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Blackout rollers: The next best thing in keeping you safe from identity theft?

Depends on your tolerance for risk, say RCMP, RBC

According to the RCMP’s website, “Trash bins are a goldmine for identity thieves.” So what should you do before tossing out documents containing personal information? Promoted as an alternative to shredders, small blackout rollers (ExcelMark, Vantamo or Guard Your ID) used to block out sensitive info can be purchased online. The rechargeable devices come in a variety of widths and colours, and are available in roller or stamp form. But can you really buy peace of mind for just a few dollars?

The answer is yes, but only to some extent. If your goal is to hide a section of information without destroying the entire document, great. And this can come in handy at the office, where you probably have a shredder for big jobs anyway.

However, at home, it depends on the document, not to mention your tolerance for risk. The ink doesn’t always adhere or dry properly on glossy surfaces (such as magazine covers or prescription labels), requiring several applications—although some manufacturers, like Kespon, claim to have products that offer coverage on such surfaces. Results are much better on matte paper, but some types of ink are still visible when covered. Do these devices provide adequate protection?

When asked, RBC and the RCMP weren’t willing to give an opinion on the matter. For its part, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario was circumspect, saying: “There are a number of consumer products that claim to be cost effective methods to prevent identity theft associated with paper-based records. [However], we are not in a position to offer unqualified support for the use of blackout rollers alone to prevent identity theft without evidence that they do, in fact, obscure printed text. The IPC recommends the destruction of records containing personal information. Cross-cut shredding and incineration of paper-based records are effective practices.”

In the end, it all depends on you. With millions of documents being thrown out every day, can extra precaution deter thieves? Certainly, but blackout rollers will never be as effective as shredders, and low-end models only cost $50. Be sure to choose one that cuts up documents into little bits and not strips, which can be put back together. It’s been known to happen.