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Identity Theft Prevention Tips? 126

Posted by Cliff
from the keeping-your-identity-to-yourself dept.
metalhed77 asks: "I have a ton of bank statements I need to dispose of and am wondering what I should do with them. Googling for solutions I just find banks advising me to tear them up, which seems like more an inconvenience to a thief than a real preventative measure. What do Slashdot readers do with their sensitive documents? With so much data theft occurring in today's society, what else do you all do to protect your personal data?"
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Identity Theft Prevention Tips?

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  • Easy solution... (Score:2, Informative)

    by TechDock (558245)
    Buy an inexpensive crosscut shredder
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I think we can close this thread now. /move along.

      • No no, the GP forgot to mention stirring up the resulting pieces to eliminate locality of information in the trash.
    • I don't use a croscut shredder, but I did get a shredder a while back. For me, it's largely to protect source code, client identity, things like that. Rarely am I shredding something that would include enough client information for it to be dangerous to a client.

      When I do have to shread papers that include bank statements, or enough info about a client that it could be dangerous to that client, I put the shredder over another bin and shred. When that 2nd bin fills up, I dump it in the fireplace, get a f
      • Same here. We picked up a cheap vertical only shredder. We have a large back that we store the shreddings in. When winter comes around, it makes it really easy to start a fire with a couple handfuls of the stuff. If we start getting an over abundance, then we just use more paper in the fire.
    • Inexpensive shredders are only useful if you're doing a few sheets daily, if you try to clear 10 years worth of documents in an afternoon you need something much more robust.
  • Burn 'Em (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 30, 2005 @10:57AM (#12392350)
    Burn the papers. Keep a pile of them, and once every few months, toss them on a fire. It's the only solution for the paranoid.

    You have more to worry from electronic theft than you do from somebody digging through your trash, though. Your SSN and everything else are on file with your credit card companies, banks, etc., and all too often they get cracked. Not a whole lot you can do there, other than avoiding business with them altogether.
    • You can always have shitty credit, no identity thief would *WANT* your identity :P
      • Re:Burn 'Em (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Seumas (6865)
        Not really. Bad credit is better than no credit. A history of debt is better than a history of no debt. Someone with an established history of being "in the hole" is socially and economically preferable to someone with a responsible history of not incurring debt in the first place.
    • Re:Burn 'Em (Score:4, Funny)

      by pyrrhonist (701154) on Saturday April 30, 2005 @11:53AM (#12392629)
      Burn the papers. Keep a pile of them, and once every few months, toss them on a fire. It's the only solution for the paranoid.

      No! Never burn your old papers. When paper is burned, the smoke emitted by the fire can be intercepted and the data recovered.

      Come on, haven't you ever heard of smoke signals?

      • Re:Burn 'Em (Score:2, Funny)

        by JRootabega (620750)
        That is why you puff on a cigarette while you're doing it. It's a one-time pad.
      • No! Never burn your old papers. When paper is burned, the smoke emitted by the fire can be intercepted and the data recovered.

        SOMEONE has been watching too much C.S.I. (Miami|New York).

        S
    • Re:Burn 'Em (Score:3, Funny)

      by fm6 (162816)
      It's the only solution for the paranoid.
      Burning sensitive papers isn't paranoid. Doing an electronic sweep for hidden cameras near your fireplace, now that is paranoid.
      • Re:Burn 'Em (Score:4, Funny)

        by erth64net (47842) on Saturday April 30, 2005 @12:10PM (#12392713) Homepage
        OMG! I never thought of the cameras! I mean I did disassemble my shredder to check there, but the fireplace?!? I wonder where I can get my hands on a wideband RF detector?
        • Don't worry, there's no need for a detector - simply take pre-emptive action against any cameras that might be around with one of these [amazing1.com].
          • Good lord. I hope this is a scam. If EMP devices have already gone commercial, we're all in big trouble!
        • Don't worry about detecting the camera, just destroy its ability to work.

          Start with newspapers (or better yet create some papers that look real, but really have fake data you WANT them to read) and a few logs.
          Start your fire normally.
          Once the logs are burning use a fan/bellows to crank up the heat.
          Do this for some time, long enough to melt any cameras directly in the chimney.
          Suddenly close the doors and damper. The heat of the former fire will keep smoke for a long time, this will build up soot

    • Burn the papers. Keep a pile of them, and once every few months, toss them on a fire. It's the only solution for the paranoid.

