Written by guest writer, Dr. Kim Miller, CFE, NJ Licensed Private Detective, Director of Investigative Intelligence and Analysis
As you use the internet, did you know that you are leaving a permanent footprint of your personal life? Personal information winds up on the internet from property deeds, voter records, telephone directory listings, shopper loyalty programs, registries, warranty cards, donations, mobile tracking devices, interactive televisions, personal computers, mobile devices, and various apps. Criminals aggregate this data for profit or personal vendettas, and this internet footprint – combined with the recent data breaches – leaves you wide open for identity theft, credit card fraud, and virtual and real-life harassment.
Minimize your internet footprint and reduce your risk
In today’s world, it’s impossible to keep off the internet. However, there are steps you can take to make your information more secure.
- Refrain from sharing a home address. An identity thief can use your name to obtain new credit cards, open a phone, electricity, or gas account, get medical care, pretend to be you upon arrest, and steal your tax refund. As an example, a thief might obtain a credit card using your name and address and then change the address. Bills are then sent to the thief, but they are never paid, which in turn damages your credit rating.
- Don’t answer phone calls from numbers you don’t know. If you don’t know the number, ignore the call. Also, your first instinct may be to call back, but that’s the last thing you should do. Even though you might assume calling back is safe because a number happens to be from your area code – Is it your doctor? Your kid’s principal? A neighbor? – unfortunately, it’s probably none of those, and by calling back, this verifies that your number belongs to an actual person.
- Beware of sharing travel plans. When traveling for business or pleasure, minimize the information you share online, and avoid discussing your plans openly. While sharing this information with your friends and family is tempting, it can provide criminals with invaluable information regarding your plans, including when your home is likely to be unoccupied.
- Save your identity – not coupons. Refrain from using online coupons. Retailers combine the data from the unique serial number embedded in the barcode to track the date and time obtained. Retailers then use this data with other information discovered online and off – such as age, income, location, or geographic routine – and sell the information to database aggregators.
- You don’t need the free turkey. Discontinue using grocery store reward cards that have a name, address, phone number, date of birth, and email address associated with the account. Businesses analyze the data and determine how often the product is purchased, enabling them to target an individual with advertisements and track coupon redemption.
- Manage your snail mail. Contact the sender of advertisements or magazines and request to be removed from the mailing list. You should also consider putting newspaper and magazine subscriptions in another name, like your middle name, for example. And for package deliveries, have them delivered to a work address or post office box address.
- Don’t share the good news – Do not publish wedding dates, baby announcements, or graduation announcements on online registries. Fraudsters compile this information with other personal identifiers and are more than happy to steal the checks or gifts that are delivered.
- Protect your signature. Ensure your signature is complex by incorporating elements that are not legible or that contain pen strokes that are counter-intuitive. Ensure that your signature is produced fast and fluidly. Consistently sign your name, but do not make it a carbon copy each time. And when available, e-signatures are a safer option, as they provide more security compared to the usual paper and pen signature.
Dr. Kim E. Miller specializes in due diligence investigations, including executive and employee background, e-commerce vendor and business due diligence as well as online risk assessments. She holds a Ph.D. in Public Safety and Leadership/Emphasis in Criminal Justice. Kim is an Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) Specialist who utilizes the dark, deep and surface web, focusing on business and personal due diligence, as well as online risk assessment analysis and asset determinations. She is a Certified Fraud Examiner and a New Jersey Licensed Private Detective. Dr. Miller is also a Certified Paralegal and a former Special Detective Intern, Division of Criminal Justice State of New Jersey–Gangs and Organized Crimes. Dr. Miller is an adjunct professor teaching criminal justice and fraud management classes.