The Checkout

Shredding for the College Set

Fellowes Inc. makes shredders. So, it's no surprise that it recently issued a press release urging college-bound students to include shredders on their back-to-school shopping lists.

Here's some of what the company said in a recent e-mail release: "Credit card offers, communal dormitory garbage cans and unsolicited mail make college campuses an identity thief's dream," said Kristen Gehrig, senior marketing manager at Fellowes. "It's frightening how careless college students can be with their personal information. However, by shredding personal documents before throwing them away, college students can significantly decrease their risk of becoming a victim of identity theft."

My first reaction was to laugh; "what a great marketing pitch," I thought. But as I read on, I realized that Fellowes raised some good points about college students and identity theft. For example, it noted that as a whole, Americans tend to overestimate the risk of identity theft to the elderly but underestimate it to the young. In fact, statistics on a number of recent surveys show that it's the younger generation that's most vulnerable.

The reasons are simple, explained Maureen Moore, Fellowes' director of corporate marketing, in a telephone interview. First, there's lifestyle. Students are leaving home and living with other individuals. "There's a lot of traffic in and out of rooms and chances for a lot of eyeballs" to view a student's personal information, Moore said. Most students probably don't even think about that, especially since they come from protective home environments, she said.

Additionally, this may be the first time a student has a credit card or phone bill in his/her name and is receiving bills and, of course, lots of credit-card solicitations with personal information. "A lot of times, this is just thrown in the trash, not shredded" or torn up in some sort of secure way. "Nobody at this point in their life is thinking about destroying that information," Moore noted.

Even worse, many universities are still using Social Security numbers as a student ID. That's what students need to use to register for class, get their grades, etc. While a lot of schools are changing, "a lot of them have not," Moore said.

On top of that, most students probably are not even aware of the potential for identity theft. And since they probably don't have a credit history, they don't think to check their credit records to make sure no one has opened an account in their name. This makes the students easy targets for ID thefts.

These are all valid points, but probably not enough to make my college-bound freshman buy a shredder. In fact, she just rolled her eyes at me when I even mentioned it--and responded by pointing to an earlier story I wrote about shredder safety. Whatever you and/or your student may decide about shredders, it's worth remembering that all personal information should be destroyed in some way before you dispose of it.

Also worth your time--and your student's--is the ID theft quiz that Fellowes has created with the Identity Theft Resource Center. The quiz analyzes your personal habits, tallies a vulnerability score and provides personalized protection tips based on your responses. Those tips, not surprisingly, call for increased shredder use. But there's lots of other good information as well.

By  |  August 28, 2006; 9:26 AM ET Consumer Tips
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

One of my college age sons has a shredder, the other is naturally cautious (he was the first to install a real lock for his room door when he started renting a house with his band). I do think it's a good idea in the mix of security concerns a kid has to have for college. The biggest one is laptop theft, but there's also personal safety, securing one's car, and crimes associated with heavy drinking.

For the first time I'm considering a shredder for my home. As it is I don't put out the recycled paper (filled with credit card offers torn up many times) till just a few hours before the collectors come, but I'm coming to think even that's not enough.

Posted by: Gene | August 28, 2006 10:31 AM

Oh wow I know so many people who had their identiy stolen while they were in college. It's very scary to go to the bank and find you're overdrawn by $500 or to be getting angry calls from Visa at your dorm room when you don't have a Visa. The words of advice I would pass on to all incoming college kids is never, never, NEVER get out your personal informations to ANYONE! And don't sign up for those free-T-shirt-when-you-sign-up-for-the-card offers. You never know who is taking down your info and if you qualify for the card the credit card company will call you. You don't need to go through a third party. It's a scary world out there kids, tear up everything!!!

Posted by: Melissa | August 28, 2006 10:37 AM

We had a military recruiter on campus a few years ago and he somehow got a copy of the Campus Directory which lists names, emails and phone extensions for all students. For months, students received near-weekly emails from this recruiter to join the Army. Nothing is sacred on a college campus. Nowadays, shredders aren't even the last line of defense.

