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Who’s Really Responsible For Your Personal Data?

Well, 2014 started off with a bang. Retailers in the United States found just how far behind they are in consumer protection. Almost every major media channel has covered aspects of the story and tried to make sense of the fallout and inadequacies of the current systems. Blame is moving around faster than a comet in space and everyone seems to be centered on the why and how, not on solutions. I guess fear still sells in this day and age, unfortunately.

Don't Be a TargetWhat to Do?

Shift your focus from the problem to a permanent solution. Click here to read about a personal protection example of a contractor who followed the rules only to have Dunn & Bradstreet sell his data. He didn’t realize the potential threat to his security until  too late. Education is the key. Take control of personal/business data and stop walking around with a “target” painted on your back. The first step entails understanding how a situation can/has affected personal credit, buying habits, and daily life. Once your analysis is complete, put the results in perspective and take action. The following tips should help to create a short-term game plan.

Change User Names & Passwords

No better way for someone to obtain personal information than by hacking into social media accounts or personal and business accounts using user names and “reset” passwords. Many services encourage a ritual of changing passwords but always say, “make it easy to remember“, “don’t give it out“, and store it in a safe place“. The best practice is to create a user name/password data base and store it offline. It should be compartmentalized in terms of need. Daily accessed accounts should be in one place and seldom used information stored elsewhere. Diverse storage decreases the impact of a breach. Each user name/password combination should be somewhat difficult to remember but accessible. Blending a selection of numbers, lower and upper case letters, symbols, and punctuation in a long string will provide the best security. Stay away from first name, last name, birth date, or any other personal data; because in the process of trying to get through the “security” wall; this data is automatically tested. An interesting fact, many security issues arise from family members and friends who have “temporary” access to a particular account or service. Best advice: keep your data to yourself… period!

Maintain a Regular Credit Vigil

Aside from the industry mantra of running your credit scores at least 2  times a year, develop the habit of evaluating “high exposure financial information” for unusual changes. Examples include credit lines, credit cards, revolving accounts, and bank balances. Stay in regular contact with your financial vendors communicating about travel and business plans and expenses to ensure limited exposure in case of a breach.

Minimize use of Regular Credit Cards and Debit

If you haven’t done so by now, use prepaid credit cards or cash for online services, purchases, and subscriptions. They require a little more maintenance and may cost a bit more but the heightened security is a  godsend when trying to protect personal information. The prepaid card account limits your risk. Be careful not to link deposit capability directly with checking or savings accounts. The link can be manipulated. Debit cards and ATM, although convenient, are a straight connection to your money and one of the easiest ways to lose cash that won’t be replaced by financial institutions. Scary, huh?

Obtain a Registered Address or PO Box

Another simple technique to protect personal data is registering your business address through an agent and use a post office box for mail service. Legal service and mail is forwarded and your exact location is not compromised. Having a registered address on a prepaid credit card further limits financial and personal exposure.

Create a Surfing E-mail Account and Profile

Simply the best way to reduce risk on the Internet is creation of a “free” e-mail account on one of  the main e-mail sites like Yahoo, MSN, .Live, AOL, or Google and build the profile with limited information to protect your computer from spam, hacking, malware, and viruses. Requesting or signing up for information can be channeled through the dummy account and screened for importance.

Update your Anti-virus, Spam Blocker, and Firewalls

Perhaps a no-brainer to some, but everyone should check the validity and performance of their security software at least every 6 weeks when changing passwords/username combinations. Familiarity with limitations of the source, software or service, provides another check point in evaluating value of information given “free” over the web. How often does the media pop in a story about viruses buried in an attachment or the body of a e-mail message?

Delete Temporary Files and Clean Hard Drives

Operate a clean environment within your PC or portable device. Removing unwanted tracking like cookies and temporary files can help in maintaining better security and stop personal web use habits becoming public.

Buy a Shredder

Buy a shredder. That’s right! Spend a few bucks and purchase a small unit for the home office or work. Follow a simple rule.  When in doubt….SHRED IT! Take an additional precaution of separating the shredded material and depositing it in the trash using a randomizing program. Splitting the data makes it harder to piece together. Ideally, complete destruction (burning) or a document disposal service are best but have a significant cost associated with them.

Manage Long-Term Storage

A final tip is to create and manage long-term storage of digital records, paper records like tax returns, bank statements, mortgage statements, etc. Adopt a policy of review and final destruction to make sure that personal information is not available for potential theft.

The bottom line: you are the best safeguard for your data. Educate and take an active role in protection.

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