Chances when you are reading this online, hopefully over your morning coffee or a good glass of wine while relaxing. I write about privacy a lot, but as many people I usually mean online, while the majority of life actually still happens offline, the Matrix none withstanding.
Even the best online security measures aren’t good enough protecting your privacy if your offline defense isn’t up to par. Fortunately protecting your privacy isn’t rocket surgery, so lets have a look at what you could (and should) do.
1. Make sure that anything leaving your house doesn’t assist data thieves creating a profile on you or worse, gain insights into your personal information, like bank statements for example. Shredding all documents before their trip to the trash is a good line of defense. While you are at it also make sure that boxes and envelopes don’t have address stickers on them, which would make things far too easy.
2. Don’t sign up for marketing lists, usually disguised as sweepstakes, warranty cards, charitable donations, or those generous insurance offers your bank sends you and the like. Or if you feel compelled to do it anyway, use an alternate address; we’ll get to that. Before I forget, when paying with your debit or credit card and the clerk ask for your ZIP code or phone number, politely decline.
3. Setup at least one alternate address, this could be a PO Box or a mailbox at a UPS store, preferably both. That way you don’t have to provide your real address online when shopping on eBay or with other retailers, which would make ID theft far too easy… Shopping online is here to stay, so why not make the most of it safely? Having multiple addresses is perfectly legal and a great way to prevent marketers from creating customer profiles.
4. Use different addresses for different purposes, for example use one address for billing purposes and another as a delivery address, preferably neither being your home. Get creative!
5. Do not volunteer any personal information. Many business routinely ask for Social Security Numbers in the US, politely decline. In most cases you are not required to provide your SS#, chose publicly available information, your Driver’s License number for example. You vet has no need to know who your employer is or your SS#, although they will try.
6. Taking the chance of sounding way too obvious, don’t ever leave personal information unattended in public. You don’t constantly have to look over your shoulder, but it might be smart to keep your wallet on you rather than on a table at a restaurant while visiting the loo. Hide documents from other people’s view.
7. Do not participate in any type of polls, consumer research, or customer satisfaction surveys, unless you trust the person or organization conducting them. In most cases that means a polite no and while you are at it, ask them to put your number on their Do-Not-Call list, something all reputable companies will do.
8. Setup multiple phone numbers. Thanks to services like Google Voice, this is really easy these days. Just like address use different phone numbers for different purposes. Be aware that you are still providing information to Google…
9. Protect your mobile phone number, instead of giving it out hand people one of the phone numbers you setup, which you can forward to your mobile.
10. If you live in the US, contact the 3 major credit bureaus in writing and prohibit them from using your personal details for marketing purposes. This will not only stop those annoying offers flying into your mailbox, but also reduce the chances of ID thieves to intercept one of those offers and learn personal information about you.
To some of you, most of this will sounds obvious, to other’s paranoid. It probably is any combination thereof. The world is not as dangerous as most people believe these days, in fact the majority of the people we meet are kind, generous, and do not intend to harm; however, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
I am sure I forgot a bunch of stuff. One interesting book caught my eye when researching this topic “How To Be Invisible” by J.J. Luna. I read the reviews on Amazon, the typical mix of positive and negative opinions, which is not surprising on a topic like this. If my current reading list wasn’t that long already I would have purchased it… Mr. Luna, an international privacy consultant, also has a very popular website where he answers reader’s privacy and security questions, so if you want to learn more about privacy from an expert head over there and check it out!
Please add your ideas and suggestions (websites and/or books) via comments below!
Image Credit: Alexandre Prévot