CyberScout

Cross Cut Shredders Keep Identity Thieves Very Busy

Cross Cut Shredders Keep Identity Thieves Very Busy
Image courtesy Mark Frauenfelder

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.