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Fay's Beach Buzz


Shredding some light on it

2008 Fay Jacobs

Fay Jacobs


I want to talk about something nobody ever talks about in public. And it's a dark, messy and dangerous place.

Get your mind out of the gutter.

I'm talking about your personal document shredder.

Right now, mine is upside down, unplugged and glaring at me with an unwanted credit card solicitation stuck in its teeth. I hate my shredder.

Remember the days when you'd get mail, read it and throw it away? So simple, so Twentieth Century. Now that the credit poohbahs have convinced us that every unshredded missive is an open invitation to an identity thief, I have become a slave to my shredder. I fight with it. I shriek at it. I have been known to wish it was dead. When my first shredder actually died, I had Jewish guilt.

It wasn't always this way. Back in the day, when I first took up shredding, I loved my shredder. What fun it was watching unwanted bank statements and old tax returns disappear into the maw to become confetti. It was pretty easy, too. Three piles: file, shred, toss.

Now it's file, shred, toss, recycle. If the dollar sinks any lower it will be file, shred, toss, recycle or save for toilet paper. How did this happen?

We heard about shredders for years, with our national security agencies using them to protect covert operations and corporate accounting firms using them to hide major fraud. Shredders let them get away with murder, both literally and figuratively. But a shredder at home? What for?

Then came the credit police, along with cable newscasters eager to fill up that 24-hour news cycle, warning of terrifying identity theft tales. They convinced us that bypassing the shredder with a single envelope with our names, never mind an actual invoice sporting an account number, means you might as well be selling your identity on E-Bay.

So I got into shredding. My latest shredder (that I've owned the same number of shredders in my lifetime as I have owned coffee pots is scary) is a Professional, Heavy Duty, Cross Cut Paper Shredder with auto reverse, steel gear construction and the ability to destroy CDs and Credit Cards. I so wish I had destroyed the credit cards before I abused them.

As for the CDs, I have to admit great pleasure in trying out the machine with old Barry Manilow albums. I shred the songs that the whole world sings.

But the truth is, it's a tricky business this shredding. Last week I accidentally sent a CD through the paper slot and the shredder ground to a halt like a politician caught with a call girl.

I spent the better part of that afternoon extracting CD shards from the shredder with tweezers. And don't ever step on a compact disk sliver in your bare feet. My instep needed tweezers surgery too.

I'd like to calculate how many hours a week I spend shredding bank statements, credit reports, charge receipts, insurance forms and old checks. And we can't forget about all the pre-approved credit card applications with their tempting pre-approved checks. Those damn things just beg to be stolen so some low life can charge you for a trip to Vegas. I know that what happens in Vegas stays there, but I don't want it to be my credit rating.

I'm telling you, worrying about this stuff can turn you into a paranoid nut job wanting to cancel all your credit cards, close your savings accounts and start hiding your money in tomato cans in the back yard.

Remember the promise of a paperless society? This isn't it, unless we've traded eight-and-a-half by eleven for confetti. And speaking of tiny speckles of paper, yesterday, I failed to put the plastic storage bucket back into the shredder properly and came home to discover two sheepish Schnauzers and a den floor that looked like a parade route after the Red Sox won the pennant. So now I'm looking at my upended, constipated shredder, wondering if I have to purchase yet another anti-identity theft device. By the way, my 1997 coffee pot is still brewing just fine.

I go online and read the ads for shredders. I can choose from The Shredmaster, Powershred Plus, Destroyit Heavy-Duty, Intimus (what does it shred, condoms?), and my personal favorite, Intellishred. If it were truly intelligent it would have figured out a different way to deter dumpster divers by now. They also offer machines with child-locks, which, I assume, double as Schnauzer locks.

I have learned that the average heavy-duty shredder feeds 26 - 30 sheets at a time at 30 feet per minute. I imagine that will be useful to clean up after the Bush Administration. And I loved the ad for a continuous shredding heavy duty model for non-stop shredding 24-hours a day. What kind of business needs round the clock shredding now that Enron is gone?

But here's the really frightening truth about protecting your identity and the sanctity of garbage: there has now been a documented rash of scams taking money from frightened consumers for Identity Fraud Protection.

It's probable that some of the shady characters who dove in dumpsters to steal identities in the first place may now be going door-to-door selling phony protection against such despicable acts. Unscrupulous companies are all over cyberspace selling identity theft protection for a mere $14.99 per month.

These services, with names like Trusted I.D., Privacy Protector and LifeLock (heck, I'd subscribe to Jaw Lock to stop sales calls at dinner time), are lurking everywhere, ready to sell us our privacy back.

Well I don't want it. Take my identity, please. I'll forward the bills.

As for replacing my shredder, the jury is still out. After all, every day I send out dozens of pieces of correspondence with name and address all over them, even as I spend time feeding the shredder with similar information.

Face it. It doesn't make a shred of sense.
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Contact Fay at: FayJacobsrb@aol.com
Fay's website: www.FayJacobs.com
Fay Jacobs, a native New Yorker, spent 30 years in the Washington, DC area working in journalism, theater and public relations. She has contributed feature stories and columns to such publications as The Advocate, OUTtraveler, The Baltimore Sun, Chesapeake Bay Magazine, The Washington Blade, The Wilmington News Journal, Delaware Beach Life and more.

Since 1995 she has been a regular columnist for Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, and won the national 1997 Vice Versa Award for excellence. Her columns are collected in the books, As I Lay Frying: a Rehoboth Beach Memoir and the newly published Fried & True - Tales of Rehoboth Beach.

Fay is Publisher and Managing Editor or A&M Books, the publisher of the 14 classic Sarah Aldridge novels.

She and Bonnie, her partner of 25 years, relocated to Rehoboth Beach, DE in 1999. They have two Miniature Schnauzers and a riding lawn mower.

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