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8 Things You Should Shred Right Now

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- According to financial services consulting firm Javelin Strategies and Research, identity theft affects 11 million people a year, at a cost of $54 billion.

If you don't want to become a statistic, a good place to start is to get a shredder.

If you want to protect yourself against identity theft, there are eight documents you absolutely need to shred.

Shredding documents isn't just for accounting firms and people with something to hide -- every day working Americans have houses full of documents containing potentially compromising information, from Social Security numbers to bank account information.

To dispose of these documents, security experts recommend getting a good cross-cut shredder (which makes your documents into confetti, as opposed to the long strips that a determined thief could reconstruct); one cheap option is this $30 model from Wal-Mart.

OK, got your shredder? Now here's what to put in it.

Old tax returns
As a general rule, you should save your tax returns on the chance you get audited. But after three years, you're in the clear -- that is unless the IRS suspects you are guilty of fraud, in which case the agency can audit you as far back as it likes.

"Keep three to four years of tax returns in a firebox," says Brent Neiser, senior director of the nonprofit National Endowment for Financial Education. Shred anything older.

The biggest concern here is Social Security numbers. Yes, that's numbers, plural.

"Your dependents' Social Security numbers are on those, too," points out Gabby Beltran of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center.

Bank statements
Anything with bank account numbers should be shredded, and that obviously includes your paper bank statements. That's especially true for that box of old bank statements you just found in your attic that you don't know why you kept in the first place.

"There was a time when Social Security numbers were printed on brokerage and bank statements," says Neiser, who adds that he just went through and shredded all of his old statements.

To avoid having to shred your statements every month, some experts recommend just making the switch to online statements.

"We recommend people turn off bank statements and get as many as you can via email," says Phil Blank, managing director of security, risk and fraud for Javelin. "The most commonly perpetrated means of defrauding people is to steal things out of their mailbox."

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