NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) -
Everyone's been warned about identity theft. The idea that some hacker can snoop around your hard drive, obtain some account numbers and passwords, and clean out your funds has Americans reaching for the nearest Internet-security software.
However, it is far less likely that someone is going to break into your computer than it is that someone will sift through your garbage to get the same information.
One of the best ways to foil trash-picking identity thieves is to shred all sensitive documents before throwing them out. But which shredder to buy?
What are you shredding?
In addition to the price and size of the machine, there are two considerations to keep in mind: The type of materials you'll be shredding and the volume of shredding you're likely to do. Some machines can handle paper clips and staples. Others can destroy credit cards and CDs.
It's also good to pay attention to how many sheets you can feed into the shredder at a time. You want to look for features like cross-cutting (which chops your documents into confetti-size bits as opposed to old-fashioned strips), automatic stop/start (which allows easy one-handed shredding) and a reverse mode (to help clear messy paper jams).
I tested five of the top consumer cross-cut shredders on the market, which range in price from $40 to $380 -- as I wanted to know if a shredder that is 10 times the price is 10 times as good.
To expand my analysis, I enlisted help. I made five copies of my cell-phone bill and shredded one with each machine. The shreddings were then sent to ChurchStreet Technology in Houston, which re-creates shredded documents for law firms and law-enforcement agencies by scanning each shred and using algorithms to reassemble all the material on a computer. Between their findings and my own impressions, we were able to piece together a winner.
Test details I checked for loudness, speed and how long each shredder could operate without overheating. Shredded documents were sent to the lab for reconstruction. The length of time it took the lab to rebuild the documents was an indication of how thoroughly shredded they were.
Tip Make sure you get a cross-cut shredder. Strip-cut shreds are much easier to put back together.
What to look for
The Fellowes 8-Sheet Cross-Cut shredder is an ideal at-home machine. That means it has:
- Low noise levels when operating.
- Auto stop/start, so you don't have to keep switching the machine on or off.
- A paper-bin window so you can easily see when it needs to be emptied.
See the complete test results and photo gallery