Very often, when I am helping a client go through a huge pile of paper clutter, the client insists that any piece of paper that has his/her name and address on it must be shredded. I have tried to convince my clients that this wasn’t necessary — after all, your name and address are easily obtained on the Internet –but most of them were not reassured.
Thus I was excited when I heard about a class last year for organizers on the topic of Identity Theft, featuring Julie Crump, Senior Vice President of Compliance and Security for Independent Bank.
At an appropriate point during the teleclass, I asked Ms. Crump point blank if it was necessary to shred every piece of paper with a name and address. The resounding answer: NO! Now I can say to my clients, “I took a class in Identity Theft from an expert, and she confirmed that it is not necessary to shred every piece of paper that has your name and address on it.” Many of my clients feel a great sense of relief when I tell them this and are much more comfortable getting rid of paper.
So what should we be shredding? According to Ms. Crump, anything that comes from an organization — such as your bank, credit card company, insurance company, doctor’s office, the DMV — that has personal (i.e., non-public) information about you. Even if it looks like junk mail, it may have something personal that we are overlooking, so shred it.
I learned a very interesting tidbit which isn’t of much use to me and my apartment-dwelling clients here in New York City, but it may be of use to those of you who live in the suburbs. People with outdoor mailboxes may be able to signal that they need a mail pickup by putting up a flag. Beware, because this flag is also an alert for thieves who are trying to steal your personal information. They can not only obtain your credit card numbers or bank account numbers, but they can also alter a signed check so that it’s made out to them. Yikes!
Another useful piece of advice: talk to your bank about setting alerts on your bank account – for example, if an item posts for more than a certain dollar amount, or if your account goes below a certain amount, or if more than a certain number of checks clear in one day.
What should you do if you become a victim of identity theft? The Federal Trade Commission website has an Identity Theft page that features a checklist of steps to be followed.
The class ended with the question “What’s your million dollar piece of advice?” Ms. Crump’s answer: Think before you give out information. Who are you giving it to, and why?