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Americans Snapping Up Shredders

June 17, 1999

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Shredders aren’t just for government drones anymore.

More and more Americans are turning to the devices as a form of protection against thieves who comb the nation’s trash for lucrative personal information.

Mari Frank, the author of the Identity Theft Survival Kit, discovered three years ago that a woman had used her name to rack up $50,000 in purchases, including a red Mustang convertible.

``I tell everybody they should have a shredder just like they have a toaster,″ said Ms. Frank, who has two in her Southern California home. ``I think you’re negligent if you don’t do it.″

An estimated 9 million shredders were sold in the United States last year, said Terri Considine, product manager for Fellowes, an Itasca, Ill.-based shredder maker. At the start of the decade, sales hovered around 100,000, manufacturers say.

``People are scared. That’s what it is,″ said David Joachim, marketing director for Royal Consumer Business Products, which sold nearly 3 million shredders last year.

Sales began to take off in the mid-1990s, triggered, manufacturers say, by falling prices, the rise of home offices and soaring reports of credit card fraud.

``You’ve got a growing sense of paranoia which isn’t unrealistic,″ said Todd Henreckson, director of Addison, Ill.-based General Binding Corp.’s shredding division.

With shredders costing as little as $20, many people are finding it easier to take preventative action against thievery.

But what should you shred?

General Binding recommends ATM receipts, pay stubs, pre-approved credit card applications, report cards, checks, magazine address labels, used airline tickets and anything with a signature.

A Social Security number fished from the trash is enough to secure one of the ubiquitous pre-approved credit card offers and a $10,000 line of credit, experts say.

Shredders have been around since 1898, when an Austrian artillery officer, worried his ballistics drawings would fall into the wrong hands, built a foot-powered device that chopped up paper, according to General Binding.

Since the Cold War, electric shredders have become a way of life for intelligence agencies, the Pentagon and the White House. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court put America’s trash up for grabs, ruling that privacy rights do not extend to curbside garbage.

Private investigator Richard Jerscheid says he has caught cheating husbands from a slip of paper with a woman’s name and number on it that was tossed into the trash.

``Trash tells a lot,″ he said. ``People get sloppy.″

Even the powerful aren’t immune. In 1975, a reporter swiped five bags of trash from the home of then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Jerscheid has shredders in both his Pasadena and Rosedale, Md., offices.

His advice: ``Watch what you throw away.″

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