Shredding your sensitive documents is old news. Since document shredders have become available for consumers more than 20 years ago most families have one. Furthermore, in an effort to help employees protect their identities many companies allow their employees to bring their sensitive documents to the office and shred them at work. You would have to be living under a rock to not understand the importance of identity theft prevention and how document shredding supports this security measure…or does it?

This morning on Fox News, Ethan Finkelstein, college student at Tufts University, said that had collected some confetti from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City when he noticed the confetti was actually shredded police reports. Finkelstein notified the local new station PIX 11 News who contacted Nassau County Police Department who subsequently obtained the confetti from the Finkelstein residence in NY.

Are you kidding me? Unbelievable! Who is not paying attention here? More than fifteen years ago Good Morning America hosts Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer interviewed FBI Agents regarding the importance of document shredding. On live television the Agents watched the co-hosts shred a large hundred page document, and before the close of the program, the Agents had reassembled all of the pages to prove a point: straight cut shredding is not an acceptable form of document destruction. Cross cut shredding, which leaves documents in small one-inch pieces, is what should be the standard. They made the statement that cross-cut shredding is more expensive but is well worth the effort.

I have to concur with this statement because in my experience reassembling cross cut shredded documents is a painstaking endeavor which is time consuming. However, as Finkelstein discovered first hand, reassembling straight cut shredded documents is easy.

So what’s the issue here? Why were there straight cut, shredded police reports being used as confetti at the end of the parade anyway? Let me help you connect the dots.

Police departments, banks and private corporations all have the same issue: document storage and document disposal. In the case of private investigations the State of Georgia requires firms to store hard copies of case files for four years, however many insurance companies require originals be housed for five years. So in the sixth year disposal of the aging documents becomes necessary and disposal should begin with in house shredding or contracted shredding with a company that specializes in document disposal.

Outsourcing document shredding is big business these days and any company or private individual can contract with a document shredding company to pick up their aged-out, sensitive documents and dispose of them.

In the case of a police department in New York, they apparently contracted with a company to do just that: dispose of unneeded documents. The company they used most likely provided large trash containers which are padlocked shut, so whatever goes in cannot be retrieved. This keeps the discarded documents safe until they can be destroyed. Then on the appointed day the container is removed from the premises and the contents are disposed of. The containers are brought to a warehouse, systematically shredded, and then often sold to a recycler or sold to a confetti distributer. Well what did you think they are going to do with all that shredded paper?

So here is what it seems happened: the document disposal company that contracted with the New York Police Department whose unneeded documents ended up on Finkelstein’s shoulder, straight cut shred the documents, and then sold them off to a confetti company who in turn sold that confetti for use at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Take the lesson learned here: if your firm, bank, police department or Jane Q. Public has a common practice of outsourcing document disposal, make sure you know how their disposal process works and that you are comfortable handing off your sensitive documents to them. Remember, ultimately the buck stops with you. If your documents in total or in part, show up as confetti at a parade route or in a dumpster, your identity could be compromised; or in the case of the police department, you will be held accountable.

For the record, Hunter Investigations does not outsource document disposal. All aged-out and other unneeded documents are cross-cut shredded in-house.