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The Identity Theft Research Center (ITRC) has come up with 10 guidelines to help keep your personal data secure in 2012.  I’ll get to that shortly but first you should know that I worked in the junk mail industry for 35 years selling your names and private information to companies that use it to target customers.  During this time I raised red flags over the lack of security for this massive dossier on almost every American household, basically falling on deaf ears.  

I won’t get into specifics on just what junk mailers, financial institutions, corporations, and the government gather in their quest to find out everything possible about every individual in the U.S.  Suffice it to say, there is almost nothing they don’t know about you and have at their fingertips to use at will.  You probably already know about all the secret data factors available on you, yet many Americans could care less about protecting it.  

The reason junk mailers refused to listen to warnings of loose data is that this is one of the most profitable profit centers in any business.  By my calculations, selling your name and personal data grosses the junk mail industry alone over $4 billion annually.  Marketing this information has a 60 percent profit margin.  But the reason you are apathetic about protecting your private information is that you think identity theft won’t happen to you.  And then it does.

In 2011 there were 419 breaches of private information exposing 22,918,441 personal records.  If you weren’t included in 2011 you could be in 2012.  

I was amazed recently to read a question in the newspaper directed to a consumer advocate exclaiming their surprise at finding things like their name, address, age, etc. when Googling themselves on the Internet.  All of a sudden they were concerned over how to prevent this data from being released.  There is no way to stop the flow of private information, and this made me wonder under just what rock this individual has been living.

Zappos, an online company selling shoes, is one of the largest most recent breaches where hackers may have accessed some 24 million customer records this month.  These include names, mailing and billing addresses, phone numbers, truncated credit card numbers and “cryptographically scrambled” passwords.  The company says there is little risk to the credit card numbers but a combination of everything taken can lead the crooks right to your most personal information.

My advice to those customers breached is to access their credit card and bank accounts on a daily basis to make sure there are no suspicious charges.  Look for the small amounts around $6.00 since this is where they usually start, then, with success, go on to larger amounts.  We shop with Zappos, whose service is the best in the country, and now I am checking the account we used at least once every day.  If they have your data it won’t take long for them to use it.  

Now that you are reasonably fortified with facts and advice, let’s get down to those 10 resolutions that Identity ITRC suggests you make in 2012:

1.    Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet.  Best to put it in a safety deposit box but at least locked up at home.
2.    Never give out your SS number unless absolutely necessary.  You can even try to deny it in some financial and medical transactions unless it is required for service.
3.    Buy a good cross-cut shredder and use it on any document with SS#, birth date, medical numbers, etc.
4.    Order regular credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228, one from each of the three credit bureaus every four months.
5.    If you don’t already have a secure community mailbox, think about investing in one of your own, and take your outgoing mail to the post office.
6.    Don’t use the same password for all accounts, including bank accounts and change them regularly.
7.    Limit what you share online.  This has fallen on deaf hears recently as consumers give up their most private information just for convenience, like in Facebook.
8.    Know who you are buying from online.  Check them out through your local BBB and make sure they have a secure payment system.  Use a credit card instead of your debit card if possible.
9.    Monitor all you financial accounts regularly, particularly your bank account online if you use your debit card; I do mine twice daily.
10.    Protect your checks and deposit slips like gold; they’re flush with information like your account number, usually name and address.

If you have questions about any of these tips, go to Identity Theft Resource Center for help on answering any of your questions on ID theft.  ITRC is a non-profit and lives off contributions from the public so help them out if you can.

Read more on my Nasty Jack blog

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks NastyJack... (3+ / 0-)

    Thanks for the reminder and tips.  Online security and control of personal info is constantly under new attacks.

    Increased vigilance and education is essential to all users.

    "The real difference between democracy and oligarchy is poverty and wealth. Wherever men rule by reason of their wealth, whether they be few of many, that is an oligarchy, and where the poor rule, that is democracy". Aristotle

    by MuskokaGord on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 07:13:31 AM PST

  •  Zappos is full of it (6+ / 0-)

    Their email to customers implies that credit card information is not at risk, but this is not the case. If you had a credit card on file in your Zappos profile, the thieves could simply order merchandise on your account and have the goods shipped to a different address.

    This happened to me right before Christmas. We do check our credit card balance online frequently so we spotted a fraudulent pending $1200 Zappos charge right away. We cancelled that credit card immediately, and  I was also able to call Zappos and get them to cancel the charge before it was shipped.

    I expect there are going to be a lot of surprises in January credit card bills for Zappos customers.

     My lesson learned: never store your credit card number on account at any online merchant. This means I can't use my Kindle anymore because there is no way to avoid the "One Click" settings. So be it.

  •  also: NEVER publicize your birthday! (4+ / 0-)

    Your name plus your date of birth equals all the information an identity thief needs to become you and drain your bank account.  

    NEVER "celebrate" your birthday online.  "I just turned 43 today!" is enough to give baddies your actual date of birth, all they need to do is subtract.  

    NEVER use your actual birthday when setting up free email accounts or any other damn thing online.  

    Do not post, publish, or whatever, your birth date.  

    And don't publicize when you have a baby, or your baby will end up with a Social Security Card and a bunch of credit cards faster than you can say "I've been robbed!"

    Last time I checked, DKos had "birth date" as an optional field people could fill out in their profiles.  That needs to G-O because the fact it appears here makes it look "safe" when in fact it's not.  

    "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

    by G2geek on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 08:33:14 AM PST

    •  Absolutely (4+ / 0-)

      To reiterate:

      NO BIRTHDAY INFO ONLINE

      Also, don't share your home address. Do NOT use the apps that let you share who your relatives are (unless there's no way to trace from their name to your mother's maiden name, hint, hint).

      Do NOT participate in those little social quizzes where you give out things like your favorite color, you pet's name, the song that was #1 on the charts on the day you were born (currently making the rounds on facebook), or anything other such information. While it seems harmless, often these questions are used as the security question for credit cards, bank accounts, and web sites - giving out that info provides a treasure trove for identity thieves.

      Identity thieves know how to use technology. They know how to create "bots" that troll through online content. If you want to know the kinds of things they can find without ever interacting with you, take a look at your info on pipl.com - type in your name and your state and see what online bots have snarfed up about you. Bots written by identity thieves are even more thorough.

      •  bingo! exactly. (3+ / 0-)

        All those pesky little surveys are spam front-ends for someone who is seeking the information you need to answer security questions.  

        IMHO people who do that kind of shit should be put before a firing squad, but since I don't believe in the death penalty, 20 years in prison should suffice.  

        Meanwhile what does Congress fast-track?  Not stiffer laws against spam or identity theft, but corporate welfare for Hollywood at the expense of castrating the internet.

        More better Democrats, please!

        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

        by G2geek on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 09:40:39 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  wow :-( (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        radical simplicity

        My phone is unlisted and I don't use facebook, etc. I tried pipl using just first, last and state.  Got: full name, street address, and age.

        Scientific Materialism debunked here

        by wilderness voice on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 10:52:53 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Solution to security questions - nonsense answers. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        radical simplicity

        For example...

        What's your favorite pro-sports team? Sweet Potatoes
        What's your favorite color? Uranium

        Etc ...

        A tumbrel remark is an unguarded comment by an uncontrollably rich person, of such crass insensitivity that it makes the workers and peasants think of lampposts and guillotines. ~ Christopher Hitchens

        by The Werewolf Prophet on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 10:56:31 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

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