How secure are you from identity theft? For all that we are (and ought to be) worried about hackers and other threats to our electronic information, researchers estimate that 55% of all cases of identity theft are based on information from paper. Could someone find credit card numbers, bank account numbers or social security numbers in your trash?

Garbage left at curbside is considered to be in the public domain. That means it’s not illegal for someone to take items out of your trash. And don’t think that someone won’t go through it just because it’s mixed in with the dirty diapers. In many municipalities, all the waste is opened and manually sorted as part of the area’s recycling program. In Medina County, for example, your trash is touched by about 20 people between the time you put it in your trash can and it ends at the bottom of the landfill. Your credit card statement is a great temptation.

Home-quality shredders are available for as low as $40. If you don’t yet have a shredder at home, you need one. We all need to be concerned with how much of our information can be accessed from our mail, including our credit card and bank statements, and any other piece of mail that may provide confidential information. Anything that has your name, address, phone number or any kind of account number on it should be shredded before discarding. Credit cards should be destroyed by cutting the card across the number.

There are two basic kinds of shredders: strip-cut and cross-cut. Most of the cheaper shredders are strip-cut. They cut the pages into strips between 1/8 and 1/4 inches wide. Cross-cut shredders (also called "confetti-cut") will chop the strips into smaller pieces, and thus provide much greater protection. The other factors commonly used to compare shredders are durability and capacity (how many pages can it shred at a time without jamming).

Note: Keep the shredder unplugged or locked away when young children are around.

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