What is PII and Why Should I Care?

march 16, 2021 | identity theft
Data Breaches and Social Media - What's the Impact?

The definition of personally identifiable information—PII for short—varies from one person to another. State laws can vary on how they define PII in data breach reporting laws.

To guard PII, you need to know which data has value to a criminal. Your name and date of birth top the list. Social Security numbers (SSN)—nearly impossible to replace if compromised. But there are other documents and records often overlooked. It's time for a scavenger hunt to nail down your own data trove, and slash your risk of identity theft.

What Do You Consider Identifiable?

The most common risks include items like your driver's license and mother’s maiden name. Not everything needs to be routinely checked but many on this list are worth protecting:

  • Passports
  • Citizenship papers
  • Green cards
  • Court records
  • Actual SSA cards others use to commit fraud
  • Email addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Photos that could quickly identify you
  • Handwriting samples
  • Military and other ID cards

Some Data’s Tougher to Secure

Even if you secure sensitive documents, you carry around another type of identifiable info—your biometric features—that are difficult to protect. These markers are increasingly used for identification.

This tally includes iris patterns, fingerprints, your facial features and even your DNA. If given a choice, think twice before you share those.

Health Info Hazards

Health care also churns out sensitive data—from diagnoses like HIV to medical insurance policy numbers. This collection is known as Protected Health Information (PHI). In addition to the identity theft jeopardy that unsecured PHI creates, there are genuine risks to your physical well-being if data is compromised, or your records get comingled with a thief's.

Medical ID theft is a significant issue because health care costs are high, and folks without insurance get desperate. In these cases, you may already know your thief. Relatives or friends and guests in your home could have ready access to your ID card; they simply snap a photo to grab plan numbers. Untangling bills in this type of ID theft presents a genuine nightmare because consumers have fewer legal protections than with items like credit card abuse.

When a con artist successfully obtains care in your name, test results and other information usually lands in your health record, creating risks during an emergency. If, for example, you have an Rh- blood type like B-, you don't want O+ blood notations in your records. If the thief has no known allergies, but you do, providers could be confused and potentially endanger your life.

HIV tests and other sensitive results should be locked down.

Where Data Sleeps

Consider the many locations where these data points reside. They include:

  • Financial statements
  • Tax returns
  • Retirement files
  • ID cards of all types
  • Wallets
  • The FBI massive databank

Huh? Never heard of that last location? It's the bureau's Next Generation Identification (NGI) storehouse first launched in 2011. Here all sorts of biometric data dwells along with other docs.

The bureau states that rapid searches of NGI help law enforcement with "on-scene access to a national repository of wants and warrants including the Immigration Violator File (IVF) of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), convicted sex offenders, and known or appropriately suspected terrorists."

Even the most honest individuals should be concerned; many state and local agencies share routinely with NGI. The fingerprint on your driver's license is one example. Imagine the headaches this could create if you become a victim of identity theft, and your data winds up in NGI.

Proactive Moves

Common sense moves can whittle down the risks.

  • Move to electronic files for financial matters—presuming your devices are well-protected.
  • Periodically shred all documents with PII that you no longer need on.
  • Never carry SSN cards in your wallet. Substitute a photo on your smartphone.
  • Store rarely used items in a safe deposit box.

Comprehensive Help is Available

You should monitor PII and correct all errors in your files ASAP. This includes court records, scams, and other evidence of identity crimes. You could do some of these tasks but they’re extremely time-consuming.

Here's how IDShield can help. IDShield provides monitoring for such things as credit accounts, USPS change of address forms, bank account numbers, medical insurance details, payday loans, passports, email addresses, social media and a slew of other PII, so you don't have to waste precious time.

You'll get an alert rapidly if we find any of your data lurking where it shouldn't. If your wallet's lost, we can alert all your creditors. Our licensed private investigators—a unique feature in the business—will help if a member experiences an identity theft event. Members have access to consultation and advice on identity-related issues or concerns. A Member doesn’t have to be the victim of identity theft to take advantage of our consultation services. These are just some of the reasons why IDShield's identity monitoring service set a record last December for increased sales and has grown over 180% year over year.

IDShield is a product of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. d/b/a LegalShield (“LegalShield”). LegalShield provides access to identity theft protection and restoration services. For complete terms, coverage, and conditions, please see an identity theft plan. All Licensed Private Investigators are licensed in the state of Oklahoma. This is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations.

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