      LOL! Dust off and nuke the site...it's the only way to be sure.

  • Burn it... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pbulteel73 (559845) on Saturday April 30, 2005 @11:00AM (#12392364) Homepage
    Depends where you live, but sometimes you can use a chimney or BBQ (well, dunno about a BBQ.) I wouldn't recommend burning a big pile of paper. If you have a Chimenea you can burn it there. (I don't mean your actual chimney, but that could be an option for small amounts.) Anyway, fire would probably be the best place, BUT you need keep an eye on it. Don't just walk away! -P
    • Two things if you're using a fireplace: Make sure the damper is open (duh! ;), and burning paper alone doesn't always seem to generate the updraft needed to suck the smoke up the chimney. Getting a log or two going good first might be an idea and should result in a lot less smoke and residue gunking the chimney. Don't try to add it all at once, and yeah, don't just walk away.
  • easy one (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hankaholic (32239) on Saturday April 30, 2005 @11:03AM (#12392386)
    Buy a cross-cut shredder. As mentioned by someone else, if you're too cheap for that, fire will work as well.

    The one thing that people don't necessarily think of is checking their mail in the first place -- I know an older couple whose mail kept getting stolen, and the thief was using the information contained in the mail to do all kinds of things in their names.

    If at all possible, ask the companies sending you bills and statements whether there's a paperless option -- I've heard that many companies are now providing statements online with the option to stop mailing you a physical copy. Someone can't steal what isn't produced in the first place.
    • Re:easy one (Score:5, Funny)

      by Chess_the_cat (653159) on Saturday April 30, 2005 @11:58AM (#12392664) Homepage
      I've heard that many companies are now providing statements online with the option to stop mailing you a physical copy. Someone can't steal what isn't produced in the first place.

      Hmmmm. Your arguments are airtight. Unless of course one day someone figures out how to "break" "into" a "computer" and "steal" "data". But we've probably got a long wait ahead of us before that happens.

      • Unless of course one day someone figures out how to "break" "into" a "computer" and "steal" "data".

        And as a second side of the same problem, if anyone does achieve this particular magic trick (not that they could, of course ;-)) then lack of a proper paper record will conveniently mean that you have no obvious way of challenging it...

      • Come on, compromising someone's computer is at least slightly more difficult than snatching their postal mail.

        And I really can't understand what browsing at -1 has to do with the First Amendment. That makes about as much sense as "Support the Second Amendment, eat pizza."


      • As the parent poster pointed out, there is no perfect defense. But we all know that the best defense is a good offense--you need to beat these creeps at their own game.

        Do you remember the story about the woman who had her purse snatched twice in the same train station, so she started carrying about a purse filled with dog poop? It only got stolen one more time. The thief learned quickly! And I say, that's the way to do it!

        Strke first! Strike hard! Trash your own credit to the point that anybody th

      • I dunno. I've switched my bank statements to online only now. I get an email reminder when I get issued a new statement, to view it I then have to log onto my banks website using a username, password, plus the answer to a "secret" question chosen from 5 (I think) that I've previously picked out. While it isn't completely secure...it seems it'd be a lot more difficult for someone to steal my information in this context then it would be for them to steal it from the post - especially if I lived in America wit
    • Locking Mailbox

      The shredder is the first line of defense, and the paperless idea is good too (especially since all sorts of places actually CHARGE YOU for a paper copy anyway). But in regards to the mailbox thing, get a locking mailbox. Where I live the mailboxes are all in little groups that the post office setup and they lock so you can't walk up and steal people's mail. But even if you don't have that kind of setup, you should be able to get a locking mailbox (make sure it's post office approved). They

    • Buy a cross-cut shredder.

      That's the way to go. They've really come down in price. To get the best deal, check the weekly store ads today from Staples, OfficeMax, or Office Depot. The sales run Sunday to Saturday, so there might be one still on sale today. If not, then check tomorrow's ad. They have "get you in the store" sales on shredders all the time.

      If you've never bought a shredder before, get a cheap crosscut. If you can afford a few dollars more, get a crosscut that handles more pages at a time a

    • We had some cabinet work done and I asked whether the guys doing it could make us a mail chute. Easy job for them. So now rather than a box outside the house where anyone can get to the mail there's a flap, and the mail slides down the chute into the house. Much more secure.
  • by joelparker (586428) <joel@school.net> on Saturday April 30, 2005 @11:07AM (#12392406) Homepage
    Some banks will help you, for example letting you use their cross-shredder or document-disposal bins.
  • Make some mulch. Shredding them would work too. After shredding them just spread them across your garden and spray it down with a sprinkler, or turn them in your compost pile. This is also a great way to dispose of cardboard boxes after a big move.

