What Should I Be Shredding to Protect Against Identity Theft?

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The latest statistics regarding identity theft make worrying reading. Cifas, a fraud prevention agency, have revealed that the number of identity theft victims in the UK has increased by almost a third. More than 32,000 people fell victim to this crime in the first three months of 2015, representing a 31% increase when compared to the same period in 2014. This means that we all need to act with diligence when protecting our personal data, and one critical approach you must adopt is data shredding.

In today’s digital age, we are growing increasingly concerned with online hackers and their sophisticated approaches, from phishing to malware, and rightly so. However, what a lot of people do not realise is that the bin is also a treasure trove for identity theft, and a lot of criminals are waiting to use the things that people are throwing away against them. To combat this, you need to be fully aware of the different items criminals can use to build up a picture of your identity so that you can guard against it. Read on to discover the items you shouldn’t be throwing in the bin without shredding.

Bank and Credit Card Letters and Statements

As soon as you receive a PIN for a new credit card or your Internet banking passcode, you need to shred this information, otherwise you’re simply gifting fraudsters a way in. While your bank and credit card statements will not contain your banking passcodes or PIN, they still need to be treated with caution, as they do give away information about your spending habits and existing standing orders. If the criminal in question has any other information about you, they can easily use this to buy goods from foreign websites or to bypass bank security. Nowadays, if you do not know your online banking password, a lot of banks will get you to confirm some of your last purchases in order to access your account. Thus, this showcases how an individual could easily get into your bank account if you simply throw your bank statements in the bin. You should also shred any credit reports, pre-approved credit card applications, and expired credit and debit cards.

ID – Driving Licences, Passports, etc.

Destroying any forms of identification before throwing them away may seem obvious. However, there are a lot of people that through away expired passports and driving licences once they have received a replacement ID, particularly the paper part of the driving licence. Fraudsters can amend these documents with ease to pass themselves off as someone else, which is why it is vital to shred any forms of ID once you have received a replacement.

Laptops, Computers and Other Devices

Nowadays, we seem to be upgrading our electronic gadgets and devices every five minutes. When you buy a new laptop or computer, what do you do with your old one? A lot of people simply dump it in the bin or take it to the tip and forget about it. There are those that go to the effort of wiping their computer, but this is not enough. Even when you delete a file, it still exists on your hard drive, and this can be recovered with ease using free software that is available online. The only way to ensure that a fraudster does not get their hands on your confidential data is to render it completely irretrievable through the process of shredding. You should also shred any other electronic items that store data, such as USB drives, SIM cards, mobile phones, SD cards, and hard drives. Reformatting and reinstalling an operating system may get rid of most of the data, but you don’t want to take any risks.

 Medical Bills and Insurance Information

If you have received a medical bill, taken out an insurance policy, or made an insurance claim, you should never simply throw these items in the bin. All details need to be shredded, as personal medical information is highly sought after.  In fact, your medical record is worth more to criminals than your credit card. Criminals can make a tidy profit by selling medical information on the black market, and thus it is vital to take the steps to protect this data. Details that are being sold include policy numbers, birth dates, names, diagnosis codes, and billing information. This is used to create a new identity in order to buy drugs or medical equipment, typically for the purpose of reselling them.

Tax Documents

You need to shred any documents relating to paying your taxes; this includes tax returns, tax statements, letters confirming your unique taxpayer reference code, details of a tax rebate, and such like. Fraudsters who steal personal information in this manner are known to target individuals and businesses during tax periods.

Utility Bills and Other Household Bills

Last but not least, a lot of people do not see the need to shred their utility bills, especially if there is no account information, such as an account number, visible on the document. However, these criminals are clever, and they will start off by using the utility bill in question as proof of residency. This will enable them to apply for the likes of government benefits; for example, they may use your electricity bill to register a child at a school. The worrying thing about this is that once they have taken this first step, they will be able to build up small pieces of identification, through further documents they receive, and thus they can work on accessing bigger accounts and causing more destruction.

You need to be extremely cautious about the items you throw in the bin. If something contains your personal information, whether it’s your name, account information, medical details, or something different, make sure you shred the document or device. With identity theft rising at a rapid rate, this is more important than it ever has been. If in doubt, shred it!