Have you ever stood on a street corner and handed strangers a leaflet containing your name and Social Security number? Would you share your email address with fellow passengers on a train? What about your ZIP Code? Of course not. Yet every day, you probably throw away bits and pieces of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) in similar ways.
That means your data travels far and wide, where miscreants eagerly wait to scoop it up and build a profile on you. To stop tossing away sensitive bits of info, learn to recognize how seemingly benign questions are actual attempts to pry PII out of you. It’s called social engineering, and it’s extremely effective. Think back on your recent interactions online or at a cash register. You may recognize some of these highly successful ploys.
10 Online Privacy Tips
1. Stop sharing your address
Ever been asked for your ZIP Code when you check out at a retail store or pay by credit card? Think back on last year’s holiday shopping experiences. You probably provided those five digits because you feel the store requires it to complete a purchase. Or maybe you don’t want to bring it up with the clerk. Credit card companies usually don’t need that data to authorize a sale. More often, these requests come straight from the retailer.
2. Be cautious of online ads
You are shopping online and stumble upon a new store. Up comes a pop-up ad asking for your email address to earn a 10 or 20% off coupon. To exit that screen, you either fill in the email data or click on a box that says, “No Thanks. I don’t like saving money.” Be aware that agreeing to share your email in exchange for a discount will likely result in more spam in your inbox.
3. What could be the harm in self-checkout?
At the local store, you use the self-checkout all the time. How can there possibly be a privacy risk if you don’t interact with any humans? Check the final screen on the cash register, which offers an email receipt. A file of e-receipts is a great idea but giving the information away could mean the company will sell your data to marketing firms.
4. Watch out for giving away your data to enter contests
Free contests that request your name, address, phone number, and email are fun because they give you license to dream of winning. The real winners are the firms that elicit all this data from you with the longshot lure of winning a vacation or a shiny new car.
5. Understand how your data will be used
You’ve watched mortgage interest rates drift lower and lower, making you curious. Could I save a bundle? Online mortgage calculators will demand multiple PII pages before you discover how the new rates might lower your monthly payments. Comply, and you’re turning yourself into a sales lead. Your phone may quickly start ringing.
6. Direct marketing is often dubbed “junk mail”
But it’s not junk to the folks who send it; it’s carefully crafted advertising that can linger around your home for months, increasing the odds that those glossy ads will work some magic on your wallet. There are some ways to opt out and stop these mailers, however.
7. Don’t overshare at the doctor’s office
Medical forms and other new client docs will request your Social Security number. Leave that space blank; it’s likely they won’t require it. Since health care ventures are favorite hacker targets, the less PII you share with a medical provider, the better.
8. Think twice before sharing location data
Does that mobile app you downloaded yesterday want to access your location data? A map app requires those details, but your local restaurant rewards program doesn’t. Deny location access unless you can detect a strong reason to comply.
9. Question if it makes sense to give out identification
When was the last time a merchant or business asked for a copy of your government ID or driver’s license? It is common practice at some dating sites to request a photo ID at signup. This requirement makes good sense; individuals should know that others using the site are who they say they are. When the request seems legit, ask the firm how they secure that scan of your driver’s license. How long will it be stored? Is the storage encrypted?
10. Use secure strategies
You won’t be able to patch every hole in your identity’s digital fabric, so start with the ones that matter most–like those that handle money. Don’t give any data to anyone claiming to be from financial institutions. You do have some rights to privacy. If you are asked for ID when using a credit card, consider saying “No” politely but firmly. Some credit card companies don’t allow their merchants to demand ID. Your signature on the back of the card may be enough. Some retailers may still ask to scan that ID to track your pattern of returns, etc. Some will make you fill out lengthy return forms, skip data marketing questions such as annual income or household size. Exert more control over your PII. Opt-out of lead generating lists that credit bureaus sell to businesses to create credit or insurance offers.
Shred any document that lists private information before tossing it. You can even locate a mobile shredder in your area who’ll come to your home and shred large piles while you watch. Finally, create an email address to use only for online shopping. It’s the easiest way to insulate your primary inbox from spam or phishing emails, today’s number one vehicle for successful social engineering scams. Learn more about protecting your privacy.
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.