    A good worm farm can take care of a NYT subscription pretty easily.
  • by hankaholic (32239) on Saturday April 30, 2005 @11:08AM (#12392416)
    hankaholic asks, "I have a ton of nails I'd like to pound into a board for a project I've got going. Googling for solutions I just find hardware stores advising me to hit them with a sturdy object, which seems like more an way to damage a blunt object than a real nail-driving measure. What do Slashdot readers do with their nails? With so many construction techniques in today's society, what else do you all use to get those nail-based projects off of the drawing board?"
  • A shredder is good for small quantities, but becomse very slow for large. I typically tear sensitive documents to separate information (name from acct number and balance) often vertically. Then dispose in recycle/trash on different pickups or to different locations.

  • Get a cross-cut/confetti cut shredder and then mix the shredded paper well. Then split the shreds into two or more groups and throw in trash in different locations or on different days.
  • As has already been stated ad-nauseum, cross-cut shredding it the easiest option.

    If you are REALLY paranoid, burning can be better, but even burning does not completely detroy a document. Skilled forensics teams can take charred pieces of documents and add chemical agents that keep them from further disintigrating. If you absolutely must completely destroy a document, burn it and then put the ashes into a bin with a bit of water and mix it until you are left with a gritty paste. Good luck putting THAT b
  • Use the cross cut shredder as mentioned - and then donate the shredded remains to an animal shelter or a hog farmer to use as animal bedding.
  • Look in your phone book or other directory of choice for a local shredding service. In the Twin Cities (MN) one of the services (I can't remember which, maybe Shred-It) will occasionally send a truck around to do free shredding. They park it someplace, you give then your documents and watch it go into the super-shredder in the truck. Otherwise I'm sure for a box or two of paper they won't charge very much to do the shredding.

    Personally I just have a nice fine cross-cut shredder (about $100) and occasionall
    • Both of my banks also allow PDF delivery of their statements, and have for a few years. I stopped getting paper statements then.

      Gee, It's a good thing the internet is such a secure transmission medium.
  • by SPQRDecker (762669)
    I think you are being excessively paranoid about identity theft via stolen bank statements, stolen mail, etc. And, should this happen, this type of outright theft is very obvious and is thus the easiest to resolve. However, most identity theft happens when somebody who already knows you (ie, family, close friends) uses the information that they already have about you to open accounts in your name. This is the kind you should really watch out for, both because it is so common and since it is nearly impossi
  • First, shred the documents, preferably with a cross-cut or confetti-cut shredder. Second, secure the shredded documents in a burn bag and ignite. If you don't have a burn bag, construct a wire mesh container (with small holes, but sufficient gauge to not melt) to keep the burning bits of paper from floating away. Liberally spray with lighter fluid and place over an open fire.

    Optionally, "wash" the shredded documents in a spin washer before burning. Ensure that the basin can be thoroughly cleaned out and th
  • by jazman_777 (44742) on Saturday April 30, 2005 @12:09PM (#12392707) Homepage
    To something outrageous like Napoleon Bonaparte. Then anyone stealing your ID will be considered a loon.
  • by fm6 (162816) on Saturday April 30, 2005 @12:28PM (#12392781) Homepage Journal
    ... I just find banks advising me to tear them up, which seems like more an inconvenience to a thief than a real preventative measure.
    Don't underestimate inconvenience. An effective security measure is not one that absolutely guarantees security. (Unless you define "security" as "the illusion of perfect safety" -- which seems to be an all-too-common definition!) An effective security measure simply raises the cost of penetrating security until it's unacceptable to the potential thief, terrorist, or whatever.

    Now, consider what's on your bank statement. Can the thief learn enough just by looking at your statements to pose at you? Obviously not. He can certainly use the statments to find out things you'd rather people not know. (Which is why it bothers some people that federal officials can browse online bank statements without a warrant.) And with a bit of work, he can use bank statements and other sources to assemble enough information about you to pose as you. Any inconvenience you add to the process, no matter how trivial, makes you slightly less vulnerable. The question is, how much effort should you expend to add inconvenience? To answer that, you have to consider just how much you have to protect.

