Why it pays to use an outside company to destroy sensitive documents

How to avoid risk by using secure document destruction: Why it pays to use an outside company to destroy sensitive documents

Al Trujillo

Why It Pays To Use An Outside Company To Destroy Sensitive Documents

Identity theft, privacy rights – a heightened awareness of these concerns has swept over the globe within the last 10 years, particularly as more and more people use the Internet. Yet every document a company generates that contains sensitive personal information is prey to the same risk of theft as information shared on the Internet. In fact, the fascination with cyberspace risk may have unduly shifted the focus from the equally important problem of how to handle sensitive information on paper once it’s time to throw it away. This article discusses the problems inherent in dealing with sensitive documents and explains the best solution for safe disposal.

What’s the Risk?

As the amount of personal information gathered on individuals grows larger every day, companies that compile and retain this information on paper face a greater risk that some of that information will be stolen.

Information protection has become an important issue for senior management. In a survey conducted by the Conference Board, executives from 300 companies ranked the security of company records as one of the top five critical issues facing businesses today. When asked which issues required their immediate attention and policy development, the executives ranked the security of company records second only to employee health screening.

Why is the Risk Growing?

Why should companies be more concerned now about the risk of their sensitive documents being misused than they have been in the past? Because the value of this sensitive information – to both reputable and disreputable people – is growing.

Evidence of the growing value of personal information can be seen in the case of some “dot.com” companies that go out of business. Although these companies may have no tangible assets to sell, they can still sell their lists of user names, because those lists hold value for anyone who wants more information about potential customers and their buying habits.

Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, it’s also much easier for people to gain access to personal information, as seen by perusing internet sites like “publicdata.com”. This web site re-publishes information from courts and motor vehicle departments. Since more personal information is out in the open than ever before – both via the Internet and on paper documents kept in every office – the risk to companies that need to safeguard this information has grown, too. One survey concluded that one out of every five people, or a member of their family, is a victim of identity theft.

A recently reported incident in British Columbia is a good example of what can happen when sensitive documents are not disposed of securely. To the outrage of many in the community, documents containing personal information (picture, name, address, SIN, etc.) were found in an outdoor waste dumpster. Apparently, the documents had originated from an independent Immigration Services company in Vancouver.

Obviously, the theft of sensitive documents – or even their accidental discovery – can cause huge public embarrassment for companies and become a real public relations nightmare. Customers are not happy to find out that their personal information has knowingly or unknowingly fallen into outsiders’ hands.

The recently passed Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act requires organizations to securely destroy confidential information that is no longer required. The Act cites shredding paper as the best and preferred destruction practice.

Federally regulated organizations such as banks, telecommunications and transportation companies were subject to these restrictions on January 1, 2001, with the remainder of the industry to be covered by January 1, 2004.

How Can a Company Handle the Risk Efficiently?

Most companies recognize that they must safeguard sensitive documents and dispose of them in a safe manner. Handling the disposal internally is one way to ensure that sensitive documents do not become a find for a “dumpster diver” who’s looking for treasure in a company’s trash bins. But the “do-ityourself’ method carries a number of problems:

* It’s time-consuming to shred or otherwise destroy sensitive documents. Staff time must be devoted to a nonproductive job.

* It’s noisy, dusty work – not something you want your professional staff to have to handle on a daily or weekly basis.

* Compliance issues must be adhered to, such as recently passed federal regulations.

* Often, the resulting waste ends up in the local landfill, rather than being recycled.

The issue of recycling brings up another point: As more companies turn to recycling to reduce waste in the environment, they may not be aware that sensitive documents placed in the recycling bin are usually not shredded or handled securely. These sensitive documents get dumped into recycling centres along with other non-sensitive trash, and since these centres are not secured, anyone can sift through the piles of materials in search of interesting documents.

All of these problems can be eliminated by outsourcing to a professional company that specializes in secure document destruction. Outsourcing lets a company focus on its core competencies and avoid adding to its head count to support these specialized services. When a company uses an outside secure document destruction company, it gets:

* Locking containers in the workplace.

* Materials from one department of the company being mixed with other departments’, which makes it more difficult for someone with fraud in mind to reassemble the pieces.

* Fully bonded, professional service representatives to collect, transport and oversee the secure destruction of materials once they leave company premises.

* A locked-down, secure destruction centre where professionals ensure the secure destruction of all materials and supply a certificate of destruction at the end of the process.

* Offsite, industrial-scale shredders that destroy the documents beyond recognition.

* Assistance in establishing a secure destruction policy for a company to use internally.

Most important, nearly 100 percent of the shredded or pulverized material is recycled, so that a company can still do the right thing for the environment.

How to Choose a Secure Document Destruction Company

Once it becomes clear that the most cost-efficient way to avoid risk when disposing of sensitive documents is to use an outside secure document destruction company, the next question becomes how to choose one. Here are four steps to take:

1. Look at the security the different document destruction companies provide for each part of the process. Locking bins on site, a bonded work force, a secure truck to haul away the sensitive material, a secure site for shredding the materials – these are some important items to look for.

2. Ask about each document destruction company’s experience and length of time in the business.

3. Find out about the range of services beyond secure document destruction that they each offer, such as offsite document management and data protection.

4. Finally, look for good value for service. This is an economic decision that will save staff time, while providing security and protecting a company from liability. Choosing the right secure document destruction company is not as simple as finding the company with the lowest price – it’s finding the best service with the most secure procedures. Overall, it’s a relatively inexpensive investment (starting at less than $50 a month) in confidence, better efficiency, and peace of mind.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Although most senior executives understand the necessity of safeguarding sensitive documents while they are in active use, they sometimes overlook the importance of destroying those same documents securely once they are no longer needed. Due to the increasing problem of identity theft and the growing move toward stronger privacy rights, there’s a huge potential risk if companies don’t destroy their sensitive documents securely. As this article has shown, however, there’s also an easy, secure solution to this problem. It’s called secure document destruction, and it is available for a.relatively low cost. Since it takes only one disaster to wipe out a company’s reputation, a good question to ask is, “Why take the risk?” Al Trujillo, Recall Corporation, oversees Recall’s North American operations. Recall is Canada’s largest provider of on-site and off-site destruction services and global leader in information management solutions. For more information about Recall, visit www.recall.com or to contact their Canadian headquarters, call 905-629-8440.

By Al Trujillo, President Americas, Recall Corporation

Copyright Canadian Institute of Management Spring 2002

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