The Insider: Shredders

Taking the right steps to protect your identity

Identity theft costs the UK economy 1.2bn a year that's 25 for every adult. To stop thieves accessing your details, it's essential to shred all paper-based documents that include personal data. The Home Office (www.identity-theft.org) advises that you destroy everything that has your name and address on it, even junk mail.

An international shredding standard rates shredder security. Shredders reaching level 3 will effectively destroy confidential material and are suitable for home use. Which? found strip-cut shredders rarely achieve better than level 2 security and should be avoided. Opt instead for a diamond or cross-cut model. Cross-cut shredders slice documents in two directions and into small enough pieces to ensure they are difficult to re-assemble. Diamond cutters do the same, but shred your documents into diamond shapes.

"Some cheaper shredders represent excellent value," says Martyn Hocking, the editor of Which? magazine. "One of the best we've tested costs under 35, so spending less does not necessarily mean you're compromising security. But unless you're only going to do a very minimal amount of shredding, opt for a powered rather than hand-powered model." In the latest Which? test, the highest-scoring cross-cut model tested was the Fellowes DS1, above right. This excellent shredder takes up to 14 sheets in one go and cross-cuts them at 25 sheets every 17 seconds the fastest model Which? has ever tested. It's easy to use, gets full marks for durability and is the only Which? Best Buy that the manufacturer says can take staples and paper clips. The only downside is that it's a bit bulky. It is priced at around 78.

The top diamond-cut shredder tested was the Swordfish 500DC, above left, which is exceptional value at just 31. It's small and has few features but does the basics well and is easy to use. It takes eight sheets at a time, shredding 25 sheets of A4 paper in 30 seconds. Should you have a jam, then there's an excellent reverse motor function. This shredder is best for lower volumes though, having a relatively small 7.5 litre bin, but it's a durable machine.

Where to buy

Shredders are available at major high street retailers and stationers as well as online. You can check stockists and compare the latest prices using Which?'s price comparison service at www.whichcompare.co.uk.

Questions to ask...

* How much paper can it shred in one go? If you need to destroy a large volume of documents, consider a shredder that can handle a heavier load to speed up the process. Also check that it can cope with A4 paper, as some only have A5 sized-slots.

* How big is the bin? While bigger bins need emptying less often, smaller models save space. As a guide, a 10 litre bin may take about 60 shredded sheets.

* Will it shred CDs and credit cards? If you want to destroy CDs with personal information, or expired debit or credit cards, look for a machine that can destroy these materials as well as paper.

* Will it accept staples and paperclips? Not all shredders will cope with these items, so you will need to remove them from your documents unless the manufacturer makes this claim. Check the spec before you buy.

The Insider is written by Which?, the independent consumer champion. For details on how to protect your identity, visit www.which.co.uk/protectID. To get three issues of Which? magazine for a special price of 3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE.

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