Should I be shredding ALL my receipts?
March 28, 2011 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Is it really necessary to shred all receipts? Is identity fraud really likely?

I've been shredding all my receipts for a while. This is a bit of an effort with my little shredder, which has just broken down.

It made me think whether all this is necessary. Many grocery stores don't even give you the receipts unless you ask and lots of people just throw them away.

Is there really a signficant risk of identity theft from just binning (rather than shredding) things like grocery receipts?

And if the answer is "some but not all", what should I be worried about? I'm trying to balance paranoia with practicality here.
posted by inbetweener to Shopping (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
What information is contained on your grocery store receipts? If it carries identifying information, you should shred it. If it contains no identifying information, there's no need to shred it.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:19 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have never seen advice to shred receipts. They don't have any information that can be used against you.

Bills, bank statements, canceled checks, these should all be shredded. But not receipts.
posted by ErikaB at 12:26 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


@mr_roboto: Er, I now feel very stupid. That's such a simple answer. Three degrees clearly doesn't get me very far in the common sense stakes. :-P
posted by inbetweener at 12:27 PM on March 28, 2011


Sometimes I dump the kitty litter on confidential information that I don't feel like shredding. Who wants to go through that?
posted by sweetkid at 12:30 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Does your grocery store receipt indicate your grocery store points card number? If so, it is theoretically possible that somebody could get your name, your address, your e-mail address, etc. from that information. Is it tied to a grocery-store issue credit card?

Yes, I'll admit that thinking about those issues is a bit paranoid. But the questions are still legitimate. If there is NO personal identifying information, then you're fine tossing the receipts out.
posted by sardonyx at 12:31 PM on March 28, 2011


Hasn't happened to me, but has happened to two people I know personally, with info gleaned from their garbage a very strong possibility.
I don't have a shredder, but I do rip up any important papers and throw them in the garbage bag with the cat's litterbox leavings.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 12:34 PM on March 28, 2011


My grocery store receipts don't have my whole credit card number, so I don't shred them. Anything that has an account number, I shred. And of course credit card applications, definitely shred those.

Kitty litter approach: you think crystal meth addicts won't go through kitty litter? Buy a $100 shredder.
posted by musofire at 12:46 PM on March 28, 2011


Kitty litter approach: you think crystal meth addicts won't go through kitty litter? Buy a $100 shredder.

I go by the rule of less effort. if I have a bag of ripped-up paper mixed with cat poop, and there are ten other bags in the same space with unripped paper and no cat poop, they will probably go for the unripped, unpooped bags before mine.*
Yes, I need a shredder. But that's not to say that litter doesn't help make you a less appealing target.

*Unless I also put out boxes for huge televisions, computers, and other luxury items which signal I HAVE MONEY YOU WANT TO STEAL SOME. I don't throw out any identifying documents at the same time as stuff like that.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 12:53 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Most receipts used to contain the full credit card number; I believe that by law none of them do, in the US.

Depending on the level of identity theft you're looking at, ANY amount of information could be leveraged.

The main thing that shredding receipts, mail, etc. does is to cut out the easiest pickings. You're not going to stop a determined, skilled social engineer. You're going to keep methheads from taking out credit cards in your name.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 1:07 PM on March 28, 2011


Most identity theft is:

* Info you give out to scammers directly (e.g. don't give anything to anyone over the phone.
* Info stolen on a merchant's side (e.g. someone at a store, online or otherwise, re-directing your info).
* People stealing your mail before you get to it.

Dumpster diving is possible, but if you think about, it's very messy, time-consuming and carries a high risk of the thief turning up zero useful information for several hours of work.

I wouldn't worry about receipts. But I have a locking mailbox, don't do any business by phone if I can help it, and I don't buy things from shaky online sites.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:19 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


My receipts have been online for over ten years, and not once was my identity stolen.

Receipts used to include entire credit card numbers and expiration dates -- I was smart enough to blur mine out before uploading, but that is a mostly-long-dead practice due to privacy concerns (it seems to me I recently encountered a pay-at-the-pump that disclosed the full card number, though, so continue to check).

Wal-Mart's fraud department eventually contacted me, because there was some non-human readable information in the reciept that could be exploited. Depending on the retailer, the receipt may contain enough information to recall every detail of a specific transaction -- the Wal-Mart receipts have a barcode which can allow a POS terminal to pull up everything, I believe including credit card information. So, Wal-Mart and I came up with the solution that if I post a receipt, I blur the barcode first.

Now, the problem isn't some nefarious store employee pulling up your receipt and stealing your info. The problem is somebody using your receipt to return things for credit at the store, using your stored transaction info to connect to your identity at the retailer. Say, you bought a common DVD player for $80, and then it goes on sale down the street for $55. Person who has your receipt makes copies of the receipt then starts buying the $55 player and returning it for $80 credit at the store you used, making $25 profit each time, and each time the fraudulent transactions have your credit card attached to them. Stores have options to prevent this sort of fraud, but when it comes to the $$$-to-prevent vs $$$-it-saves, protecting your credit history isn't necessarily on the correct side of the equation.

Now, that's the tiniest sliver of a threat, and if shredding your receipts makes you feel better to avoid that rare possibility, great. I don't think it's necessary, unless there's some human-readable personal information recorded on the receipt.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:24 PM on March 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Shredding receipts is, in most cases, completely unnecessary. Identity theft is very disruptive to your life but what most people do to prevent is (like shredding receipts) is little more than empty ritual to make themselves feel better.

I'm sure you have much better things to do with your time than shred receipts. I know I do.
posted by Justinian at 1:53 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


sweetkid: "Sometimes I dump the kitty litter on confidential information that I don't feel like shredding. Who wants to go through that?"

Coffee grounds work too, especially if they're wet - makes the ink on the receipts run.

I've also heard of folks dumping their receipts/shreddables into a bucket, then soaking everything in water/bleach for a while, until everything is a giant wet clump.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:08 PM on March 28, 2011


An easy way to destroy paper without a shredder is to pulp it: put the papers in a garbage bag, add a fair bit of water and tie it closed. In a couple of days, the paper will be mostly mush, good enough for most people.
posted by bonehead at 2:28 PM on March 28, 2011


If the receipts are printed on thermal paper, put them under a hot light (or in the microwave for a couple of seconds) all at once. They'll turn brown and unreadable.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:39 PM on March 28, 2011


Alternative: flush them.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:39 PM on March 28, 2011


Alternative: multi bladed shredding scissors.
posted by ZeusHumms at 3:09 PM on March 28, 2011


> Alternative: flush them.

Your plumber will thank you for your generous contribution to his child's college fund.
posted by indyz at 3:13 PM on March 28, 2011 [12 favorites]


Does your grocery store receipt indicate your grocery store points card number? If so, it is theoretically possible that somebody could get your name, your address, your e-mail address, etc. from that information.

Only if you gave the grocery store your true information. To get those cards, any old name and address will do.
posted by Rash at 3:17 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I doubt very highly there are very many people digging through trash to "steal" someone's "identity" off of random papers. There are just so many other easier ways to steal stuff. Don't be careless, but don't get bent out of shape about it either.
posted by gjc at 4:50 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, for whatever you DO decide to shred, look around to see if there are any local community shredding days or places that do shredding for you. There's a place near me (I'm in San Francisco) that shreds a grocery bag or a banker's box full of paper for $10.
posted by kristi at 10:53 AM on March 30, 2011


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