On October 20, Better Business Bureau hosted a community “shredding event” in our office parking lot, working with our friends at Service Nova Scotia’s Consumer Protection office. You may not remember what the weather was like on October 20, but I sure do: torrential rain.

We were out in that weather for three hours. We gathered personal documents from a shockingly steady stream of people who also braved the weather. We then sent those papers into the mobile shredding truck. Iron Mountain donated the truck (along with the time of the operator, Rod, who was a rain-drenched superhero) by  so we could offer this service for free.

At the end of the day, Rod estimated we shredded nearly 1,130 kg of personal documents. We also gathered up almost 90 kg of food donations for Feed Nova Scotia. So, I’m pretty proud of what we did that day but that’s not why I’m writing today.

My friend Jenny Benson, who works with the province, weathered the storm with us that day. She and I were talking about a socioeconomic issue that I hadn’t considered.

Any of us who work in an office environment likely have a shredding box somewhere nearby. And most of us every now and then might slip a personal document or two into that box for secure disposal. Most offices casually look the other way.

Some retail stores also offer shredding services; the price tends to be $20–30 per box. And that price is worth it! Identity thieves still go low-tech. They can take a few seemingly random pieces of information nd put together a complete enough picture to compromise your identity.

A piece of mail showing your middle name, and of course your mailing address. An account number proving that the ID thief has utility service at your address. Maybe even a bank statement. These pieces of information, tossed into the recycling bin, can form the foundation of a criminal’s strategy to assume your identity and begin to conduct transactions in your name. If that happens to you, $30 to shred documents seems like a bargain in comparison.

But people who don’t work in an office environment, or those who aren’t employed, don’t have access to shredding boxes. And $30, in many cases, needs to go to more pressing necessities. And home shredders, except the high-end ones, aren’t exactly convenient. Have you ever tried to shred a bankers’ box of paperwork two pages at a time?

Then there’s the question of transportation. Carting a box full of paperwork on a bus would be very hard. So, if a person doesn’t have access to a car, getting rid of those papers can be an expensive affair once you factor in the cost of a cab ride. At our event we had a few lovely people who brought in boxes of papers from neighbours or friends without access to transportation. Not everyone has a trusted friend like that.

To be clear, this probably isn’t the biggest challenge that some members of our community face. But it’s been weighing on my mind because it’s just one more barrier, one more way we disproportionately shift risk onto the shoulders of people who are already vulnerable.

All of which is to say, I’m proud of the fact that we provided this service in Halifax for the folks that came by. There are a lot of shredding events hosted by various organizations through the course of the year, so watch for them, and think about how you dispose of your own potentially risky information. And maybe, next time you come to a shredding day hosted by BBB, see if there’s someone you know who could use some help protecting themselves and their information. You bring the paper, and we’ll cross our fingers for sun.

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