Over the previous several newsletters, we explored the security and privacy pitfalls of our increasingly digital world.  The convenience and ease created by the technology we use each and every day has made our personal and confidential information increasingly vulnerable to theft and misuse.  Despite the vast catalog of tools and software designed to help us protect our digital data, none of them can help when we, the end user, are ultimately the weakest link.  Our own bad habits and lack of awareness of the threats facing us every day are often a major factor in the theft of our personal data / identity.  Luckily, better habits and greater awareness around our privacy needs and the threats we face are both within our grasp.  To this end, below we explore several simple, yet effective, information handling best practices that we hope you consider when trying to protect your digital identity.

While our personal information used to be limited to physical documents or isolated computer systems, the internet and mobile devices have made our information both convenient and vulnerable. Whether dealing with physical documents or digital data, knowing what your data is and handling it properly will provide a great foundation for securing your identity.

            What Is Your Personal & Confidential Information?

Identity thieves, while ultimately looking to steal your money, are keenly interested in obtaining a variety of information that will allow them to build a profile of who you are and what you have.  While it is clear that much of this information is personal in nature, other data elements that are of value to thieves can be less obvious.  All of the below data elements can be used by thieves attempting to steal your identity:

Full Legal Name

Nicknames

Date of Birth

Social Security Number

Maiden Name

Place of Birth

Phone Number

Home Address

Prior Addresses

Hobbies & Club Membership

Employer

Email Address

Banking Information

Credit Card Information

Passwords or PINs

Passport Number

Driver’s License Number

Online User Names

Spouse’s Name

Children’s Names

Health Insurance Info

 

While it is nearly impossible to shield/protect information that it is in the public domain, most of these data elements are private and not readily available.  Identity thieves ultimately need multiple data elements to effectively steal your identity.  Understanding exactly what the thieves are looking for will allow you to begin protecting the relevant information.

Protecting Your Personal & Confidential Information

Now that you know what information identity thieves are looking for, how can you most effectively protect it?  Apart from the variety of information security techniques covered in our previous newsletters, there are some additional data handling best practices you can utilize to secure your identity, such as: Personal Information Monitoring, Document Shredding & Mobile Device Safeguards.

 

Monitoring Your Personal & Confidential Information

Although this recommendation seems like common sense, you would actually be surprised how few people actually pay attention to account statements or review credit reports to help protect their identity.  By simply reviewing your credit-card and bank statements for irregular or unauthorized transactions, you can easily detect a potential identity theft attempt in its early stages.  Identity thieves are aware of the lack of attention paid to financial statements, and often begin their activities with small, apparently innocent transactions, before ultimately utilizing the compromised account for a larger, more costly fraudulent purchase.  Similarly, without reviewing your credit report on a regular basis, how would you know if someone had fraudulently opened a credit card in your name or perhaps a different mailing address is now being utilized in association with your name?  The regular review of your financial account statements in addition to the review of your credit report are simple and efficient tools that easily provide insight and awareness of your personal information and how it’s being used.

An additional tool that can be utilized for monitoring your personal and confidential information is the services of a credit monitoring company (Experian, LifeLock, Identity Guard, Etc.).  For a relatively modest fee, these companies actively monitor your credit profile as well as use of your personal information.  Irregular credit usage, use of your social security number on a credit application, as well as public records containing your name, are all monitored on your behalf.  Additional services such as identity theft insurance and credit restoration services are also available from such service providers.

Document Disposal - Shredding

While we’ve established the necessity of monitoring your personal information, the proper disposal of documents containing elements of your personal information is an equally important component of protecting your identity.  You wouldn’t simply hand a copy of your bank statements or tax returns to a stranger on the corner…  So what makes you think it’s any better to simply throw them in the trash?  Once again, identity thieves are willing to go to extreme lengths to obtain valuable personal information, and your trash is no exception.  Anything containing personal and confidential information should be shredded prior to disposal.

Public Wi-Fi Access

From the airport, to your local coffee shop, and even the hotel in which you are staying, affordable or free internet access (Public Wi-Fi) is everywhere, and there is no doubt that such access provides a multitude of benefits to society in general.  Unfortunately, such access also provides identity thieves with yet another means of attempting to obtain your personal and confidential information.  Because public Wi-Fi is based on an unauthenticated connection (No user id / pw required), identity thieves can potentially position themselves between your device and the connection point.  In this scenario, all information you send over the internet through that connection - emails, credit card info, security credentials, etc. - are sent directly to the thief, who then send it on.  All of this can happen without you noticing anything wrong or out of the ordinary.  In addition to this form of data theft, public Wi-Fi connections are often utilized by identity thieves to distribute malware specifically designed to infect your device and ultimately steal your information.  Because of such vulnerabilities, it is highly recommended that you avoid using public Wi-Fi except in an emergency.

 

 


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