Proper document disposal helps prevent identity theft

By Kaitlyn Byrne

MSU Ag Communications


MISSISSIPPI STATE – With a new year approaching, many people are adopting an “out with the old” attitude and throwing away dated documents, and it is important to dispose of these papers properly.

Teresa Lyle, a financial management agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Leake County, said identity theft is a growing crime and affects millions of Americans every year. To decrease chances of identity theft, Lyle recommends shredding important household documents in a cross-cut shredder instead of throwing them in the trash.

“If the document has any personal information, like a social security number or credit card number, shred it to make sure no one will be able to find it and read it,” she said. “Even the cheapest shredder will work just fine.”

In addition to shredding, Lyle said keeping important items, such as a social security card, in a safety deposit box will help prevent identity theft.

“It is not a safe idea to carry your social security card in your purse or wallet at all times,” she said. “If your purse or wallet is stolen, the thief can obtain all of your personal information with that card. If you absolutely must carry your social security card to a meeting or a visit for the purpose of verifying your identity, be sure to place it back in a safe location upon your return home.”

Lyle said using unique passwords for online accounts and refusing to give personal information over the phone are also safe practices to protect identities. She said carefully monitoring financial activity can provide an early alert of identity theft.


“Check your credit report online to make sure you haven’t been a victim of identity theft,” she said. “Everyone is entitled to a free credit report each year from the three credit bureaus, so take advantage of that opportunity, making sure everything in the report belongs to you.”


Newton County Extension financial management agent Susan Cosgrove said people should keep documents used for filing tax returns for seven years. This can create a large amount of paper in the house, so Cosgrove said organizing the documents carefully can prevent misplacing or losing them.


“Organizing documentation by quarters would simplify matters a bit,” she said. “On a monthly basis, go through your paperwork and file the documentation you expect to use come tax time. If you pay bills online, make a folder to file them in.”


Cosgrove said it is important to back up all methods of filing, whether paper or electronics, in case of a natural disaster or computer failure.


“If you use the paper method, scan them to a CD or USB flash drive,” she said. “If you have your documentation on your computer, save that to a CD or USB flash drive, too.”


Cosgrove said the Mississippi Consumer Education Partnership is sponsoring the 8th annual Shred Days across the state in March to encourage safe disposal of personal documents.


“This will be the perfect opportunity for people to gather up to five bags of sensitive documents and have them shredded for free at specific areas throughout the state,” Cosgrove said.


For more information about Shred Days, contact your local Extension office. To check credit reports online, visit at