Securing sensitive information is an integral part in keeping one’s business solvent. Many businesses get so caught up in big things like profit margins, sales numbers, and inventory volume, that they can lose sight of the “small” things that can just as easily decide the fate of your company’s bottom line. Always use backup and recovery software, ensuring your business can recover should a data breach occur. Knowing what to shred and, just as importantly, how to shred, can make or break your business. Don’t let your company’s sensitive information slip into the wrong hands. Here are some best practices for understanding both what documents should be destroyed and how best to securely destroy them.

List of sensitive documents that should be shredded when discarded:

  • Employee tax information
  • ATM receipts or any receipts accrued by using company funds

Pro tip: If you are sending a document to a person within your company, include a brief and highly visible footer that informs the recipient that they are responsible for protecting this document and that it must be shredded properly after it has been used.

  • Unused business cards
  • Promotional material that contains company information
  • Expired company credit cards

Pro tip: You don’t necessarily need a shredder to destroy your documents. You can dispose of your private documents in several ways without having to invest in an expensive shredder.

Burning: The most surefire way (excuse the pun) to destroy your documents is with fire. Make sure you are in a well-ventilated, safe, and legal place in which you can burn.

Soaking: Many people don’t know it, but water is not actually PH neutral. Most tap water is from about 6.5 to 7.9 on the PH scale, which means that it is slightly acidic or basic. Since tap water isn’t PH neutral, it will dissolve things if they are left in water for long enough. Placing your sensitive documents in a large vat of water for a few days can completely destroy all of the ink on the outside of the paper and turn it into mushy pulp. This pulp can then be stirred up so that all semblance of the original paper is destroyed. You can then dry the vat out and recycle the leftover paper mulch, or use it in a compost bin for your garden.

  • Internal office memos
  • Banking records
  • Unused mailing labels or envelopes

Pro tip: Install “to shred” bins in the office that have openings large enough to put your paper into, but small enough that one cannot grab paper back out again. Secure the lids with high-grade padlocks and keep the key stored away in a safe place. Once a month you can open the bin and shred all of the documents at once, or take them to a professional off-site shredder.

  • Employee medical records
  • Insurance records
  • Trade Secrets

Pro tip:  Any documentation of trade secrets should be carefully handled. Copies of any documentation in the wrong hands can be detrimental to a business. Processes, customer lists, and computer programs are all considered highly sensitive.

  • Advertising materials

Newsletters with any company information on them: You would be surprised at how easily your company’s information can be documented and stolen by identity thieves. Even something as seemingly harmless as an internal company calendar

Minutes from meetings: Records of business meetings or memos, or minutes from meetings. Minutes from meetings may not necessarily contain sensitive banking information, but they could be a gold mine for potential corporate spies. If a competitor has hired someone to do some illegal “research” on your tactics and upcoming projects, then getting ahold of your meeting minutes is the perfect way to get a leg up on you. A simple page from a strategy meeting minutes session in the wrong hands can spell disaster for your entire company. Make sure that meeting minutes are properly protected and shredded, unless you want to give your playbook to your competition.

Personal paperwork: Make sure that you always know where your sensitive documents are kept and that they are in a secure place. Estate and trusts, birth certificates, and social security cards are but a few of the important documents that should be kept secure. When you need to discard anything that contains personal information, even outdated personal information, you should always consider shredding or destroying them before you throw them out.

Preventative Measures: Hold training classes to ensure all employees are aware of how to treat sensitive documents. Restricting access to sensitive documents is also good practice. Use preventative maintenance software for asset management, regulatory compliance, scheduling, etcetera. This software keeps sensitive company data centralized, allows the scheduling of document disposal, and can restrict access based on company needs.