    I have to admit that I throw my bank statements in the trash without even tearing them up -- I have such a bad credit rating no sane person would want to steal my identity. If I were slightly better off, I would tear the statements up. If I were a lot better off, I'd buy a good shredder. And if I were really rolling in cash, I'd hire a document disposal service to convert my paper records to pulp before disposal.

    But all of these measures can be circumvented. Shredded documents can be reassembled with enough patience and computer time. Sidney Bristow can use her feminine wiles to infiltrate your disposal service. You can't absolutely guarantee that nobody will steal your private records -- you can only make it not worth their while.

    • Having a good shredder is a start. I'd suggest a cross cut shredder, or a confettie(sp) shredder.

      I'd watch out for those online fake email from ebay or your bank. I have citibank, but I've never given them my email address. So getting email from citibank telling me to change my password is a phisher. Watch out for an increase in offeres for credit cards as well.

      DON'T carry your social security card with you in your wallet unless you are going somewhere that you need to show it. If your wallet gets s

  • ...aside from having "undesirable" credit ratings for identity theft, what the hell can you actually do to protect yourself? If all it takes is DOB, SSN, and Mother's Maiden Name-- maybe a current address as well, is there any way to protect yourself from other people and companies' incompetence?

    It just seems so easy to do through absolutely no fault of your own; who should be held responsible for the problem?!
  • Don't listen to the people who advise shredding. They own stock in companies that mould the cases for the most popular shredders. The vast majority of identity thieves are NOT rooting through your garbage.

    When I moved to my current address, I noticed an idiosyncracy with my proper address. The proper address is "335K Rosemary Lane". So, to run a security audit, I gave my banks and my insurance company the address of "335 Rosemary Lane Apt K". I use my proper address "335K" for most everything else, in
  • - get yourself a fireplace. Anybody who can reconstruct your papers after that is going to get you anyhow.
  • by Eosha (242724)
    1) Buy a cheap charcoal grill, charcoal, beer, and hamburger.
    2) Put charcoal in grill.
    3) Light the charcoal.
    4) Make hamburgers.
    5) When hamburgers are done, throw documents on grill.
    6) Eat burgers, drink beer, and watch them burn.
    7) Soak & stir the ashes if you're really paranoid.
  • A lot of people have suggested going to buy one of the cross-cut shredders. Another option is to simply take your bank statements to a bank (preferably a branch of your own), and ask them to shred it for ya. I'd think, if someone managed to piece together the discards of a bank, my bank statements would be the last thing they'd care to look at (unless, of course, your bank account is about 3 figures longer than mine).

    I've done this with smaller stacks of paper beforem, usually just a few pages, and most
  • shred and mix (Score:3, Informative)

    by mysticgoat (582871) on Saturday April 30, 2005 @01:49PM (#12393166) Homepage Journal
    1. Get a shredder. A crosscut shredder won't bulk up as much, but the cheaper ones will wear out faster than a vertical shredder.
    2. Shred one or two sheets of junk mail between each sensitive page
    3. See if you can sweet-talk your bank or employer into adding your bags of sensitive shredding to their bags of sensitive shredding

    Many companies are now using secure disposal services that assure that the shredded documents are recycled into oblivion without any thief being able to get to them. If you talk it up right, your boss or your bank might think this is a great perk they could offer you (no cost to them but an obviously valuable service to you).

    • When you tell someone you want to put your sensitive stuff in their shredder sell it as a perk for them. Anyone who goes after there sensitive information is unlikely to care about your. Time and effort will be wasted reconstructing your documents that are not wanted.

      That's why I shred all my junk mail, not just that which is sensitive.

  • take them to your bank, they'll gladly dispose of them, they shred tons everyday

    alternatively, use the yellow pages to find a local service or simply buy a shredder

    surely there must be better submissions? no, well maybe more people would submit more, if there was more of a point
  • If it's "sharing" rather than "theft" on kazaa, then it's "identity sharing" rather than "identity theft" as well...
  • I fold into an airplane and throw it out the window.
  • Just but the bank statements in your sink or fireplace, burn them, crumple up the ashes and rinse them down the drain (or toilet).
  • zerg (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lord Omlette (124579) on Saturday April 30, 2005 @03:59PM (#12393811) Homepage
    A while ago, I ran into this blog story about preventing identity theft [themodulator.org]... The "call up the credit bureaus and file a social security # fraud alert" tip is probably the best.
    • by chl (247840)
      If you admit to being at more than average risk for identity theft, won't the credit bureaus happily adjust your credit rating to -1000000?

      chl

      • by chl (247840)
        Replying to myself:

        If you admit to being at more than average risk for identity theft, won't the credit bureaus happily adjust your credit rating to -1000000?

