Just the other day, I came across a news article about how to shred and unshred documents.
In the article, the Federal prosecutors have told a judge that they’ve begun reassembling the documents that have been shredded by Stanford Financial Group- whose owner, Allen Stanford was charged with running a Ponzi scheme of over $7 billion!
Does this mean that you can reconstruct your documents after you’ve passed them through your paper shredder?
There’s no straight answer to this question- it’s a Yes and No answer.
YES, because you can easily unshred a poorly shredded document and recover the information.
NO, because it’s not always possible to unshred a document if it was pulverized or cut into extremely fine pieces.
With that in mind, I’ll discuss with you some ways in which you can unshred documentst hat have already been passed through a paper shredder.
Option #1: Using a computer, scanner, and unshredder software
This is the most popular way of unshredding documents, especially in cooperate sectors.
The reconstruction process involves feeding the scanner with all the available shreds. Then automated software program assigns a unique ID to all these pieces; it analyzes the number of characteristics- including the color, font, size and identification.
Using some machine algorithm, the program is then able to identify the potential neighboring pieces and displays them on the screen for you to confirm.
One of the more common tools for this is called Unshredder.
Sounds an incredibly easy and efficient unshredding method, right?
Option #2 Reconstruction by hand
Before the invention of the computer and scanning technology above, people used to reconstruct documents by hand (or manually if you like it).
Assuming all the pieces you wish to reassemble are in one place, this process is more like doing a jigsaw puzzle–as you’ll have to painstakingly sift through the pieces to look for matches.
If you don’t have the above computer equipment with you or you accidentally shred your documents at home, you can use the following manual unshredding guide to get back your documents:
1. Determine the identifying attributes of your documents
That is, use the paper color, weight, distinctive illustrations, type fonts, and logos to quickly identify the document you want to get back. You can also look at an unshredded document from the same sender to act as your model.
2. Next, sort your shreds
Using the paper’s identifying characteristics, and comparing the angle of the edges of each piece, start organizing your shreds. Separate as well as discard all your shreds from other documents until you’re left with fragments for your target document only.
3. Start the paste-up
Place your first shred on your workstation or paste-up board (whiteboards work well) using some clear, removable tape.
Following the same orientation, place the second piece along the first. Compare it against your first shred and if they match, tape it down as well. If they don’t match, consider taping it an inch away and parallel to your first strip.
4. Repeat the above process
Continue comparing the remaining shreds, keeping the raw (uncompared) strips from the rejected (compared but not matching) strips separate.
If you run out of space, consider using a second whiteboard. Join your matching pieces as soon as you discover their matches.
5. Copy the reconstructed document
After you’ve reassembled your entire document, sandwich the taped shreds between two sheets of a transparent overhead projector film, or a clear contact paper and photocopy.
Note: reassembling a document by hands takes a couple of hours and can at times be impossible depending on the shreds you’re working with.
Not All Documents Can Be Shredded!
It’s important to note that not all shredded documents can be reconstructed using the above technology.
The ease and possibility of putting them back together depends on the size of your shreds. The smaller and more pieces you have at hand, the more difficult it might be for you to reconstruct them.
Take for instance the strip paper shredders. These models cut paper into longer pieces- approximately 1/8-5/16 inches wide. As such, they output a smaller number of larger fragments, making them incredibly easy to reconstruct.
Cross cut models, on the other hand, are known for slicing papers into tinier pieces, making them a bit difficult to reconstruct. The model adds a vertical cut to the horizontal cut of the strip models, ensuring that all the sentences in your document are broken up to make your info more secure.
Then, of course, we’ve got the models that pulverize your document into dust- e.g. the micro cut shredders– making all your shredded documents 100% reconstruction-proof!
Finally, don’t forget about burning your documents. If done properly, they will be pretty hard to restore.