I shop all the time online, and I never think about what happens with my information. I have an insurance carrier, a bank, I went to college and I have many healthcare providers. Of course, because of this technological age, I know that my personal information exists as data in their systems. However, I do not preoccupy myself with how they are protecting it. Perhaps as consumers and participants in society in general, we need to care a little more.
Think About Identity Theft and Privacy
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your private information without your permission. Privacy, which relates to this, is what companies or institutions do with your information once they have it — how they share it and how they protect it. Some might be surprised to know that many places do not have adequate practices in place to protect their clients’ data. This is steadily improving, but in the interim, we can employ some very practical strategies to ensure our data is as secure as possible.
Identify Places That May Put You at Risk
Perhaps we need to put a little consideration into what type of organizations and businesses even have remote access to our financials, and especially those that have our social security numbers. To name a few examples, we need to think about:
- Insurance agencies
- Healthcare institutions
- Clubs and associations we belong to
- Places of education
- Anywhere we may shop with a credit card — online or offline
Of course, we’d like to think that many of these places take precautions to secure our data, and they probably do. However, as individuals, it is important that we at least keep abreast of where our information is and in some cases, inquire after it.
Be Conscious of Your Digital Data and How It Is Being Protected
When we give our information to any institution, again albeit a doctor or healthcare facility, a bank or a store, it is our responsibility to wonder how they will treat it. Some questions we may want to ask (and answer) include:
- How reputable are they?
- What are their privacy policies?
- Who has access to our information?
- Do they release our information to other institutions?
- If so, for what purposes and exactly what portions of our information are shared?
- How might this impact our overall personal privacy?
If these are questions that concern you, and truly, they should, it may be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the current standards for privacy. Read the Globe and Mail’s article, Seven Tips for Protecting Online Data by Riva Richmond to get an idea of what businesses should be doing to protect your information.
Take Steps to Secure Your Own Transmission of Personal Data Online
Aside from digital information that is being stored elsewhere, we need to be mindful of personal data we disclose every day through our own online activities. Some strategies we can employ to protect the security of our online data include:
- Only shop on secure servers where the lock symbol is displayed on the website. It is no guarantee that a site containing this will be foolproof, but one without it is certainly suspicious.
- When you are logged onto a wi-fi network outside of your home, know that others can gain access to what you are doing online while you are doing it. Be aware of your surroundings and do not take risks in public places.
- Protect your passwords. Make sure that your online passwords are not intuitive for people who know you or who can get to know things about you. Make sure no one outside your family, or even outside yourself and your spouse, knows your passwords.
- If you are buying online, consider fudging the truth about some of the information that is asked for if it is not imperative to your receiving your item. The less information the better. If information is not required, don’t provide it.
- Consider using a disposable credit card if you are in doubt. For instance, you can purchase a gift card/debit card from Visa or American Express, etc. and use this for online purchases if you are wary of a certain site.
These are just a few ways to protect yourself. For a more comprehensive list of tips, go to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information Page, How to Keep your Personal Information Secure.
Consider How to Hinder Identity Theft in the Real World
It is important that we realize that even offline, keeping data private can be challenging. We will want to:
- Be conscious of who we give our credit cards to. Remember that anyone who leaves our sight for even a moment is a potential danger as they can copy our numbers easily and quickly. This includes the gas station attendant, hotel attendant or the counter clerk at any store.
- Check our statements. If our credit card company calls us with suspicious activity reported, we will want to take this very seriously and look into it right away.
- Guard our mail and any documents we discard that might contain any of our personal information.
- Consider the appropriateness of shredding papers relating to our personal information that we no longer need.
A great resource for further suggestions can be found at the government’s website for fraud, StopFraud.Gov.