It's smart -- and fun -- to destroy your papers

Jim Stickley, High-tech Hacker For Hire

Consuming Interests


Do you shred?

Does the sound of razor-sharp blades slicing and dicing paper make you gleeful? Are you finding yourself shoving all manner of things into your shredder just to see what happens, whether it's paper, plastic or metal (darn those paper clips!)? Do you breathe a sigh of relief after you watch that MasterCard bill from 1989 transform into confetti?

If so, welcome to Club Shred, fellow destroyer of all things tangible that could do us harm.

It's not an exclusive club. Anyone can join. Members tend to be fairly smart and maybe a little bit odd. The only condition is that you must shred.

Why smart, you ask?

Because shredders know that identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the U.S.A., according to the National Crime Prevention Council. Because they're also aware that almost 10 million Americans were the victim of some sort of identity theft in 2003, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

And why odd?

Because destroying documents seems to make people happy. Smiley, even.

"I think it brings out the kid in us," says Naveena Hemanth, a child and adolescent psychiatrist based in Rockville. "Kids are destructive. It's a good feeling to destroy. It feels good to tear things apart. It's kind of fun and kind of neat. Aggression is part of the emotions you learn to feel as you're growing up, but you also learn to suppress it.

"In all of us, there is a kid somewhere," Hemanth says. "Shredding can validate the destruction that we have suppressed for so long."

Bill Simpson is a believer. He bought his first shredder a few years ago and says he feels a sense of relief and happiness every time he watches his life on paper get slashed to bits.

"With all you hear about the identity theft problem, it got me worried and concerned enough that I don't want to put anything out in the trash," the 50-year-old Finksburg resident says. "I shred everything and anything."

These days, Simpson foregoes his puny personal shredder. He accumulates so much paperwork that he calls on Secured Shredding Services to mass mince his records.

Secured Shredding, a two-year-old company in Finksburg, is part of growing industry of shredders. You would think its mobile services truck -- which visits various communities in the Baltimore region intermittently -- was the ice cream man the way people line up to watch their boxes filled with secrets deliciously disappear.

But seriously, if you're not a shredder, you should be.

Just listen to Jim Stickley, who believes shredders ought to be as ubiquitous in the home as fire detectors. Both can save you from catastrophe and financial ruin.

"Most people think, 'It won't happen to me,'" Stickley says. "People are living in a dream world if they think their data is not that important. There are bad people out there. It doesn't take much to ruin someone's life..."

Stickley knows. Financial institutions hire the 34-year-old San Diego man to rob them of something more valuable than cash. While his high-tech hacking skills can garner loads of information from the computer, good, old-fashioned paperwork is easier to grab and just as valuable, says Stickley who specializes in dumpster diving.

On the job, Stickley -- who sometimes poses as a client or a fire marshal to gain access to buildings -- has found "the most frightening things in the garbage." Loan applications. Voided checks. Deposit slips. Patent applications. E-mail addresses. Client names and telephone numbers on scraps of paper. Bills. Pre-approval letters from the bank.

People and businesses are often aware of the need for security when protecting computers and buildings from evil-doers, but many don't realize the need to safeguard the stuff that's sitting around the house, lying in the mailbox or rotting in the trash that can reveal all the confidential facts any low-down sneak would need to bleed them dry.

Even an e-mail address written on a napkin can be useful, Stickley says. Someone with too much time on their hands could use that address to sign you up for spam and annoying Internet offers.

That might sound unlikely, but Stickley warns, "You should be a little paranoid."

So if you're still one of those people ripping bills to pieces with your bare hands, we say, "Run, Don't Walk to an office supply store." Shredders are fairly cheap these days. You don't need a monster shredder (but how cool would that be?!). Join the club. Experience the joy of destruction.

If you're one of those loons who still tosses everything in the garbage intact, believing your rubbish is safe enough, then we say, "Wake Up, You Big Nutbar. It's the 21st century."

But then again, we are just a little bit paranoid and maybe, we just like destroying things a tad too much.



Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.