People fall victim to identity theft and fraud every day. Since we receive and store personal information in many documents, there are now more ways than ever for people to access it. Therefore, it makes sense that you should take preventative measures to guard against identity theft. A crucial part of protecting yourself is keeping your sensitive information private. Anything that has personally identifiable information or leads back to you should be properly disposed of. You don’t want to leave yourself vulnerable if someone were to rummage through your garbage bins. So, what is the safest way of disposing of sensitive documents?
What Is the Safest Way of Disposing of Sensitive Documents?
Hand-shredding may work for things that contain publicly available information. But for sensitive documents, tearing them up simply isn’t good enough. You want to protect vital information and make sure that it is impossible to piece back together. Many choose to shred their documents because it is faster and more convenient when you have a lot of paper.
If you don’t have a shredder, there are places where you can take your sensitive documents. You can contact local paper shredding services that have industrial-grade equipment to handle the job. Or, you can look for announcements about community shredding days. Local banks, financial institutions, and recycling centers regularly have free shredding days for their customers. Since they shred higher volumes, your documents get mixed in with thousands of other documents from many different people possibly adding an additional layer of security.
However, shredding is not the safest way of disposing of sensitive documents. Although the documents are destroyed, it is still possible for the information to get into the wrong hands. New software can “unshred” them and expose your personal information. While cross-cut shredders are more secure than strip-cut ones, shredding is best used when combined with other methods to dispose of your documents. Some people place the scraps in different bins and in bags with spoiled food to deter identity thieves. Others choose to implement multiple methods mentioned in this paragraph to ensure everything has been destroyed.
I prefer the old-fashioned way and burn my information because I feel it is the safest way of disposing of sensitive documents. As an added measure, I even tear them up beforehand in case any pieces of paper survive the blaze. I typically use our fireplace, but sometimes will also utilize outdoor spaces when I have larger volumes.
However, there are a few safety and legal concerns if you use this method. First and foremost, check with your local city ordinances and fire department to make sure it is legal where you live. If you are in the clear to burn, stay alert to the weather conditions and make sure all fires are carefully tended.
Paper is a natural product, so it is biodegradable and will break down over time. As it breaks down, it will also enrich your compost pile with carbon. It will take a little more time to completely dispose of your documents, but it works faster if you hand-shred all the paper first. You will need to slowly work the smaller pieces into the compost pile. But, don’t do it too often to maintain the nitrogen-carbon balance. And, you also want to avoid adding paper that will give of toxic chemicals from glossy coating and plastic.
Along the same line of thought, some people mulch their confidential documents. Paper makes an effective mulch to help your garden thrive. If you have access to one, just run it through a wood chipper and add it to your other yard waste. Or, you can use cross-cut scissors or tear it by hand to make it into smaller pieces. But, just like composting, you don’t want to use any paper with a glossy or plastic coating since it will seep into the soil.
Some people will tell you that leaving your paper to soak in water is the safest way to dispose of sensitive documents. When left in water for 24 hours, your documents disintegrate into a sopping, illegible mess. The paper continues to fall apart if you try to piece it back together, making it more effort than it’s worth.
If you go this route, make sure to mix the slush to help the paper break down faster. A drill with a paint mixing attachment is ideal for this job. After it has thoroughly soaked, drain the water and dispose of the pulp. One pro-tip from those who use this method is to use a washing machine. You can contain the mess if you put the documents in a finely knit laundry bag or nylon stocking when you run them through a cycle.
Going Digital to Protect Sensitive Documents and Personal Information
As people transition to doing more business online, many sensitive documents are going digital. Maintaining digital documents eliminates all paper documents, including those that contain your personal information. You can change your preferences with your financial institutions and opt for e-statements which you can access through a secure website or emails with encryption. And, you can scan most receipts directly into your digital files from the QR codes on them.
Although it is more convenient, there are some serious security concerns you must take into account. There can be no doubt that as more information is accessible through digital files, there will continue to be security breaches. That means it is even more crucial that you take steps to protect your information. Ensuring that you have a strong firewall on your computer, running regular scans of your devices, and utilizing secure portals for financial documents are a few examples of ways you can protect your digital files as well. As our information becomes exposed in new ways, we must learn to adapt and continue to use measures to protect personal information.
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Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist, and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad had strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. While most of her time is dedicated to working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food, and new adventures.