Identity Theft and Protecting Personal Information

Identity Theft and Protecting Personal Information

Protect Your Personal Information

In preparation for National Cybersecurity Awareness month in October, we are going to brush up on some additional physical precautions you can personally use to reduce or prevent identity theft. A few new practices in physical data housekeeping can be the tools in your arsenal that maintain a strong defense in your personal spaces, where data is typically considered safe. Read on for Part II of essential data protection practices!

Practice Good Housekeeping

Regular maintenance to protect your personal information can take many forms. Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, pre-screened offers, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer. If you need to keep these documents, they should remain locked in a cabinet whenever you’re not present. Don’t forget to destroy medical directives, instructions for taking medication, or the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out.

When it comes to sending out sensitive mail, take your outgoing mail to official drop boxes. Promptly remove any mail that arrives in an unsecured mailbox or request a ‘vacation hold’ if you’ll be out for several days. Similarly, when ordering new checks, don’t have them mailed to your home unless you have a secure mailbox with a lock. Consider opting out of prescreened offers of credit and insurance by mail – it’s possible to opt out for 5 years or permanently, just call 1-888-567-8688 or go to The 3 nationwide credit reporting companies operate the phone number and website.

Before trading in, donating, or disposing of a device, check the owner’s manual, the service provider’s website, or the device manufacturer’s website for information on how to delete your information permanently, and how to save or transfer your information to a new device. You should use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive of a computer to protect your personal information. Remove the memory or subscriber identity module (SIM) card from a mobile device. Clean devices by removing the phone book, lists of calls made and received, voicemails, messages sent and received, organizer folders, browsers, apps, web search history, and photos.

Secure Your Social Security Number

Keep a close hold on your Social Security number and ask questions before deciding to share it. Ask if you can use a different kind of identification. If someone asks you to share your SSN or your child’s, some questions to ask are:

  • Why do you need it?
  • How it will be used?
  • How will it be protected?
  • What happens if I don’t share the number?


The decision to share is yours and you absolutely have a right to protect your personal information. However, the business may not provide you with service if you don’t provide your number. A business may ask for your SSN so they can check your credit when you apply for a loan, rent an apartment, or sign up for utility service. Inquire how they protect your information and who it is shared with.

Keep Your Devices Secure

Be wise about connecting to open Wi-Fi in public places. Before you send personal information over your laptop or smartphone on a public wireless network in a coffee shop, library, airport, hotel, or other public places, see if your information will be protected. If you use an encrypted website, it protects only the information you send to and from that site. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information you send on that network is protected.

Lock Up Your Laptop

Many experts suggest users keep financial information on their laptop only when necessary and avoid using automatic login features that retain usernames and passwords. The basis is that potential targets mitigate danger in the event their laptop is stolen or otherwise compromised, and it will be harder for a thief to access their personal information. This may not be functional, efficient, or realistic for many users. If this is the case for you – at a minimum – set up a login password or pin. Use strong passwords that are creative. Substitute numbers or special characters for some words or letters. For example, “I want to climb Macchu Picchu” could become 1W@cMP. Your security is only as secure as the password that protects it!



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