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Cross Cut Shredders Keep Identity Thieves Very Busy

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In an age when identity thieves are on the lookout for personally identifiable information, we need to be all the more careful about storing and discarding our sensitive documents. I’ve written here before about my decision to go paperless. I accomplished this with three tools:

1. A Scanner.

I got the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 sheetfed document scanner, which is a fantastic device that I’ve come to depend on every day since I put it on my desk in the spring of 2010.

2. A Digitized Document Storage-and-Retrieval System

I store my scanned documents in Evernote, which performs optical character recognition scans on the documents I save to it, making it easy to find any document I’m looking for almost instantaneously. (The free version does not offer text-recognition, but the premium version is only $5 a month and lets you upload a gigabyte of data every month.)

3. A Shredder

Of course, going paperless means getting rid of the original paper documents. Until recently, I’ve been using a cheap strip-cut shredder, which cuts paper documents into long, thin strips. I wasn’t happy with this particular inexpensive strip-cut shredder, though, because it bogs down when I feed it more than six sheets of paper, and it comes to a grinding halt when I try to shred a credit card or a document with a staple in it. The shredder was the weak link in my paperless system.

After a year of putting up with it (with an ill-advised foray into burying my unwanted documents) I upgraded to a heartier shredder. I did a bit of research and discovered that cross-cut shredders had become quite affordable in the last couple of years. I found one that was highly rated on Amazon, called the Fellowes Powershred W-11C (about $60). Unlike a strip-cut shredder, a cross-cut shredder chops documents into shorter rectangles, as you can see in the accompanying photograph. (On the left is a shredded document from my old strip-cut shredder, and on the right is a shredded document from the cross-cut shredder.)

Cross-cut shredders are great for shredding credit cards, because they chop them them into smaller pieces than a strip-cut shredder, making it very difficult for a Dumpster-diving identity thief to piece one together. Also, strip-cut shredders don’t mix up the strips it makes, so unless you scramble the strips by hand before throwing them away, an identity thief wouldn’t have an extraordinarily hard time taping them together and reading your bank and credit card information.

My new cross-cut shredder not only tears through credit cards, it does a good job of chewing through staples and can handle up 11 sheets of paper (about twice as many as my old shredder) before it starts complaining loudly. It’s an investment that will pay off in short order, thanks to the time and frustration it saves compared to my old strip-cut shredder.

Image: Mark Frauenfelder

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  • peter

    My workplace has a crosscut shredder for secure documents. The pieces come out about half the size of rice grains. Doesn’t do CDs or credit cards but paper is close to pulp.

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  • Mike

    I find it strange that you would worry about identity thieves rummaging through garbage to find paper documents, but you would trust saving those same documents in “the cloud” through Evernote. Shouldn’t we be more worried about hackers in this day and age? Or am I misunderstanding something. Can you store Evernote notes on your hard drive?

  • http://artkival.com peterm


    I too find it strange that you are willing to store all of the documents in the cloud. You’re really just changing the attack vector in what is otherwise (IMHO) a solid plan. Your vulnerability to id theft is really not reduced, and is in fact possibly increased – compromising your Evernote store reveals all of the info in all of your docs, versus someone pulling one, or a couple of docs out of your trash. Dependency on an on-line supplier is iffy as well in terms of long they will be in business, and more importantly, what happens to their assets (containing your data) after they go out of business. Unwiped drives going to a consolidator who will then auction them to the highest bidder?

    I would suggest replacing the Evernote component with something more robust to result in a fairly secure process:
    1. Encrypt the docs and store them locally.
    2. Get two large capacity storage devices, thumb drives will probably do.
    3. Keep one storage device on hand, with continual backup to it.
    4. Keep the second storage device in your safe deposit box in you bank.
    5. Swap the two devices between your safe deposit box and your home every 2-4 weeks.

  • Art Carnage

    I recently upgraded my old Fellows cross-cut, as it just didn’t have much power (more than 4 pages was a strain), it was poorly designed, and couldn’t handle credit cards or CDs. The reason it’s designed poorly, is that it’s basically a heavy cutting head, sitting on top of the waste basket. To empty it, you lift the head off. And all the tiny bits of paper still stuck to the cutters fall all over the floor.

    The new Royal 112MX has a slide-out basket, and a window so you can see how full it is. It can handle 12 pages at once, so I can feed most junk mail right into it, without even having to open the envelope. There’s something very satisfying about that. And it handles credit cards and CDs. Paid around $90 for it, and it’s been worth it.

    Another reason to get a cross-cut, rather than a strip-cut, besides the extra security, is that you don’t have to empty them as often. The cross-cut confetti takes up a lot less room than the strips do.

    And finally, you didn’t mention maintenance. If you have a shredder, the cutters need to be lubed. A bottle of shredder oil will last you quite a while. Occasionally, just squirt a bead of oil along the intake slot, then run a sheet of paper through it. That’s all it takes. They make lubricating sheets to run through shredders, but I don’t think they work as well. Just my opinion.

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  • William P.

    I was wondering about the use of Evernote as well.

    Dropbox is the same.

    How do you ensure that your important financial and personal documents are never exposed or downloaded by nefarious individuals who have hacked into the system?

    Dropbox had a glitch that opened all accounts via the web interface for several hours. Any password used to log on to any account was accepted. That’s when I realized that having sensitive documentation on the Internet with a free service was not entirely a safe thing to do.

    I look forward to hearing what you think about this and what your reasoning for thinking this is safe is.

    Best regards,

    William P.

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