Don't Throw Away Your Identity

by Edward W. Stollery II


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Cleaning up the files already? Don't throw your identity in the trash: burn it instead. What am I talking about? You, as seen through the eyes of an identity thief. Here's what not to throw out, at any time:

Credit card numbers. Usually found in one location on your credit card statements, you can remove the numbers (first four won't do: last eight, at least) and you can burn them in an ashtray or empty coffee or juice can.

Bank statements. You don't really mind that the transactions are shown, it's the address block (which is your account name) and the account number the thief wants. Again, just tear them off.

Normal receipts can be trashed out without much care, unless your receipts include account numbers! Most receipts do not, however once in a while a receipt will include a credit card number or other identifying number.

Income Tax Requirements

Without even looking at your files, you have a pretty definite idea as to what to save for income taxes:

Medical insurance and services receipts; motor vehicle license fee receipts; business expense receipts; investment papers and receipts; house maintenance, improvement and mortgage interest receipts; and tax receipts from local government -- at least. (Don't recall from last year? I usually pull up last year's tax return, look at it, and organize my shoe box in the same sequence last year's report was in.)

Oh...and don't throw away any tax papers yet. I realize that IRS rules say "three years" for personal, and "seven years" for most businesses; my normal procedure is to burn materials five years after I've filed them; 10 years, if they're related to business. And I'm not content with mere burning of paperwork -- I use the computer storage media, and reformat the disk.

Am I paranoid? Judge for yourself: checks stolen from mail box (one time; juvenile); credit card theft (one time: "ex" employee); stolen business card case (thief thought it was my wallet) -- no. I don't think I'm paranoid. I do think, however, there's better places than the trash to put my old receipts, etc. -- I usually dig a small pit in the flower garden (behind the flowers), tear the papers as I can, and burn them. Not indoors; while a fireplace may be all right, burning paper makes for a lot of ash. To ensure that you're burning on "dry" ground, put down a couple of layers of your local newspaper first.


Ed Stollery is a retired journalist turned school teacher with retail and entertainment 'in his blood.' At present, Mr. Stollery is improving the Stollery Family Tree while "I sell commonsense advice to people with money but no common sense (www.exp.com)."

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