Identity theft and computer based fraud are
the fastest growing criminal enterprises out there today. The internet has made the theft of personal information all too easy. There are numerous websites out there that provide everything from personal addresses and birthdates to phone numbers and maps, absolutely free. For a price, even more personal information can be provided. There have been attempts to legislate these sites out of existence with little luck. There are steps you can take to make yourself at least transparent if not invisible to people who are trying to track you electronically. This usually works best if you take countermeasures when you move to a new address. Some tips…
- Get a PO box: The hassle of driving to the post office everyday is worth it. Change your drivers license, checks and other personal data to this address. It will become a hassle when it comes to mail order, mail forwarding and some troubles cashing checks at stores but its worth it.
- Unlist your phone: Either pay to have it unlisted or learn the trick I found. You don’t have to list your phone under your name. List it under your Great Grandfathers, your dog or Phill McKracken. The phone co. doesn’t really care and its free.
- Get on the “do not call list”: https://www.donotcall.gov/
- Remove internet sources: If you find your address online send in requests to have it removed. Not always possible but try anyway.
- Do not give out personal data: Don’t do it on the phone, don’t do it at the register, don’t do it online, don’t do it. When filling out forms look for those DO NOT SHARE MY INFORMATION boxes and fill them out. Sometimes you may have to give it out but at least make the attempt to refuse. Unless you are under “deep cover” this is all just a matter of minimizing risk, you are not a CIA operative.
- Keep your receipts. Be aware at the ATM for people watching you. Look out for boxes over the top of your ATM card reader. Don’t keep your PINs with your cards.
- Shred all documents being thrown out: Buy a shredder or tear it up by hand. Do the automatic bill payment thing if you like as it reduces paperwork buildup.
- For the serious paranoid look up Limited Liability Corporations (LLC’s): To intricate to explain… google it.
- Use an attorney: Another more extreme measure. Have all your mail go through your lawyers office. A hassle and pricy.
- Check your credit report: See if anybody else is using your identity.I may think of more but I’m running out. Share your stories and tips if you have any.
Be discreet when filling out application forms, whether on-line or in paper form. Often, you can provide general instead of specific information and still complete the transaction (for example, responding “over 18” or “younger than 65” when asked for age). Try to determine what information on an application or warranty form is for marketing purposes and not necessary for completing the transaction. When you are asked to sign authorizations to disclose your personal information, date the form or add an expiration date and cross out language that makes the authorization too broad or general. Revoke the authorization in writing if you reconsider later.
Protect the confidentiality of your Social Security number. Just say no. Social Security numbers are really not necessary when applying for credit or insurance. There are legal limits when government agencies ask for Social Security numbers. Any request for your number when the transaction has tax consequences – like getting a job or opening a bank account or buying a house – is legitimate. In other cases, ask for a random number you select or, if you must, try providing only the last four digits. Or if its not for legal purposes (i.e. they are unimportant nobodies who don’t need it) make it up.
Attach conditions to sensitive information that you feel you have to provide. Ask that it not be further disclosed outside the organization or that it be destroyed after a certain period. Ask to inspect it in the future. This creates a binding contract with the organization. If it refuses to accept your conditions, that tells you about its information practices.
Never provide sensitive information over the telephone or Internet to someone you don’t know – including your Social Security number, home address or phone number, bank-account or insurance-policy numbers, bank balance, mother’s maiden name, or medical information. If you want, call back the company and keep a record of its phone number.
Phrase your demand so that it elicits a positive response, not a negative one. Don’t say, “I refuse. . . .” Say, “Because I’m concerned about my privacy, I chose to keep that information to myself. . . .” Assume that most clerks, as individuals, will identify with your concerns, and you will discover that many of them do. Be persistent. Be prepared to try three or four times before the organization caves in.
Ask to inspect and correct files about yourself where federal law permits this – credit reports, consumer investigations, school records, federal-agency files, cable TV providers, and criminal records. A dozen states provide these rights for insurance files and 15 states have these rights for personal information stored by state agencies. Almost half the states and a federal regulation require this for medical records.
Ask the post office not to disclose your new address to commercial mailers when you file a change-of-address form. Better still, make your change of address temporary not permanent. A temporary forwarding instruction is good for one year, and the Postal Service does not forward temporary change-of-address information to commercial list users and direct marketers.
Ask to inspect your own medical file and to add information to it if necessary. About 20 states and a federal regulation give you this right and most professional medical organizations endorse this right.
Some more phone tips. Have your telephone number listed without an address in the directory. This will provide much of the same protection that you seek from an unlisted number – and for no charge – because marketers are not interested in collecting phone numbers without addresses. This will keep you out of the address and telephone directories on the World Wide Web. For a nominal monthly fee, some phone companies will provide you a second phone number that will ring with a distinctive sound. You can make this your “public number” that you provide to businesses and government agencies. Reserve your original telephone number for friends and relatives, and then you will know when they are calling. In addition, ask the major mailers to delete you from their telephone and mailing lists.
Remember that cellular, mobile, and cordless phones are not secure. Neither is electronic mail; regard it as you would a postcard. Remember that a recipient of your e-mail can pass it on to the whole world, inadvertently or intentionally. You have to respond to e-mail carefully to avoid sending responses to persons you did not intend to receive it. Do not ever use telephones and computers at work for sensitive or embarrassing communications. Federal law permits employers to monitor.
Protect against theft of identity. The main reason for it is the circulation of your Social Security number or carelessness with it by organizations. Keep your SSN out of general circulation as much as you can. Keep it off your driver’s license and your personal checks.
Shop Around. The new century has brought a few new products and services that actually enhance your privacy – e-mail forwarding services that protect your anonymity, encryption software, innovative telephone-answering machines, shredders, mail receivers. Seek them out.