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So, I need to redact some information on my tax returns before sending them into my insurance company as proof of citizenship (or something, I'm not sure what exactly they needed them for). The problem is, I tried blacking them out with a dry erase marker and my SSN and financial info show straight through. I've tried going over them a few times and still nothing. I've run them through a copier, hoping it wouldn't catch the subtle differences in ink tones and would just show a black bar, but you can still see the SSN. How can I fully black out this information?

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    You should find out exactly why the insurance is asking for a copy of your tax returns. They are not in any way proof of citizenship. There's a good chance that they want to know things like whether or not you have a job or what your income is. The information you're trying to redact could very well be what they're looking for. – Ross Ridge Dec 15 '15 at 21:41
  • @RossRidge They give explicit instructions to black out the SSN and any financial information. – Sidney Dec 15 '15 at 21:42
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    Use white out, then make a copy. – Chloe Dec 15 '15 at 22:46
  • "black out the SSN and any financial information" After your name, date, etc., what's left in a tax information that's not "financial information"? – Joshua Taylor Dec 16 '15 at 16:02
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    @JoshuaTaylor I was requested to provide a redacted copy of my tax return to prove my marital status. It is called a dependency audit. I don't know why it is being requested of the OP. – emory Dec 16 '15 at 16:29
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If you are able to make copies of the forms, create a digital copy instead. Then you can "black out" the information digitally with any photo editor or your favorite PDF software. Replace the target text with a black box or just remove it completely.

Then reprint the redacted copies as needed.

Bonus that you're not destroying the original.

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    +1 This will work, but don't send the electronic copy with this method- if you don't know what you are doing the original text can remain in the file even though it's not visible on a printout, so it can easily be recovered by anyone with a text editor. – Spehro Pefhany Dec 16 '15 at 8:14
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    If you are going to send the result digitally then you need to make sure you use an image editor not "your favourite PDF software" and make sure you save the result in a flat bitmap format (NOT a vector/metafile format, NOT a fancy multilayer image format) – Peter Green Dec 16 '15 at 15:27
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    @Peter Green why take a chance. (1) scan and create digital copy 1 (2) redact (3) print out (4) scan and create digital copy 2. Distribute digital copy 2 not digital copy 1. Paper is not that expensive. – emory Dec 16 '15 at 16:35
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    @BrettFromLA The particular case I'm thinking of, I think they just covered it with a black block in a PDF. The text was still there if you deleted the block with a PDF editor or looked at the file with a text editor. Here. Not applicable in this case, but Word files are also suspect. – Spehro Pefhany Dec 16 '15 at 21:09
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    @BrettFromLA Also if you have an image format such as JPEG that contains large amounts of metadata, you might accidentially transmit confidential metadata. – cemper93 Dec 17 '15 at 9:17
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Make a regular copy, then cut out the redacted information on the copy before you send it.

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    Given the tools mentioned in the post, copier, black marker, I'd say this is the best, easiest choice. – Adam Davis Dec 15 '15 at 20:10
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    An X-Acto knife or box cutter and an old catalog or cutting board to cut against will make this 100% sure. Cut it out of a copy of the original, then copy again. – Spehro Pefhany Dec 16 '15 at 8:18
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    @AdamDavis especially if you plan on doing this only one time, it is not worth it to figure out how to erase metadata from a digital file – emory Dec 16 '15 at 18:04
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Put some opaque tape over the sensitive information before making your copy. You could try masking tape or electrician's tape. You might not want to use the auto paper feed on your copier because the tape might come off inside the copier.

5

Take a copy of the document, cut out the sections you want to redact. Put a blank sheet of paper behind it (optionally with black behind the holes, according to how you want the redacted sections to show), copy it again.

Or, of course, a digital equivalent, which is to edit by placing plain blocks over the redacted sections (do not use blur tools), then print out.

