Protect yourself: Shred your past

Protect yourself: Shred your past

CHAMPAIGN — It's almost like eating your vegetables, according to Eva Velasquez.

Except shredding documents is something you do to maintain good fiscal health.

Velasquez, president of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit that helps consumers prevent and work through identity theft, touts shredding as a simple way to minimize the risk of having personal information stolen.

Today, Crimestoppers will hold its annual community Shred-It Event just west of the State Farm Center in Champaign. Bring up to two boxes to the parking lot (E-14) between 9 and 11 a.m. and you check it off your fiscal health to-do list.

"There's been a huge gain in awareness about identity theft, and more people want to shred their documents," said John Hecker, president of Champaign County Crimestoppers.

He is expecting a decent-sized crowd due to good participation at previous events, today's fair weather forecast and the convenient location at Kirby Avenue and First Street. It's not uncommon for a line to form prior to the event's start time, he said.

Crimestoppers, which offers rewards to people for tips that lead to arrests in the county, usually holds the event at this time of year because people have filed their taxes and many have wrapped up spring cleaning projects.

"A lot of people have realized they have a lot of financial records they may want to discard," he said.

It's not clear exactly how many cases of identity theft can be traced back to documents containing personal information that had been tossed in the garbage, according to Velasquez.

"The reality is most people, the vast majority of the time, do not know how their information was compromised," Velasquez said.

Occasionally, identity theft happens after a purse is stolen or a house is burglarized, but most people find out they're victims when they apply for a loan and learn something is amiss in their credit file.

The obvious documents to shred are papers, such as tax forms, that have major personal identifiers, like your Social Security Number.

But according to Velasquez, there are many other documents that you should consider shredding, including documents that have several points of data — not only a date-of-birth, but also a driver's license number or address. Some of your bank statements may only have a portion of your account information, but those statements can reveal a lot about your habits to criminals, she said.

If someone wanted to, they could find out where you bank and where you shop.

With a little work, a person known as a phisher could send you an email purportedly from a bank, urging you to call a certain number because they are concerned about certain charges at a store.

"Would a hacker go to that trouble? Could they? They have," she said.

When in doubt, Hecker said to shred "any document that might have some privileged information that you don't want to show."

Hecker said the organization holds annual shred events for several reasons — as a way to build awareness of the organization, and as a service to the community. It's also a fundraiser. Dropping off documents to shred won't cost you anything, but a donation of $5 is suggested. Local document shredding company Monster Shred donated a vehicle and staff for the event.

If you go

WHAT: Shred-It Event. Bring your documents to be shredded. Two banker box limit.

WHEN: 9 to 11 a.m. today

WHERE: West of State Farm Center, Parking Lot E-14 (enter off First Street), Champaign

COST: It's free, but a $5 donation to Crimestoppers is suggested.

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