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Protecting Your Privacy

It is getting tougher to protect your privacy. The scams and methods of identity thieves change so quickly that internet privacy experts are constantly under pressure to adapt their protection strategies. But there are some fundamental steps you can take right now to help minimize your risk. We present a number of actionable ideas you can begin today which will help. Not only should this decrease the amount of junk mail, telephone solicitations, and spam you receive, it will also help protect you from having your identity stolen.

General Questions and Answers

How do companies get my name?
There is a lot of ways companies can get your name, address, email, and phone number. Many lists are compiled: using computers that scour the internet for personal information, from public records (like births, deaths, weddings, some criminal records, real estate records, some tax records, driver's license records, motor vehicle registrations, professional registries, classified ads, telephone directories), customer files, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, contests, seminars, and requests for general information.

Why do companies want my information?
In a word? Marketing. Your information is very valuable. The more information they can collect, the more valuable it becomes. Some companies will keep the information for their own marketing purposes to sell you targeted products and services. Then there are lots of companies that will sell your information to other companies and individuals. Either way, money is to be made using your information.

What types of companies share or sell my information?
A better question might be "who doesn't"? The following types of businesses are notorious for selling or sharing your information: magazines, charities that solicit donations through the mail, landline phone directory services, some governmental agencies (like the department of motor vehicles), and credit bureaus.

What can I do to limit the amount of information about me that is available?
  1. Do not allow any personal information to appear on the web. This includes keeping your name, address, phone number, and email out of chat rooms, forums, and websites.
  2. When you do business online, be careful to check (or uncheck) boxes which allow the business to contact with offers or "special promotions" in the future.
  3. Make a habit of notifying any business you work with (including utilities, financial institutions, insurance companies, magazines, credit card agencies, and mortgage company, among others) that you do not give them permission to use your information for any purpose other than the specific service you are currently using.
  4. When you complete surveys and register new products, you are not required to provide demographic information or your interests, even though they often ask for it. You only need to provide your name, address, and identifiable product information like the model and serial numbers.
  5. Rather than tossing your information in the trash where it can be picked by someone with criminal intent, buy a good personal cross-cut shredder and use it to shred documents and mail that contains personal information. This is especially important for bills, bank and brokerage account statements, and credit card statements.
  6. Remove images and personal details from Facebook and other social sites. At a minimum, go into your privacy controls and set them to the most protective available. Note that pictures you post that were taken with a GPS enabled camera phone can secretly tell criminals exactly where the picture was taken! Check out this New York Times article.
How do I remove myself from lists I am already on?
  1. Opt-Out! Here are the details and contact information to get removed from a number of lists.
  2. Reputable companies are suppose to send you a brochure once a year telling you what they do with your information and how you can limit its use. Read it and look for details on how to limit the information they share. Do not allow the companies to share the information with "affiliated companies" or "third parties".
  3. Search for yourself online in a number of different directories, especially phone directories. A directory of directories like Freeality.com is any easy place to start your search. Anytime your information appears on a site look for "Remove" or "Contact Us" links and ask to be removed from their site.
  4. Contact your phone company and ask for either an unlisted number or an unprinted number. An unlisted number keeps you out of the phonebook and directory assistance. There is usually a fee for this. An unprinted number simply keeps you out of the phonebook. This is usually no fee for this.
  5. Write to Acxiom Corporation at PO Box 8180, Little Rock, AR 72203-8180, and ask to be removed from all of their databases. Acxiom Corporation maintains a huge information database and is often the source of phone directory data used by "Locate People" sites on the net.
  6. Write to Acxiom Corporation at PO Box 8180, Little Rock, AR 72203-8180, and ask to be removed from all of their databases. Acxiom Corporation maintains a huge information database and is often the source of phone directory data used by "Locate People" sites on the net.

What else can I do to protect my identity?
  1. Get your Social Security Card, and anything else with your SSN on it, out of your wallet.
  2. Next time you get your checks printed, do not print your address, phone number, or SSN on your checks.
  3. Make sure your anti-virus and security software is up-to-date and you use a firewall.
  4. Check your free credit report once a year. Be sure to get reports from all three credit agencies.
  5. Don't give out any personal information unless you are ABSOLUTELY sure who you are dealing with.
  6. Don't use an ATM if anyone is standing close. Take your receipt with you to shred latter.
  7. Don't leave bill payments in your mail box. Take them to the post office or postal drop box.
  8. Never provide your Social Security Number (SSN), bank account numbers, credit card numbers, or computer/internet password to anyone who calls you on the phone or requests such information in an email.
  9. When you make online purchases, make sure you do not enter any personal information or credit card numbers on the site unless the site is secure. A secured web site begins with "https:" rather than the normal "http:".
  10. When you use your credit card at a retail store, do not let it out of your sight.
  11. Clean out the glove compartment of your car. Don't leave mail, receipts, or other important documents in there.
  12. Have mail delivered to a secure location and don't put outgoing mail into your mailbox.
  13. Cancel all of your unused credit, debit, gasoline, and retail store revolving credit cards.
  14. Get a reasonably heavy duty cross-cut shredder and use it frequently to shred mail, paid bills, and anything else you might otherwise toss in the trash that has any personal or financial information on it.
  15. Remove images and personal details from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Classmates, and other social sites.
  16. Consider an identity theft protection plan that helps monitor, protect, and recover your identity.
What should I do if I am a victim?

Visit our My Identity Has Been Stolen! page for immediate actions you should take.

Information is from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed. The information presented is an opinion intended to assist people with the protection of their privacy and personal information. Since we do not have complete control over the "Ads by Google" appearing on this page, we do not directly endorse their sites or products. Please notify us if you find any of the advertisers to be misleading.

Credit Report Directory
Quickly locate all the contact information and links you need for getting in touch with Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, and Innovis, and how to get a free credit report.

Opt Out!
Contact information and tips for getting yourself removed from junk mailing lists and telemarketing lists.

My Identity Has Been Stolen!
Actions you should take immediately if your identity has been stolen.

How To Find and Collect Your Unclaimed Property
Information on how, and where, to search for free and how to claim any lost money. It's worth searching just to find out if any money is owed to you.

Feel free to contact me to correct any information in this article
or to alert me to additional information one should consider.

© 2005 Topher
Updated 2019

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