shredded paper
Credit: stux via Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Spring is on the way and it's a time of year people like to give their homes a good cleaning. Curtains will be pulled down, windows washed and all the clutter that has built up over the months removed. How much of that cleaning entails getting rid of lots of paper that possibly contains sensitive or personally identifiable information (PII)? Does it go straight into the trash?

If not already using a shredder, it's a good idea to consider doing so. Once reserved for offices, the use of paper shredders in the home become very common as identity and financial theft continue to be a persistent problem in our society.

Identity thieves often turn to "dumpster diving" and other ID theft techniques. As this has become more publicized, many people routinely shred their documents in order to prevent these thieves from stealing their personal details. 

These days data has become a commodity to be bought and sold.

Value of Personal Data on the Black Market

Data theft is a pretty lucrative industry - stolen credit card information often has a short shelf life because people get their cards replaced as soon as they see unusual charges or a breach is announced, but personal data can go a lot further. (Although thieves still actively go for credit cards too). According to estimates made after the massive Anthem breach, PII goes for 10 times the price of stolen credit card numbers.

“Compared to credit card information, personally identifiable information and Social Security numbers are worth more than 10x in price on the black market,” says Martin Walter, senior director at RedSeal, reports Network World in a February 2015 report. 3

Healthcare information can bring in a bundle for thieves. According to a report by InfoSec Institute, these can "fetch as much as $363 per record". 4

healthcare information theft
Credit: Intel Free Press via Flickr/CC by 2.0

Health records have become extremely valuable to identity thieves due to the large amount of information/details about patients that are contained in each record. Figure at $50-$350+ per record, if millions are breached, even if a small percentage are sold, it can fetch a pretty penny.

Other PII figures published by Business Insider indicate bank info can go for $1,000, social media accounts for $50, counterfeit social security cards $250-400 and fake driver's license $100-$150. 7

That being the case, even junk or old mail can be potential gold to an identity thief.

Type of Shredder

When choosing a home shredder, it is important to know not all shredders are created equal. Consumers have several choices of shredders that range from basic and relatively inexpensive to elaborate and pricey.

There are several types of shredders: straight-cut, cross-cut, and micro-cut (diamond). When buying a shredder, you'll want to avoid straight-cut because the shredded pieces can be easily put back together by a determined identity thief. At the very minimal, you'll want to buy a cross-cut model. Other types use techniques such as shearing and grinding.

Royal PX1201 12-Sheet Cross-Cut Paper Shredder
Amazon Price: $109.99 $61.59 Buy Now
(price as of Feb 26, 2016)


In addition to shred type, durability is another consideration. When buying a shredder, it is a good idea to think about how much you'll use the shredder. Questions to ask yourself include: 

  • How often do you shred?
  • How many people will be using the shredder?
  • How much mail do you receive?
  • How much junk mail do you receive?
  • Will you need to shred CDs, credit cards and other "plastics"?

Light-duty shredders can only run for a couple of minutes and take only a few sheets of paper at a time. Others may not be able to shred CDs or credit cards; you'll likely want one that can do both. Some consumers may need a shredder that doesn't need to "rest" so often, especially if shredding is done daily. If shredding is done in large quantity, in this case a medium or heavy-duty shredder may be desired, but keep in mind these cost more.

In an interview with House Beautiful, Glenn Edelstein, Vice President of All Shredding Corporation, recommended choosing a cross-cut shredder that can handle 8-10 pieces of paper at a time. 5

Paper shredder
Credit: Kai Hendry/CC by 2.0

It's important to look at several attributes of a shredder, you want one that meets basic needs, but also has a strong abiity to protect personal information.

Size and Noise Level

Shredders come in many sizes. Some can fit on a desktop or table, others are large where they take up the same amount of room as a small piece of furniture. If space is an issue, you'll want to keep this in mind as you shop for a model.

Some shredders are louder than others, so if noise during shredding will be a bother, look for ones that specifically mention noise or ask a sales representative which brands and styles are quieter.

Safety Features

Most modern shredders have safety features that prevent users, or curious small children, from injury. Still, it is a good idea to note what types of safety features are built into a shredder to ensure it meets your needs. 

Nowadays, a shredder is a needed appliance, not unlike any other used in the home. For instance, most people today might say they could not function without a microwave, toaster or other alternative to stove cooking. These days a shredder should fall into that "must have" category. In 2013, every 2 seconds someone in the United States became a victim of ID theft. 6 Do what you can to not become one of them. Nothing is surefire because so much of our data is out of our own hands, but using every safeguard you can helps.

 [ Related Reading: Is Your Trash Can a Treasure Chest for Identity Thieves? ]

AmazonBasics 6-Sheet High-Security Micro-Cut Paper and Credit Card Shredder
Amazon Price: $49.99 $48.07 Buy Now
(price as of Feb 26, 2016)
Squirrel thief
Credit: Ari Helminen via Flickr/CC by 2.0

One's trash is another's treasure. With identity theft so prominent these days, it's better to be safe than sorry.