Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

When It's OK to Get Rid of Old Documents

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

When It's OK to Get Rid of Old Documents

Article excerpt

I'm a pack rat, especially when it comes to financial records, even though I know there is no need to keep most of the tax returns, pay stubs and receipts for more than three to six years.

So, while going through my financial records last weekend, preparing to do my taxes, I decided to toss old paperwork from my jammed file cabinet.

But it wasn't that simple. I was shocked at how much personal information, including my Social Security number, was commonly included on many financial documents not so long ago.

For example, in my 2004 tax records -- just 10 years ago -- I found that dates of birth were included on my prescription drug receipts from CVS.

Can't just throw those away.

The same is true of a statement from my health insurance carrier and my wife's pay stub; both list full Social Security numbers. And a credit card receipt from an Englewood dentist included my complete account number.

Yes, security has improved since then. Our "socials" are rarely used, except in financial transactions, and credit card receipts are usually limited to the last four digits. And while date of birth is required for financial and medical purposes, it rarely shows up on receipts or bills.

Security experts say that you shouldn't carry your Social Security card because it's the top prize for identity thieves, but the government says you should carry your Medicare card, which contains the Social Security number, when you are away from home.

Dumpster diving

Most incidents of identity theft that make the headlines involve online security breaches, but good old-fashioned Dumpster diving to find critical personal information on pay stubs, medical records and bank statements is still a problem.

Just last week, police in Minnesota arrested two men who had stolen enough mail -- including credit cards -- to fill eight garbage bags. A week earlier, police in the Dallas area arrested three men suspected of stealing mail, including checks, driver's licenses and Social Security cards.

A Department of Justice report issued in December puts the number of victims of one or more incidents of identity theft in 2012 at 16.6 million people, or 7 percent of all Americans 16 or older. …

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