Spring is here and now is a good time to rid the house of paperwork that has accumulated over the past year. Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns that, when it comes to reviewing and cleaning out financial records, failing to shred sensitive documents can put everyone at risk of ID theft.
Last year alone 8.1 million Americans became victims of ID theft resulting in the loss of $45 billion according to a 2008 report from Javelin Strategy and Research. The report notes that, contrary to popular belief, only 12 percent of ID theft is perpetrated online. The vast majority of ID theft occurs when the thief has direct contact with the victim’s personal information such as through a stolen or lost wallet, or by rifling through the victim’s mailbox or trash.
“When people think of ID theft they almost immediately focus on hackers and online security,” said Steve Cox, BBB spokesperson. “But the truth is most ID theft happens when people have failed to secure or properly destroy important financial information including paper documents, IDs, and credit cards.”
Properly destroying sensitive personal and financial documents is a key step in ID theft prevention and BBB offers the following guide on when to shred the following documents:
Canceled checks with no long-term significance for tax or other purposes can be destroyed after one year. However, canceled checks that support tax returns, such as charitable contributions or tax payments, should be held for at least seven years – long enough to cover the six-year tax assessment period. BBB advises that consumers indefinitely keep any canceled checks and related receipts or documents for a home purchase or sale, renovations or other improvements to owned property, and non-deductible contributions to an Individual Retirement Account.
Deposit, ATM, credit card and debit card receipts
Consumers should save credit, debit, and ATM receipts until the transaction appears on their statement and they have verified that the information is accurate.
Credit card and bank account statements
Credit card and bank account statements with no tax or other long-term significance can be discarded after a year; remaining statements should be kept for up to seven years. If a consumer receives a detailed annual statement, they should keep it and shred the corresponding monthly statements.
Credit card contracts and other loan agreements
Credit card contracts and loan agreements should be kept for as long as the account is active in case the consumer has a dispute with their lender over the terms of the contract.
Documentation of a purchase or sale of stocks, bonds and other investments
Investors should retain documentation of a purchase or sale for as long as they own the investment and then seven years beyond that time. Monthly retirement and monthly investment account statements can be shredded annually after being reconciled with the year-end statement.
Paycheck stubs can be shredded yearly after the income has been reconciled with a W-2 or other tax forms.
Utility or monthly bills
Monthly bills should be shredded the year after being received by the consumer. This way, if it’s a power bill, for example, consumers can compare this month’s bill to last year’s bill for any major changes before shredding it.
Shred-it Checklist - Don’t just toss it, shred it!
• Documents that include Social Security numbers, birthdates, PIN numbers or passwords
• Banking documents and other financial information
• Leases, contracts or letters that include signatures
• Pre-approved credit card applications
• Medical or dental bills
• Travel itineraries
• Used airline tickets
For more trustworthy advice from BBB on preventing ID theft and for guidance on what to do if your identity is stolen, go to www.bbb.org.