How can I safely dispose of important personal documents and computer data?

By Andrew Stucken, Wednesday 3 July 2013

Most of us know about the dangers of throwing away sensitive documents with the rest of the rubbish. The idea of criminals rummaging through your dustbin or scavenging on landfill for your personal data may seem far-fetched, but identity theft and crime involving stolen bank and credit card data are big business. Fortunately, you can greatly reduce your risk of falling victim.
A decent shredder is just one of several options for keeping your crucial paperwork away from prying eyesA decent shredder is just one of several options for keeping your crucial paperwork away from prying eyes

Documents you should destroy before discarding include those with bank and credit card numbers, legal and medical information, and passwords or your signature.

The simplest method is to buy a shredder – but if the idea of using these paper-chewing machines does not appeal, there are alternatives.

 

Shredding

A basic shredder costs as little as £10, and more sophisticated machines upwards of £50. A shredder essentially consists of the shredding unit – slots for feeding documents into rows of metallic teeth – and a bin to collect the waste.

Cross-cut shredders are more expensive, but as criminals have been known to piece back together documents shredded into the conventional thin strips, cross-cut lends added security.

All shredders should be designed to conform to safety standards, but a little care when feeding in documents is advisable.

 

Shredding services

Local councils do, of course, offer waste disposal and recycling facilities, but would probably advise you to use a commercial service for shredding.

If the volume of documents warrants it, and depending on where you live, you could have a large quantity of documents shredded for a minimum charge of around £80.

Burning documents is a simpler solution, but do exercise caution. Select a safe place to incinerate them and consider any local fire restrictions.

Soaking will cause papers to dissolve into a soggy mess and render them easy to tear apart. The sodden documents will readily stick together and should thus - even when dry - be illegible. 

 

To obliterate only certain areas of a document

Redacting pens will obscure data by covering them in indelible ink – useful for deleting data within documents that you wish to retain.

Anti-tamper stickers are designed to tear the document if anyone tries to peel them off.

Hole punch: A more laborious method - punch away at a sensitive area in a document until the area containing the sensitive information is destroyed.

 

Computer data

We store masses of personal data on our computers. Simply formatting your hard disk to erase data before disposing of the machine is insufficient – a savvy crook can still recover it -   but you can use a free programme such as Darik’s Boot and Nuke or HDD Erase to wipe it more thoroughly.

Even then there is no absolute guarantee – for complete security you need to physically destroy the hard disk.

If physically wrecking it yourself is not practical, you could have it industrially shredded, and surprisingly cheaply – I was quoted just £5 – plus shipping costs.

Alternatively, you could simply remove the disk and store it somewhere safe – fine as long as no-one breaks in and steals it…

Removable media such as CDs and DVDs should be erased using your computer. Again, for extra security you can destroy them in various ways. Sanding is effective, if messy, and cutting into strips with scissors will do the job, but is not without hazard. Using a hole punch to cut at least a dozen holes in the disk, or scratching the surface with a knife, are other options.

Whichever method you select, do it with care. 

 

For more useful information and advice, sign up to our free money email newsletter...

 


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

Related

  • Woman organising family photos

    Where to get your photos printed

    You may have photos on your digital camera or smartphone that you would like to turn into prints for your albums. And a printed photo can look better than even the sharpest digital snap does on-screen, writes Andrew Stucken

    Read on

  • Financial Planning

    Financial Planning

    The Saga Financial Planning Service provides individuals with practical advice and guidance on investing for the future.

    MORE INFO

  • Platinum thumbnail

    Platinum credit card

    Low rate and 0% foreign currency fees on transactions.

    MORE INFO


  • Kathy Campbell

    Posted: Friday 13 December 2013

    To save time and power when shredding, just tear out the private details from documents and bills.

  • Vicki Lazar

    Posted: Friday 13 December 2013

    When I wish to dispose of a large collection of printed banks statements, I take them to my bank. Certainly is secure & saves using my small shredder.
    V.R.L.



COMMENTS

Type your comment here


 characters remaining.

Get your free 30-day credit report

Check your credit report now

Saga has partnered with Experian to help you get in control of your finances. Get free access to your credit report for 30 days with our trial offer.

Saga Magazine e-newsletter

Sign up to our free newsletter today

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter for all the latest recipes, gardening tips, prize draws, interviews and more delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Savings Accounts

Saga Savings can help you make the most of your money.

Get two pre-planted hanging baskets for just £19.99

Plus free delivery and free hydrator

Get two pre-planted hanging baskets of Petunia Saga Bloom for masses of cascading red, blue, yellow and white flowers.

Saga Platinum credit card

The ideal travel companion for the over 50s, offering great benefits whether you spend at home or abroad

Representative 11.9% APR (Variable) 

Stocks and shares ISA

Aged 50 or over? Maximise your full ISA allowance

  • No annual management or inactivity fees
  • Competitive commission rates
  • Trade online or over the phone
  • Deal in UK shares, gilts, bonds and funds.

*Share values can fall.