SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Amid all the fears over identity theft, the No. 1 tip on how to avoid getting hit is always the same: Shred it.

That message was repeated often last month during National Protect Your Identity week.

"One of the best ways to protect your personal information from an ID thief is to shred important documents before you toss them," said Noreen Perrotta, personal finance editor for Consumer Reports magazine, which recently put 19 cross-cut shredders through its renowned testing lab.

Joanne McNabb, chief of California's Office of Privacy Protection, routinely urges consumers to use those type of shredders, which slices paper both vertically and horizontally.

Perrotta says a lot of folks report their shredders "burn out."

Her advice: Read the manual and use a shredder the way it's meant to be used.

Burning up a shredder could be caused by trying to feed too many sheets of paper through at once. Or putting plastic gift or credit cards in a shredder that's not equipped to chew through plastic.

And sometimes those clear windows on bills and bank statements could be the culprit.

"Our testers said if they put in unopened envelopes with the glassine windows, the shredders tended to jam," Perrotta said.

"It could have been the windows or that the envelopes are too bulky."

Another option: a mobile shredding service that sends a truck to your home or business and shreds paper while you wait. Typically, the mobile trucks have internal cameras that show the paper as it's being shredded.

These "document destruction" companies are particularly helpful if you routinely have a large volume of paper, such as a small business or medical office.

They're also useful if you're "purging" paper and sifting through piles of paper and years of family tax returns and other documents.

To find a reputable com- pany, check if it's a member of the National Association for Information Destruction Inc., a trade association whose North American members adhere to certain guidelines. It's at www.naidonline.org.

Generally, companies like Absolute Secured Shredding Inc. or American Mobile Shredding Inc. charge either by the boxload or by weight. Prices range from $50 to $65 and up.

Sue Clouse, manager of American Mobile Shredding in Sacramento, says her company's minimum price to have a mobile shredding truck at your door is $150, which covers up to 500 pounds of paper.

That's about 20 file-size boxes.

How long does it take to chew up that much paper? "About 10 minutes," said Clouse, who said residential customers typically have bags of tax returns, checkbooks, old bills, etc.

Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if complaints have been issued against the company.

And ask if it's bonded and does employee background checks.

Another option is looking for community shredding events, which are often offered by banks, credit unions and nonprofit groups.

They often are free or ask for a minimal donation for up to five or six boxes.

"A lot of what happens with ID theft is out of our control," said Perrotta, like data breaches where a company's computer files are hacked.

"But this is something you can control," she said. "Shredding cuts that risk of someone trying to go through your trash and steal your documents."