Financial documents such as old checks aren't like other paper waste, which can simply be dropped in your trash or recycling bin once they've served their purpose. Checks hold a wealth of personal information that can be of use to identity thieves or other criminals, and even checks drawn on old and closed accounts can cause you tremendous problems if they fall into the wrong hands. It's much more prudent to invest a modest amount of effort into destroying them safely.
The Worst That Could Happen
Your checks contain several key pieces of information, including your name, address and account number. Cancelled checks might have additional details, such as your driver's license number or Social Security number, recorded by the cashier who took your check. These data points, combined with the staggering amount of information available online, can make you an easy target for fraud or identity theft. Even unused checks on closed accounts can be problematic. With those checks and a fake ID in your name -- child's play, even to modestly skilled criminals -- scam artists can pass those checks, potentially inconveniencing you for years to come.
Shred at Home
The most straightforward method for safely destroying your old checks is to shred them. If you only have a limited number of them, you can simply use scissors to cut them up. For added security, cut lengthwise through your name and account number and dispose of the halves in different bags and on different days. For larger quantities of checks and documents, use a motorized shredder. Cross-cut shredders, which create confetti rather than long strips, are the most secure. Long strips from low-cost shredders can be reassembled in moments by anyone with a little patience and a roll of tape.
If you have a stack of old checkbooks to dispose of, or several years' worth of cancelled checks, shredding them individually can be time-consuming. Many office supply stores offer shredding as a service at their in-store print shops, and will shred your old checks as you watch. Banks and credit unions have powerful shredders for their own use, and most will shred checks for their customers on an on-demand basis, or on designated dates throughout the year. Some municipalities offer similar "shredding days" for residents. If your workplace uses a commercial shredding service, ask permission to include a bundle of your old checks along with their shredder-bound documents.
Alternatively, you can choose from several more creative options. Zip your checks into a canvas backpack to contain the debris, and run them through a hot wash in your laundry to leave them sodden and illegible. For smaller quantities, a bucket filled with boiling water and bleach would suffice. Torn or soaked checks can then be incorporated into your compost pile, or into a bin of worms for vermicomposting.
- Federal Trade Commission: How to Keep Your Personal Information Secure
- Branch Banking & Trust Company: Shredding Personal Documents and When to Dispose of Them
- Washington State Office of the Attorney General: Identity Theft and Privacy
- Checks Superstore: How to Properly Destroy Your Financial Records
- National Check Fraud Center: Ten Ways to Be a Smart Bank Customer