Each year, millions of Americans fall victim to identity theft. It’s a serious threat, as thieves can use your personal information to open new accounts, claim tax refunds, file fraudulent Medicare claims, and more. Even if your identity isn’t stolen, thieves may try to use your personal information to gain access to your bank account or credit cards.
And while online data breaches and hackers are making the headlines, your paper documents are still just as vulnerable as online data. Many of your paper records – including bank statements, tax returns, credit reports, and Social Security cards – could be used against you.
You need to guard your paper documents against identity theft. Here are four ways to safeguard your paper records:
1. Shred Old Documents
Don’t just toss out paper documents like bills or old checks when you don’t need them anymore. Paper documents can be retrieved from the trash and used to commit theft. You should destroy old documents before throwing them away. An electronic paper shredder is efficient, effective, and relatively inexpensive.
At the very least, you should hand shred any old paper and mail before tossing it out.
2. Lock Away Personal Information
Personal paper documents like deeds, tax returns, and Social Security cards need more security than a folder in a file cabinet. If they’re accessible to anyone who comes to your home, they’re vulnerable to thieves. You should keep your sensitive information in a lockbox or locked filing cabinet in a private area of your home. That way, they can’t easily be nabbed.
3. Digitize Your Old Documents
Digitizing your old paper records is another way to keep them secure from thieves and events like fires or natural disasters. You can store your documents on your computer or on a cloud-based storage system, like Dropbox, that can be accessed anywhere. Storing documents on your computer is easy and free, but you may have less security and you’ll face headaches if your computer crashes. If you do select a cloud-based system, make sure to do your homework and choose one that has a solid history of system security.
Once you choose where to store your documents, you’ll have to go through the process of scanning them and destroying any unneeded papers. Make sure you’ve established a solid file naming and organization system before you start in case you ever need to pull up old records.
4. Ask Providers About Security
Service providers, such as medical offices, often keep paperwork with your sensitive information on file. Since your Social Security number and birth date can be used to commit identity theft, you need to make sure your service providers are doing their best to protect your information. Whenever you submit sensitive data to a third party, ask about their security measures and verify that they’re properly protecting your information.