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I routinely shred documents with any personal information on them to protect myself and others against identity theft. I have no doubts that shredding any documents with ID numbers, account details and the like is a good idea, however I am wondering whether there is any protection to be gained when documents just have my name and address details on them.

My name does not instantly pop up on a google search of my street address, however I have no doubt that someone with a real interest could use internet resources or social engineering to discover it without leaving their seat. It seems unlikely that anyone would go to the trouble of recycle bin diving (dumpster diving is so 20th century) just to learn who lives in my house.

Will shredding documents that only have my name and address details on them protect me against identity theft, or offer any other information security benefit?

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I generally don't bother to shred things unless they have account information or other personal identifying information on them. Half the time boxes are left near my mailbox unattended. I'm sure if someone wanted to they could figure out my address. On the other hand, shredding things is fun! –  raz Oct 24 at 13:22

5 Answers 5

Shredding this information should provide some minimal protection against identity theft, and would be a good idea. However, people can still usually find this information (e.g. online, or in a phone book), so the protection gained from shredding this information is limited.

However, there is usually other information attached to the document which could be useful to potential identity thieves, and others wishing to do bad things. This makes it more compelling to shred this information, but I would still say the risk is fairly low (depending on who you are and what the document is). If you are a business executive (e.g. like Bill Gates), or some other "high value target", I would highly suggest shredding this information. Furthermore, if the document contains any sensitive information (e.g. medical or financial records), I would definitely shred the document instead of throwing it away.

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You asked: Will shredding documents that only have my name and address details on them protect me against identity theft, or offer any other information security benefit? The bigger question which cannot be truly answered is: "If in the event of identity theft, was it due to you not shredding documents?"

Most of the times when it's time for me to dispose of personal documents, I have not gone as far as shredding, but instead either ripping out that portion of data (names, account #'s, etc) ripping that into little pieces, and disposing of it in entirely different trash bags/bins.

When it comes to dumpster diving, this has mainly been an issue of attackers targeting companies moreso than individuals, however many private investigators do perform dumpster diving, and I am sure there are individuals with malicious intent, doing the same thing. The initial question is: "What can someone do with this information!?" A lot.

Consider the American Postal System. There is a form one can fill out to notify the postman that they have moved to another address. The USPS usually begins sending mail to this location after about 10 days. This is a blessing when one is moving, but a curse to ALL AMERICANS. Fact: If you submit the form in person, you need to show ID (Good). Fact: If you fill out the form and mail it in, the USPS automatically starts forwarding your mail without validating you requested the change of address. (Try it if you'd like, complete a change of address to say your parents home, and mail it)

So, as an attacker, if I targeted you, I don't necessarily need to dumpster dive. Why would I when I can forward all of your mail. Imagine doing something like this to coincide with the last week, and first week of the month (usually when bills arrive). I'd receive your mail, to which I can gather data to escalate an attack without ever touching your garbage can.

There are other methods to obtain your data, it all depends on the skill of the person targeting you, and the level of data they want to get, and why. Think about it, you would have to be targeted for someone to pull this off otherwise, if I am random attacker going this route (dumpster diving), I am going to target big money. Dumpster diving in Alpine NJ, or Beverly Hills.

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When I first read your post, I thought you were asking about Shredding files Digitally.

Like:

AVG Shred Utility

However, in your case, you should understand that Identity Theft, cracking, etc, all requires a risk/reward assessment: Would someone "profit" by stealing your identity, addresses, etc, and is the value gained worth the risk to them?

For most people, this is not an issue.

The best way to secure your identity--is to embrace your identity. The more people that know who you are--the more difficult it is for someone to impersonate you. It is far more difficult to impersonate a living/well-known person, and far simpler to impersonate an anonymous or dead person.

Often times it is quicker, and less expensive to get your addresses, billing statements, etc, from online sources--from public records, court documents, your utility providers, etc.

However, there may be someone in your life that has easy access to your physical location, and can use physical documentation as evidence, in court, against you, or to harass you--but that would imply there is someone with motive to do so in your life.

In the end, it is definitely a good-habit to shred or burn these documents. This habit may help when protecting information of family members, children, friends, etc.

Hope this helps.

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The method I use is that I don't think about it too much. If a piece of mail may have something sensitive, it goes through the shredder. I don't want to spend all my time reading the mail, carefully looking for remnants of an account number, trying to make the decision of "shred or not?"

The bigger question is: are you effectively reducing any risk? Are there really dumpster-divers swimming about in your waste stream that you have to be concerned about? It all depends on if they could find value from what they could learn. I've determined the answer is "no", in my case, so I can afford to be less than perfect in my data destruction practices.

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Elder relatives are very susceptible to this kind of fraud:

  1. A person digs through paper in a dumpster.
  2. They find out papers which hold personal information. Even a little bit sometimes is enough, e. g. name of employer, bank, school etc.
  3. When they have enough, they identify means of contacting relatives of the person whose information they have just collected.
  4. They contact the relatives, assure them that they call on the personally identified person's behalf, and upon confirming fraudability of the potential victim they proceed to trick said relatives into giving the fraudsters a sum of money, oftentimes quite large.

This thing was popular once around where I live, and the information was indeed pulled out of dumpsters, but that was around 2000-2005, well before facebook and linkedin. While I believe the criminals prefer to use facebook instead of dumpsters to get all sorts of info required for this kind of fraud, I still shred any document with any name on it appearing anywhere.

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