It is easy to “worry” about the personal information for you and your family. It seems like every kiosk, online account, and business wants to know all of your “business.” Sometimes you may feel like you shouldn't. Sometimes you don't have a choice. Don't worry. Just follow a few basic suggestions to protect your personal information.
Personal Information Safety Tip #1 – Don’t give away freely!
We have all seen this at some fair or convention:
“Enter to win free iPad!”
We walked by one last night at a concert. My husband wanted to enter. Name … “ok.” Phone.. “Give them my google voice number. I can block it if they want to bug us.” Annual household income “Forget it! It's not worth it!”
You may want to enter a Facebook give-away competition. The choice is yours. If they are only asking for your name and e-mail address, then you can give them your name and the e-mail address that you use for junk e-mail. If you win, great! If you didn't win, then you have not sold yourself!
Personal Information Safety Tip #2 - Store Safely.
Social Security Numbers – I am a mother of four and it would be very tempting to have a cheat sheet for my kids social security numbers. Don't do this. Access the physical cards if you need to enter their social security number for a form. If you want a cheat sheet, make sure it is stored in a password protected encrypted file. You can use Secure Notes on Mac or download a free tool like KeePass.
Social Security Cards – Should not be stored in your wallet. You increase the risk of identity theft if your wallet is stollen. They should be stored preferably in a locked fire-proof safe. As long as they are in a secure location that is not at risk of being stollen.
Credit Card Numbers – Do not let too many companies store your credit card number. I will store my credit card with large organizations that would have better security controls: Amazon, PayPal, hospitals, etc.
Check Books – Check books contain a lot of sensitive information (Name, Address, Phone Number, Checking Account# Banking Institution). Do not leave a checkbook in the car.
Personal Information Safety Tip #3 - Destroy safely.
Shredding – Any document with personal information (including name and address) should be shredded. I typically go through the mail and immediately shred credit card application documents and other items that have my information. If you don't have a shredder, go buy one. It will cost you about $40 and you will reduce the risk of someone gathering sensitive information from your trash. Like this one.
Wiping – If you are giving away or selling a computer or device, remove all of your personal information. Restore mobile devices to the factory setting. For laptops and computers, reinstall the operating system and enable the option to erase all of the data.
Destroy – Hard drives, USB keys, DVD-R and CD-R should be physically destroyed if they were used to store sensitive information. Get a shredder that can shred discs. For USB keys, have fun, get out a hammer. If you had a number of sensitive documents and are giving or throwing away a laptop or computer, take out the hard drive and destroy it.
Personal Information Safety Tip #4 – Account Recovery Questions
Most online sites provide account recovery options if you forget your password. If you answered the basic questions honestly, someone could potentially take over your account by just crawling the web for that information. ”Mother's Maiden Name” “Name of junior high school.” etc.
Consider using alternative password recovery questions. Think of a master password and enter it as the recovery option. It is something that you know and would be difficult to figure out by crawling the web.
Personal Information Safety Tip #5 – Identity Theft Protection
This is the “big looming cloud” hanging over our heads as we hear more about companies getting hacked, records being stolen, and possibly sold to malicious parties. Once you have given your personal information away to a company or organization, it is difficult to ask for it back. ”Could you please delete my social security number? Please?!”
I recommend at the very least implement an annual habit to review the credit score for everyone in your family on an annual basis. Use AnnualCreditReport.com. They will validate your identity with the three main credit agencies. They will not give you your credit score, but will list all of your open lines of credit. If there is credit account that you don't recognize, you will have to investigate further.
If you have reason to believe that your information has been compromised, you should consider paying for a Identity Theft Protection service. I like LifeLock. They will give a phone call to the number on the account anytime a your credit is being pulled.