital One (Richmond, Virginia) is one bank that does change the Month and the Year, at least for their business credit cards. I know two major issuers that do not. Check your banks’ policies.

Old credit cards must be shredded, not just cut up with scissors.

b) While traveling.
If for work or play, keep track of receipts and information while on the road. When making any purchase with a credit card – check to see if the entire credit card information is printed on the receipts including expiration dates. Keep your credit cards in sight at all times. Never let a clerk take the card “in the back room” to run it. If the card is out of your sight, there is the opportunity for a double swipe or the information on the card to be written down, including the control number on the back. If the clerk insists on taking the card out of sight to process, consider cash.

If you are traveling, especially for vacation, it could be 2 or 3 weeks before you check your mail. And you may not audit your credit card bill for 2 or 3 months. When would you catch a $50 camping supply purchase that was changed to $250 after you left by the clerk re-submitting a new total? Effectively your Identity (via your credit card) was just hi-jacked. When a card is out of sight, it is out of your control.

It appears the more snooty the restaurant, the more likely you will be separated from your credit card. O

Options to consider when you are making the reservations:
(a) pay with cash, or
(b) use a card with a lower credit line or not used for lots of other purchases. With few regular purchases on a card it makes easy for the you and the credit card company to quickly spot irregularities.
c) At work.
This burned me. I submitted expenses with receipts containing credit card numbers. In those days, the receipt was an imprint of the card with account numbers AND expiration date. Although not as common, these types of receipts are still used in many places. If you submit any expenses for work, black out or remove any trace of credit card account numbers.

If you get any personal mail at work, take the effort to destroy it or remove it from the office. You only need one Co-worker more interested in their financial future than yours.

For work or personal, black out card numbers on any receipts submitted for any re-imbursements or purchase verification such as rebates. You do not know how many people will see this information. So at all costs, prevent it from being out there.

Actions to Protect yourself – Destroy it or Defend it.
Destroy it: Destroy everything! You can get a good shredder for about $40 at most office supply stores. It must be a Cross Cut shredder. A Strip Shredder is cheaper – and is useless. It must also shred credit cards. A unit strong enough to cut up cards will give you longer, more reliable service. You get what you pay for. If you buy a cheap shredder it may not be good enough for what you bought it to do: Which is Destroy Information!

When purchasing a shredder also consider the number of pages it will handle at one time. Not all papers are made equally. Bank & Investment reports, utility bills, medical statements and credit card statements are generally printed on heavier paper than standard home printer paper. Shredder manufacturers will rate shredders based on the number of light paper sheets. A 5 page shredder may only shred two or three pages of the heavier sheets before bogging down. The better and stronger the machine, the more it will cost to buy, but it should last much longer then a smaller, cheaper unit, providing better overall service

Defend it: Some things can not be shredded – income/tax records, real estate documents, etc. These items must be strongly protected. Buy a quality locking file cabinet and keep such information locked away. Do not go to Kmart, Wal-Mart or some discounter to buy a filing cabinet. The ones sold in such places are so easy to open a child could do it with a small screwdriver. Spend the money to buy quality. The money you may be saving is your own.

Another option for critical “must keep” data is to transfer to a password protected CD/DVD. First the password protection can keep out all but the most determined thief. Second, and most importantly, one CD or DVD can store many years of tax and financial reports. And one CD/DVD can be stored easily in a safe or bank’s safe deposit vault. This conversion can be performed by a third party or you can purchase a scanner and CD burner from your local computer store. If you have someone do it for you, make sure they delete all copies from their computer system including the computer’s trash bin. And then, of course, the paper files must be properly shredded.