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Shredding 101: Documents to shred and those to throw away

Shredding important documents prevents fraudsters from obtaining your personal data and using it to drain your account or open new accounts in your name. You don't have to shred every piece of paper you accumulate. Some documents don't contain content that identity thieves can use, says Paul Stephens, policy director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group. Below we've listed the documents you should shred, those you don't need to shred but probably do, and those you can just throw away without shredding.

- Monthly bills. Even if you bank online, shred payment coupons, as it may contain your full account number, even if it's not on the bill.
- Receipts or other documents that show your signature, which thieves can use to forge other documents.
- Employer's pay stubs.
- Documents containing account information, such as bank, credit card company, 401(k) administrator, broker and other investment statements. Don't forget a courtesy check from your credit card issuer or bank. Call the institution and ask it to stop sending checks.
- Anything that contains your Social Security number, including annual statements from the Social Security Administration. Don't forget old ID cards, including expired driver's licenses.
- Expired credit cards, and pre-screened credit card offers and applications, even if they contain incorrect personal information. All of these can be used to obtain fake credit cards.
- Explanation of benefits forms from your health insurance company. They often include your member ID number, which makes you vulnerable to medical ID theft. Also, shred documents and labels with prescription numbers.
- Tax forms and tax-related documents that are more than 7 years old.
- Any documents that list passwords or PIN numbers, and any other documents that contain personal information you don't want strangers to see.

Consider shredding.
- All mail from your financial institution, including notices of changes to terms. Even documents with no account information can let fraudsters know more about you than you want them to know.
- Documents from companies you have recently done business with, including documents from recent travel. Thieves may call you disguised as representatives of these companies to try to trick you into revealing personal information.

Throw away without shredding.
- Mail that contains only your name and address, if that is public information and can be easily found elsewhere. This includes items such as catalogs or flyers from non-financial institutions.
- Junk mail addressed to "residents" or "occupants".

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