Digitize Your Documents

Photoillustration by Daniel Vitter
Digitize Your DocumentsUse Tech-Style Storage Systems to Organize and Protect Information

By John Eric Vona

Anyone who has ever lost a wallet or purse knows the hassles that accompany such a misfortune: canceling cards, reporting thefts to the police, getting a new driver’s license and warding off identity theft are just a few.

Even worse, imagine your house is burglarized or you’re the victim of a natural disaster or fire in which your vital documents are damaged, destroyed or missing.

Recovering from such an event can be a complicated and trying process, but there are a few easy steps you can take to prevent a total loss of the many pieces of your legal identity that make day-to-day life easy and workable. All you have to do is make a list of your significant personal papers, digitize them and then store them safely and securely.

Aimee Baldridge outlines the process of protecting your valuable information in her new book, “Organize Your Digital Life: How to Store Your Photographs, Music, Videos, and Personal Documents in a Digital World,”

published by National Geographic. She includes a checklist of what items you should be storing and also offers advice on the best ways to store and save photographs, film, video and music.

Let’s start with that list. There are several items everyone needs to have secure copies of: birth certificates, bank account information, insurance documents (car, house, medical, etc.), driver’s licenses, passports, tax records and Social Security cards. You want to be sure to have medical documents, including prescription information and your Medicare card. Include proof of ownership of highly valuable items such as the deeds to any property or vehicle titles. You may also want to consider preserving family recipes, diplomas, letters of recommendation, your resume, warranties and any important receipts.

Digitizing these items is simpler than you might think. Just use a scanner and upload the documents to your computer. If you don’t have a scanner, there are a variety of places you can pay to use a scanner or have documents scanned and put on a disk for you. Another option would be to use a digital camera or camera phone to take pictures of these items. When using a camera, turn off the flash and check for a text mode.

Save all your files as read-only PDFs in a single folder dedicated to this sole purpose, not scattered throughout your desktop or “My Documents” folder. Password-protect your files with a password you will remember years from now.

The next step is to back up these files. Copying them to an external hard drive is a good place to start and will keep them safe from computer failure, but not from a fire or natural disaster. Burning a CD of the files or copying them to secure USB flash drives is recommended. These can be stored at the house of a trusted friend or relative, in a safe deposit box, or carried with you for ease of access. Another option would be to store them online through services like Apple’s MobileMe or File Den (fileden.com), which are both secure and allow you access to your documents from anywhere in the world.



Get Help with Digital Documentation

Overwhelmed by the thought of do-it-yourself digital organization? Here’s a solution: Jeff Stump at Digital Property Documentation is in the business of making copies of documents and photographing your belongings.

If your property is destroyed and you haven’t documented its value, your insurance won’t fully reimburse you, Stump warns. “You’re not going to get 100 percent of what the value is,” he says. The service is also helpful for estate planning.

Stump charges $395 for a minimum of two hours of inventory, and $75 for each additional hour. The cost includes a free initial walk through, a complete video inventory and two sets of discs — one for the client and one stored free of charge for one year in a secure location. For more information, visit digipropdoc.com or call (850) 222-5187. — Tabitha Yang


Did you know?

Some digital cameras let you to make short voice recordings to attach to your photos. When you’re snapping shots of everything valuable in your house, label the picture right then and there instead of having to go through them all on your computer later.