Posted by: yup | August 28, 2006 11:21 AM

A good paper shredder should not only be something that a college student has but also all of us at home should have. We have been shredding our personal information for years .. we are now on our second shredder .. each time we have to buy one, they have vastly improved. Don't let your information get into the wrong hands .. shred, shred, shred.

Posted by: pkp | August 28, 2006 11:37 AM

With a massive move towards e-statements which most youngsters sign up for, the threat that Ms. Meyer describes is at best misplaced. The real threat in today's day and age is data on a USB drive and the incompetent buffoons who run AOL and companies like that.

Posted by: Gaurav Sood | August 28, 2006 12:36 PM

As a records manager I feel it is importatnt to dispose of sensitive materials in a timely and proper manner. Just the other day when visiting my father - he lives in a large retirement community - I noticed a locked container where residents (and employees) can place materials to be shredded by a commercial records destruction vendor that services the community, just as the same vendor services my place of employment. A wonderful choice and I applaud the community's management.

Posted by: TC | August 28, 2006 12:51 PM

There is actually an easier answer for disposing of unwanted credit card solicitations. Mail the offer back to the company.

All the credit card offers come with postage prepaid return envelopes. Mark out your name, address, and any other identifying information with a black pen, then stuff all the material into the prepaid envelope the credit card company provided, and mail it back to them. I even return the original envelope that contained the offer.

This solves several problems. One, it gets rid of paper with your identifying information. Second, it helps the post office. Third, you may not need a shredder.

Posted by: Woodstock | August 28, 2006 2:03 PM

Threat to students' personal information? Let's not forget the U.S. Department of Education and their data exchanges with schools that send SSNs across the internet free for the packet-sniffing... or, heck, let's just post them on a website for the world to see!

Posted by: bigolpoofter | August 28, 2006 3:39 PM

I am a college student and I and several of my friends all have shredders. They are a lot more useful than you'd realize. I do shred all of my financial documents, credit card offers, etc. but when you take exams and get back your term grades you have to do it on forms, in blue books, that have a lot of personal information like student IDs, grade point averages, addresses, phone numbers, etc. so I shred nearly all of my finished and unnecessary school paperwork too.

Last year one of the freshmen threw out his old papers in the dumpster near the dorm and by the end of the day some fools had dug out his exams and all that and were passing them around laughing at his bad grades and asinine answers and everything and ragging on the poor kid for being stupid enough to leave his stuff like that. Shredders are cheap and fun, get one and just keep it turned off when you don't need it.

Campus dorms are prime sources of unshredded docs to use, just ask your friendly local meth users, especially the ones who are living in the dorm and nearby and will drop out soon. My girlfriend's roommate got her stuff stolen by one and started getting all kinds of weird mail and phone calls.

Posted by: shred it | August 28, 2006 4:35 PM

Back in 1986 my freshman year of college, I lived in an apartment complex, and had a neighbor stealing mail, etc.

When he was finally caught he had not only stolen mail which may have include SSNs, but ATM cards, and other personal information.

I was shocked, but it was a good dose of reality. You aren't as safe as you are young and inexperienced.

Posted by: Almost a college victim of ID theft | August 28, 2006 4:46 PM

My undergrad institution used student ID numbers that they made up themselves - I was pretty shocked when I got to grad school and had to give out my social security number all over the place. There's no way that's a good idea!

Posted by: h3 | August 28, 2006 5:27 PM

Post offices should have shredders. One of the main reasons that I pay for a post office box is that I can throw away most of my junk mail at the post office. But I now realize the risk here.

Posted by: McLean | August 28, 2006 5:41 PM

This probably won't help most college students, but back when credit card receipts were imprinted and had the full card number, and when shredders were really expensive, I would dispose of the old forms inside my kids' used Pampers. Anyone who would be willing to look there for documents deserved the information.

Posted by: richard clare | September 12, 2006 5:17 PM

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