Updated: May 4
Paper may seem innocuous. It arrives at our homes daily in the form of mail, magazines, and newspapers, and it piles up often in a haphazard manner. We usually don’t give it too much thought.
But for many people, especially seniors, and those living with Dementia (or as a caregiver), bills and personal papers can lead to identity theft and fraud.
The best practice for managing monthly bills is to shred all documents that contain personal information. It is recommended that documents be shredded because thieves have gone so far as to steal garbage to obtain innocent victims’ personal financial information. Many banks and community service organizations offer a free "shredding day," and it's worth picking up a couple of file boxes, worst case, once or twice a year, if you don't yet have or can't afford a personal/home shredder.
So, if you are receiving monthly bills in the mail, they should be shredded after paying them, or as soon as possible. Documents that are necessary for tax or other important purposes should be maintained for a period of time specified by your lawyer and accountant. However, such documents should be kept in a small locked, waterproof, fireproof filing cabinet so they can only be accessed by authorized parties.
In February 2016, the New York Times published an article about a scam artist who was able to steal many tens of thousands of dollars from a victim, simply by stealing a check that the victim had placed in the mailbox.
Once the criminal stole the check, he was able to empty significant amounts of funds from the victim’s account, because he had the bank’s routing number and the account number. This incident highlights another opportunity for criminal activity based on unsecured documents: mail theft. If you or a loved one are not using online bill paying, consider mailing checks in a secure U.S. Post Office mailbox rather than leaving the envelopes to be picked up in a personal mailbox attached to the house, apartment, or out at the end of your driveway.
If you need assistance with bill paying, consider using a service. There are a number of services available throughout the country like the one I founded called, SilverBills. We receive, scrutinize, and ensure that your bills are paid accurately and on time. You no longer need to open envelopes, write checks or remember deadlines. Once enrolled in this type of service, you will likely receive a lot less paper in the mail and that will further decrease the potential for theft and fraud.
A last reminder: securely keep, and don't shred important paper documents like your social security card (which is not really a card - it's more like a piece of thick paper), certain tax, financial, legal, insurance, and healthcare documents. Shredding is pretty permanent, so if ever in doubt, ask your attorney, insurance agent, banker, or financial professional before shredding.
Contributor: Marci Lobel-Esrig founded SilverBills after witnessing the challenges faced by her elderly relative paying bills on time and correctly. Marci has been a practicing attorney for more than 20 years. Marci received her J.D. from New York University School of Law and her B.A. degree Magna Cum Laude from Columbia College, Columbia University.
The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse nor guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org