You can mess about with ink and whiteout and so on, and you can kind of squint at the result and think about whether or not you find it illegible. And you'll probably be right. But if you want to redact something, having in your pocket while the rest of the document is on the copier is the best way to be sure it doesn't somehow show through :-)

Also be careful about the size of the sections you remove. For SSN they're all the same, so this tells the attacker nothing. For financial information, knowing the number of digits in a redacted number might be a close enough estimate for whatever purpose they had in mind (and the number of line-items on your tax return is also slightly sensitive). Therefore where possible remove the entire box, not just the part of it you used.

3

I've found very few markers are up to the task of blacking out printer ink, but worry not, there is another way! When most people think of redaction, they think of blacking out data, but I've found whiteout to be far more effective. Just whiteout the data you don't want to send, and all will be well. If you really want it to be black, first apply a coat of whiteout, then just mark over it with your marker. Like the OP mentioned, it's also not a bad idea to run the redacted version through a photocopier, as even with the original there are a number of ways to get ink to show through, but it's much harder on a photocopied version.

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Some copiers might have a mode for a pure black-and-white, non-halftone copy. Computer scanners nearly always have ("lineart mode"). If that is not available, physically cutting out the redacted information is definitely the safest way.

3

You can obfuscate each character individually with a ballpoint pen. Make sure the ink is the same color as the ink you're obfuscating. Then draw a shape over the top of each letter; I like using a figure "8" with an "X" through it. That will make every character look like every other character: an "8" looks like an "E" and like an "F", and also a "9" and an "X" and a "0".

enter image description here

DISCLAIMER: This isn't a perfect solution (obviously!). With enough time, someone could probably read all the information you tried to hide, especially if they used additional tools like chemicals, heat, high-res scanners, etc. But I've found that it's good enough for those day-to-day situations where you want to make it really hard to read certain text.

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    There's no way a ballpoint pen ink will match a printed document's ink. – Just Do It Dec 15 '15 at 19:47
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    I should have been more specific. I just meant that if the printed document is black, use a black ballpoint pen. If the printed document is some other color, use that color ink. The key is that one solid wide black mark won't obscure text as well as thin lines that are similar in width to the letters under them. I have done this for years, and I've never been able to read the original text. You can try it if you want! It works best if the lines you draw overlap the lines that were printed. – BrettFromLA Dec 15 '15 at 20:30
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    I don't necessarily disagree (I've done the same at times), but in the specific examples shown I easily see the "1 2 3 4 etc..", I think the patterns are too perfect in typed text for it to be a good example - I actually happened to look at the "After" image first, saw the 1 2 3, and then checked the before image to check if I was seeing things how I thought I was. – DoubleDouble Dec 15 '15 at 21:06
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    Counter-counterespionage: There's an entire thread about Removing Ink That's Scribbled on top of Printed Text – Robert Cartaino Dec 15 '15 at 22:04
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    @keshlam that is the whole danger of the method, the information looks obliterated to the untrained eye but it isn't actaully obliterated. – Peter Green Dec 16 '15 at 15:31
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Cut out slips of paper that match the size of the boxes that you want to black out, then tape them in place with clear tape so that nothing is redacted that doesn't need to be.

Most photocopiers I've used won't scan words from behind another paper of standard thickness.

  • This seems like a lot of work to cover up a few lines. – k-l Apr 7 '17 at 5:30
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The variety of contemplations here are absolutely nuts, but I've (almost) been there. The simplest solution is a nice broad tip (1/8") felt tip pen (similar to a Paper Mate. Choose your weapon at an Art Supply store. Then double redact, scan and send. The Paper Mate type felt tip markers don't bleed through and the broader tip types you can find at the art supply give you better coverage for line-per-line stroke out of entire account numbers, transfers, store names, etc. I am redacting the Bankruptcy Court's request for all my bank records and tax returns. Even the Court trustee's paralegal said it was "a matter of law," that I redact my information before transmitting it even to them... something my own attorney didn't have the acumen to tell me. Invest in redacting tools like these markers, blackout stamps, and have fun. Think of it as an electronic shredder.

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    This pretty much sounds like exactly what OP said didn't work for him. – Sidney Mar 27 '17 at 20:25

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