Whether you work from home or from the office, there will be times when you’ll need to dispose of confidential documents. It’s important that this process is done properly as the information on these documents can be recovered and used for criminal activities like identity theft or coercion.
The most common way to destroy confidential documents is with a paper shredder. However, depending on the nature of the documents and the resources that are available to you, this might not be the best method. For example, if you regularly require high volumes of sensitive documents shredded, you might benefit from using a local paper shredding service.
To help you keep your information secure, we’re going to take a look at various methods of disposing confidential documents.
Importance of destroying confidential documents
Before we get to the methods, let’s first discuss why it’s important to destroy confidential documents. We will take a look at both the personal and professional implications of this process.
- Personal information
When it comes to personal information, it’s essential that you protect information like your credit card details, tax file number, passport details, personal phone numbers, physical and email addresses and so on. It’s best to destroy any documents that have such details on them before throwing them in the bin.
If this information falls into the wrong hands, it can be used for a range of criminal activities. This includes hacking, fraudulent credit card charges, blackmailing and identity theft.
Though not directly related to physical documents, cyber security is also a big part of protecting your personal information. This involves protecting yourself from phishing, social engineering and spoofing. Click here if you want to know more about protecting yourself on the internet.
- Work information
At work, it’s important to destroy documents that might have sensitive information about your clients. If you allow clients’ information to be leaked out to the public, you may breach confidentiality agreements or privacy policies. This can lead to you and/or the company having to pay for compensation for the damages that your clients have suffered.
Additionally, any confidential information about the company (such as internal plans or intellectual property) will also need to be secured. If competitors are able to access such information, it could give them an advantage over you. At the very least, it gives them the opportunity to undermine your company’s future actions.
Improperly disposing of documents could also lead to information being leaked without proper context. For example, let’s say a company document has preliminary information about a merger or an acquisition. If this document gets leaked without a full explanation, it could mislead your clients or customers. For larger businesses, a small leak of information can even affect the company’s stock price.
Secure disposal methods
The right way to shred documents will vary depending on the level of security that those documents require.
For example, if you need to destroy a document that states the release date of a product that’s going to be announced soon, it’s generally safe to just shred the document by hand or via multi-cut scissors. Even if this information is stolen, it likely won’t do any damage.
However, if you’re handling documents that have sensitive financial information, you will need to take extra precautions. For this purpose, it’s best to use either a strip-cut or a cross-cut paper shredder.
A strip-cut shredder cuts the paper into long vertical strips while a cross-cut shredder cuts the paper both vertically and horizontally. Cross-cutters are generally more secure as it further obscures the information, reducing the chances of an unauthorised person recovering the full document.
Burning has a couple of advantages over just plain shredding. The biggest advantage is that the fire will completely destroy the information as well as the paper.
Additionally, burning is a much faster method of destroying documents. With regular paper shredders, you’ll often have to shred one piece of paper at a time. If you have a small business and you need to dispose of hundreds of documents, this method can be time consuming. With burning however, you can quickly tear a handful of documents at once and then throw them in the fire pit.
Each jurisdiction in Australia has their own laws regarding open fires. Please visit the official pages of your local government and find out what is allowed in your state or territory. It’s worth bearing in mind that burning is not an eco-friendly way of disposing of paper. It’s bad for the environment and means that the paper cannot be recycled.
If burning paper seems too dangerous for you, you can try soaking the documents in water. Simply grab a bucket of water and place all of your unwanted documents in it. Leave the bucket until the paper turns into pulp. Once the paper is soggy, grab a utensil (ideally a paint mixer) and break up the soggy pulps. When you’re done, drain the water and then dispose of the paper.
The advantage of the soaking method is that you can get rid of all your documents in one go. There’s no need to shred the papers one by one. The drawback is that you have to wait a day or so before those documents turn into pulp.
Some methods use bleach to speed the process up. However, using bleach does pose a few health risks. If used improperly, it can cause irritation in the eyes, mouth or your lungs.
If you want an eco-friendly way of disposing of your paper documents, you try adding them to your compost. When doing this, it’s important to shred the paper into smaller pieces so that it can break down easier.
To balance carbon and nitrogen levels, it’s important that you introduce the paper materials gradually. Adding too much paper to your compost can upset the balance and adversely affect your compost pile.
Be careful not to use types of paper that contain harmful chemicals. For example, glossy paper usually contains chlorine. When this chlorine makes contact with organic compounds, it releases dioxins that are harmful to various kinds of living systems.
5. Hire professionals
If all else fails, you can always hire waste management specialists. These professionals know the best ways to dispose of confidential documents. They know the security pitfalls that homes and businesses fall into and they’re knowledgeable about the methods criminals use to get a hold of these documents.
As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into document disposal. Though it might seem unlikely that someone will go through the rubbish just to find your address, it’s better to be safe and take the necessary precautions at work and at home.