        This was actually meant as a response to the common advice to *routinely* put a fraud alert on your credit stuff, so all credit applications in your name will get checked by a phone call to you, thus giving you a warning in the case of undetected identity theft.

        chl

      • I'm pretty sure he meant, calling up the credit bureaus for a fraud alert when you *suspect* something's awry, like your wallet's gone missing. You're right, Chicken Littles will only get what they deserve...
  • 1) Feed all documents through a cross cut shredder, collecting the chaff into a garbage bag.

    2) Take garbage bag to isolated corner of airfield.

    3) Soak contents of garbage bag in jet fuel.

    4) Set light to bag contents and report to commanding officer that task is complete.

    If you don't have some jet fuel handy then a gallon of gas works just fine.

    Ed Almos
    Budapest, Hungary
  • I can't find the URL but you can easily find it by googling. You scan your statements and email them the resulting files in whatever format you like. This site sheds the files into pieces no bigger than 3 or 4 bits each. it's really cheap and no thief without his own beawolf cluster will have a chance of reconstructing your data. good luck...
  • If you get an email saying it's from ebay, and it sends you to a page asking you to enter in you social security number, credit card number, mother's maiden name, birthday, driver's license number, and bank account number, don't do it. I've already gotten 4 of those this week. It's hilarious. If anyone is dumb enough to fill out their lengthy form asking for their entire life story with all the important numbers, passwords, names, dates, and addresses, they deserve whatever happens.

  • While plenty of people are suggesting shredding, why not just file your bank statements, phone bills and so on? They're important if you ever have a billing dispute, need to prove expenditure to your boss / the tax man, and keeping them in a ring binder or two means you don't have to worry about securely disposing of them.

    The other option, as someone pointed out, is to "go paperless" -- some banks and utility companies in the UK give you a discount for opting for an "internet only" account where everythin
    • As a side note: Lock the file cabinet.. a significant fraction of burglers like to dabble in identity theft (or have friends that do).

      It sucks to have your house broken into.. its worse when weeks later the thief trashes your credit and uses your spare car keys to swipe the car from the driveway (which is easy since he has the title that was in the file cabinet).

  • Two suggestions from an experienced pro;

    1) outsource your worry to me, just send me your SS# and I will handle the rest.

    2) Wait for Whitey Bulger's autobiography; "How I avoided the FBI for 10 years and lived large in the process" ( Please note: Publishers would like to send him his advance but we just can't seem to find him.. Anyone have his email?)

    Whitey hasn't had his identiy stolen (or found) in the last 10 years and the "best" computer minds have been after him!

  • One of the worst problems regarding this isssue, in the US at least, is that for-profit companies gather credit info about you and then force you to pay them (most states I believe). It's very expensive and time consuming to make sure the agencies haven't fscked up or detect that someone is quietly using your identity.
  • What to do if you Boss is a "victim" Identity Theft [dilbert.com]

    Or a do it you self guide from your friendly BOFH [theregister.co.uk]
  • We live in an information-oriented society. Technology allows us to do business and make transactions literally in a matter of seconds. This abundance of information has given rise to a new crime -identity theft. In fact, according to a 2003 release from the Federal Trade Commission, approximately 27 million Americans have fallen prey to identity thieves since 1999. Each year that number climbs higher and higher. In 2003 alone, almost 10 million people in the United States reported being victimized by ident
  • Get the shredder - it's been said.

    Now, you have it. You won't use it. Not yet.

    Take the bigass stack of paper you need to shred, and set it down next to the shredder.

    Now sit down at your computer and start organizing a bunch of data to backup. You've been meaning to - don't lie. Get a few DVDs worth of data going.
  • Get the shredder - it's been said.

    Now, you have it. You won't use it. Not yet.

    Take the bigass stack of paper you need to shred, and set it down next to the shredder.

    Now sit down at your computer and start organizing a bunch of data to backup/archive. You've been meaning to - don't lie. Get a few DVDs worth of data prepped.

    Organize the DVDs to be burned, get it so you can churn out one after another without effort.

    Now - open up a nice playlist, or drag a TV over, etc.

    Start entertainment, start first DV

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