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Sunday, August 7, 2005 - Page updated at 06:22 AM

Which paper shredder is a cut above the rest?

Every day seems to bring reports of a new scam designed to pry personal information out of your fingers or your files, to be used to bilk you out of your money.

There are lots of high-tech ways to protect your personal information. But people often forget that scammers most commonly use low-tech strategies — looking through trash, or riffling through papers in the recycle bin you've set out on the street.

A con needs only to get his hands on pieces of paper with your name, address, date of birth or government-issued identification numbers to start racking up debt in your name. Even those pre-approved credit card offers are cause for concern because cons can use them to take out new lines of credit under your name.

The state Attorney General's Office says that one in six people will become victims of identity theft, the fastest-growing white-collar crime in the country. If you aren't shredding your important paperwork, or finding some other way to destroy it, you should be.

"Simply ripping something apart isn't enough," said Kristin Alexander, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division. "Some cons are so determined, they will piece it back together."

Shredding documents makes that task much harder. Other alternatives, she said, may be burning the document or taking advantage of private, confidential services that, for about $40, will shred a large bag of documents for you.

"Quite frankly [shredding] is such a simple thing you can do to protect yourself from ... ID theft, and it's a minor inconvenience and expense compared to the benefit," Alexander said.

But which shredder?

To that end, we tested six personal shredders for home and light-office duty. We focused on products that were compact and readily available and that used the cross-cut method. Cross-cut shredders turn your important papers into confetti — so small that it can't be reconstructed, unlike strip-cut or straight-cut shredders.

You'll pay between $40 and $60 for a light-duty shredder, designed for people who regularly shred a few documents frequently. You could use such a shredder for larger jobs, but it would be a tedious chore; these shredders need to cool down between batches.

Our tester didn't much like the products in the $40-$60 price range, and in that range you should be aware that you'll need to treat the shredder with considerable care and won't be able to shred much paper at a time.

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Still, if you routinely shred only a handful of documents each week, they may do the trick for you. In this lower price range, we found the $45 Aurora 8-Sheet Cross-cut Shredder AS870CR adequate for light jobs.

For heavier jobs — perhaps you accumulate documents over several months before shredding — the medium-duty models might be a better fit. They cost between $100 and $130.

We found some clear winners on the market. For the price, the $99.99 Tech Solutions TS-8000 Cross-Cut Shredder was our favorite. It had a sturdy build, shredded paper efficiently and never jammed.

Below, our tester's report on each shredder, starting with three in the low-price range.

Aurora 8-Sheet Cross-cut Shredder AS870CR

Description: Personal shredder, cross-cut, 8 sheets at once, 5.3 gallon bin, light to medium duty.

Availability: Bought at Best Buy; also available at www.bestbuy.com.

Price: $44.99.

Our tester described this shredder as "wimpy." It ran slowly and sluggishly, and when it jammed, she couldn't get it going again. But it was the best of the three least-expensive shredders.

Tech Solutions — 7-Sheet Crosscut Shredder (TS-4500)

Description: Personal shredder, cross-cut, seven sheets at once, 3.7 gallon paper bin, light to medium duty.

Availability: Exclusively at Office Max or www.officemax.com.

Price: $39.99.

Notes: Top machine recommended by Office Max staff for personal use.

Our tester described this shredder as small and weak. It can run for eight minutes before it requires a cooling break. It would not shred a CD, which is where some people store private information.

Fellowes OD500C

Description: Small personal shredder, cross-cut, five sheets at once, light to medium duty.

Availability: Office Depot, www.officedepot.com and www.amazon.com.

Price: $42.49.

Notes: The OD500C shredder was top recommended by Office Depot staff for personal use.

Our tester reported its performance as sluggish and weak and found that it took almost four minutes to shred a -inch stack of paper. It jammed once, but the reverse feature didn't help; the paper had to be picked out using a letter opener.

Products in the $100-$130 price range

Tech Solutions TS-8000 Cross-Cut Shredder

Description: Confetti-cut, 12 sheets at once, 6-gallon bin, medium duty.

Availability: Exclusively at Office Max and www.officemax.com.

Price: $99.99.

Notes: Recommended by Office Max staff.

Our tester liked this shredder the best. It felt sturdiest, never jammed and took just a little more than 6 minutes to shred a 2-inch stack of paper. It also shredded a CD with no problem.

Fellowes Powershred PS60C-2 Cross Cut Paper Shredder

Description: Cross-cut, seven sheets at once, receptacle included, medium duty.

Availability: www.amazon.com; Office Max or www.officemax.com; www.buy.com.

Price: $129.99.

Notes: Highly recommended by Consumer Reports.

Our tester said this shredder took five minutes to shred a 2-inch stack of paper. When it jammed, the reverse feature got it going again. The shredder's motion was "jerky," and the unit was noisy. The top is quite heavy to lift off, which you need to do to empty the basket.

Royal Paper and Media Shredder 1280x

Description: Confetti-cut, 12 sheets at once, medium duty, also destroys credit cards and media disks.

Availability: Target, www.target.com.

Price: $99.99.

Our tester said this shredder felt pretty robust. It's larger than some of the other machines. One feature is a ringing noise to indicate that the basket is full. It shredded 12 sheets at once without jamming, took 5 minutes to shred a 2-inch stack of paper, and also shredded a CD. One downside: The basket was difficult to fit back into place after the shredded paper was emptied.

Christina Siderius, Seattle Times staff reporter, and Amy Arnold, who writes "Tester" for our Make It Count consumer page, contributed to this article. Christina Siderius: csiderius@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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