No such thing as too safe when it comes to destroying documents

Steven Bushong

The Iron Mountain shredding truck rumbled as it took a load of Jane Boswell's confidential documents into its metal belly, shredding them into millions of tiny pieces.

"You'd never find two pieces that match," said Ken Spencer, who operated the truck Wednesday during shredding day at Smith Barney.

The event and a related luncheon at Hotel Pere Marquette was held to inform residents about the hazards of identity theft and precautions they can take to prevent it.

"I think it's wonderful," said Boswell, 65, of Peoria. "I'm just getting rid of documents, and doing it one at a time is not the way to do it."

The shredding truck, the size of a garbage truck and parked outside the Smith Barney offices at put homely shredders to shame, offering residents a minute-long process that could have been hours if it were done piece by piece.

"We bought little shredders, but they only lasted 15 minutes and died," said James Agee, 77, who brought a sack of documents dating back to 1970.

"My wife keeps everything," he said.

His collection of antiquated paper went into a trash can first. The trash can was attached to an arm, much like those of automatic neighborhood garbage trucks.

Spencer used levers to operate the machine and lift the trash can to the top of the truck, where it tipped and its contents fell onto a conveyer belt.

Many people opted to watch the fate of their private documents on a monitor embedded in the side of the truck.

The first concern of most people who use the truck is whether their papers actually get shredded.

The monitor revealed the conveyor moving their information toward the shredding cylinder, which ate up every piece.

Out of view was the compactor, where all the shredded paper would wait to be recycled, Spencer said.

"We're very concerned about protecting our clients identities and letting people in the community know what lengths we go to make sure their information is safe," said Todd Barlow, assistant Peoria branch manager for Smith Barney, who oversaw the event.

Each year, an estimated 10 million Americans experience identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

"You really want to have a shredder at your house," said Michael Baglio, Citi information security officer. He said documents placed into the trash become public domain as soon as that trash is taken to the curb.

He said the best thing to do is to view statements and pay bills online, avoiding paper altogether.

Although that may seem like a less secure method of handling finances to those who are inexperienced with the Internet, Baglio said financial institutions industrywide do a lot to protect information sent online.

"We actually try to hack our own sites to make sure they're not vulnerable," he said.

And a tip Barlow offered: Don't send private information in the mail from your house. The red flag meant to alert your postal worker of outgoing mail is a red flag for criminals, too.

Steven Bushong can be reached at (309) 686-3196 or