Financial security begins, at least in part, with protecting private personal information from would be scammers and thieves. How private is personal data? Are individuals well protected or likely to fall prey to identity thieves? Such questions are worth personalizing for evaluating one’s own confidential data safety. Here are 12 tips for keeping personal information private and protected.
1. Stop spyware, and block computer viruses.
Internet spyware has become an insidious invader of personal computers. This often enters through cleverly hidden pop-up ad coding, suddenly appearing websites, and even social networking page message links. Free spyware and virus protection downloads are available, which can identify and remove prying spyware programs from your computer. It’s important to check such tools regularly for program updates, and run spyware and virus scans at least once a week to check for privacy invasions, if one spends time online daily.
January 28th is Data Privacy Day, an excellent reminder to guard confidential information, keep classified documents under wraps and examine financial data and personal identification papers for added security.
2. Avoid answering telephone solicitations.
Smart consumers are cautious about incoming telephone calls, checking caller identification numbers and withholding personal information from unknown callers. Many families have household policies of not answering any telephone surveys and refusing to donate to, or purchase anything from, unsolicited callers. If one initiates a call to a reputable organization, that is another story altogether.
3. Join the no-call list.
In the United States, the National Do Not Call Registry (e-mail: Register@donotcall.gov) offers consumers the ability to opt out of many telemarketing calls to their home phone numbers. Within a month of registering, an enrollee should notice a dramatic decrease in incoming telemarketing calls. (Of course, random robotic auto-dialers may still produce calls, but that number should no longer appear on telemarketing lists.) The Telephone Preference Service provides a supplementary protection, if one makes a personal request in writing (Telephone Preference Service, c/o Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735) or by phone (1-800-407-1088 – toll-free).
4. Copy all wallet contents.
Anyone who has ever fallen prey to a pickpocket or purse snatcher knows the hassle of trying to reconstruct mentally the contents of his or her billfold or pocketbook. Here’s an easy trick for keeping track of credit cards, driver’s licenses, health insurance cards, identification documents, and more. Empty out the entire wallet, and copy (or scan) both sides of each ID, check card, or other personal document. Keep these copies in a secure spot, just in case. If one ever has to report a loss or theft, it will help to have these well-documented reminders close at hand.
5. Lock up important documents.
Important identification papers (such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, and passports) should be kept in a secure, fire-proof spot. A home safe or a bank safety deposit box can fit the bill. Many banks offer lockbox rentals as free perks for customers with multiple accounts, such as checkbooks and savings accounts.
6. Keep a private list of account numbers and passwords.
Few individuals are able to commit all of the financial account numbers, contact information, and addresses to memory. What’s more, such details may someday need to be made available to a trusted individual, if the account holder should become somehow incapacitated. Savvy investors keep lists of this information smartly stored in password-protected files or locked spots, perhaps giving the trustworthy designee access clues.
7. Check credit statements and credit reports regularly.
How can an individual tell if his or her credit has been misused, or if he or she has fallen victim to credit fraud? The first clue may be an unfamiliar charge or two on a credit card bill or a mysterious withdrawal on a bank statement. However, if an identity thief has actually taken out credit cards or loans in one’s name, this data will eventually show up on that person’s personal credit report, which is available from a credit bureau. Major U.S. credit reporting bureaus include Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Consumers are usually entitled to one free credit report per year from each of these three organizations.
8. Opt-out of unsolicited credit card offers.
With a few basic steps, anyone can drastically reduce the number of pre-approved credit card solicitations he or she receives in electronic or traditional mail. By calling the toll-free Opt-Out Request Line (1-888-567-8688 or filling out an online request form), an individual can take his or her name off the major credit bureau mailing lists, which are often sold to credit marketers. For added personal financial security, one can eliminate plenty of junk mail (and save natural resources too) by writing to the Mail Preference Service (c/o Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735) to remove his or her contact information from commonly shared promotional mailing lists. Toll-free telephone requests are also acceptable (1-800-407-1088).
Disclaimer: Companies and financial/personal information protection services mentioned here are for reader convenience, but are not intended as author endorsements of these entities. Consumers are advised to investigate such service providers individually before sharing confidential data or doing business with them.
9. Refuse automatic additions to online promotional lists.
When shopping or conducting business online, customers can stop spammers by checking (or unchecking) any boxes that lead to enrollment on those organizations’ mailing (or emailing) lists. Often, companies share or sell these promotional rosters with other businesses, so a single sign-up can lead to lots of potential offers. Even if the initial company is reputable, pass-alongs may not be.
10. Guard incoming mail.
Home mailboxes (particularly unlocked postal boxes) may be identity thieves’ fishing holes. For this reason, smart consumers empty their mailboxes promptly, sorting through received items and destroying identifying information before tossing envelopes and other mail materials. Magazines and mail-order catalogs bear address labels, which should be removed before these items are recycled or donated.
11. Stop mail service when traveling.
Local postal offices will stop mail delivery, upon request, or even forward mail for customers who plan to be out of town for extended periods as well. This prevents mail from piling up, tempting would-be identity thieves and signaling potential burglars to an unoccupied residence.
12. Plug in the shredder.
Cross-cut shredders are inexpensive, but they provide excellent personal data privacy. Basically, any documents containing confidential personal information should be shredded before they are tossed in the trash.
These 10 simple steps can go a long way towards protecting personal data privacy and keeping one from falling victim to would-be identity thieves.