Let's face it: all those six o'clock news features about identity theft have a lot of us more than just a wee bit paranoid. Rightfully so, because although the odds of any one person's identity being hijacked are actually vanishingly small, the amount of misery such an occurrence would cause is extreme. It's so extreme that any simple steps you can take to decrease the chances of identity theft are well worth the expense.
One oft-repeated piece of advice is to make certain that your financial records do not fall into "enemy hands." Frankly, you don't want just anybody out there knowing your SSN or your bank account number, right? Legends of midnight trash-pickers abound, as do tales of sanitation engineers (high-falutin' garbage men) snagging likely-looking envelopes out of your trash and passing them to cohorts. What's a poor working stiff to do?
Buy a shredder, of course!
There's been a boom in so-called personal shredders recently for just this reason. If you're sick of hand shredding (tiring, though admittedly therapeutic) and don't want to schlep old checks to your office shredder, you can now pick up a tiny model that fits on top of your kitchen wastebasket for as little as $15 at Wal-Mart or Target. Remember, though - you usually get exactly what you pay for. On the other hand, you can spend from $30 to $100 for a personal shredder just up the strip mall at an discount office store (or buy it on-line, of course). That's precisely what I did -- I looked at Target and bought at Office Max.
I chose the Fellowes P500 Personal Shredder from a shelf of about six personal shredders (most of them made by Fellowes). When choosing among personal shredders, there are two major criteria to consider: the capacity of the shredder (number of sheets it can handle at one time) and the style and size of cut. The Fellowes P500 is a strip-cut shredder with a nominal five-sheet capacity, which sits atop a small wastebasket (included in the purchase price). Higher-capacity shredders (ten, twelve, or more sheets) are more expensive, as are the "confetti" shredders that cut in both directions simultaneously.
The P500 shredder is equipped with a two-position switch: in the on position, a auto-cutoff sensor controls the shredder so the cutters only operate while being "fed." Shredded strips come out 1/4 inch wide, dropping directly into the wastebasket. There's a slot at the front of the unit for checking the level in the basket, which also serves as a bypass for papers that don't need to be shredded. You can buy shredder bags to fit, though I've found that ordinary grocery store "T-Shirt" bags work just fine (and they're free!). The unit now sits quietly in the corner of my home office, handy for dropping in all those dozens of credit card applications I get every week.
So far, I've had no problems with up to four sheets of paper at a time, meaning no jamming. The cutters will slow as the load increases (so will I!), but keep on plugging. The noise level is sufficient to startle my dogs, though the newer version seems much quieter than an older model shredder that's in use down the hall from my office (yesterday sounded like a dentist's office without the screaming!) I haven't tested it for its advertised capability to cut staples and paper clips, though I have no reason to doubt the staple claim.
To keep your personal shredder in top working order, by the way, oil the cutters regularly and don't overload the unit. That five-sheet capacity means five flat sheets of 20# bond. That's the equivalent of a single envelope with a one-page letter folded business style. Overloading is the quickest way to get a shredder to jam, and frequent overloading can lead to permanent problems.
Note: I retired the shredder after more than three years - I gave it to Mom, who'd been cutting up everything with her pinking shears - and bought a new confetti shredder from Staples. You can learn more about that one here.
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Purchase Price (if leased, monthly payment): 39.99
Machine age (Months in use): two