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Learning not to share: five tips for protecting your privacy and avoiding identity theft

Author: Catherine Harris
Published: Sep 9 2013

The world has always been a dangerous place, but the thieves of today have it a lot easier than the thieves of 200 years ago. No longer is an act of violence required in order to steal. They don't even have to come face-to-face with their target. These days, it can easily be done over the internet, and the results for the victim are often just as devastating. Here are five key tips to protecting your privacy in the "information age."

Protecting your privacy

1. Keep an Eye on Your Bank Statements

People sometimes become victims of theft and don't even realize it for months. Unless you keep an eye on your bank accounts and watch for suspicious activity, you could miss the signs of a theft. Making a practice of regularly checking your accounts will help you stay on top of any potential problems.

2. Look Close to Home

An identity thief isn't always some anonymous stranger from a far-away place. He or she could potentially be someone very close to home, possibly even someone that you know. If you share a computer with friends, housemates or fellow students, be sure to delete all of your cookies and web history before you log off. You may think you trust the people around you, but leaving your passwords and other sensitive information on a public computer is a recipe for disaster.

3. Guard Your Social Security Number

You will be asked for your social security number many times throughout your life, and you don't always have to say yes. Only give out your social security number when you're sure that the situation is secure. You will need it for your tax forms, government aid and certain job applications, but you should always trust your instinct and refrain from sharing it if you feel that your security might be in danger. More importantly, never give your social security number or any other sensitive information out over the phone. You have no way of knowing who you're really talking to.

4. Shred All Sensitive Documents

One of the most important home-office tools that you can buy is a personal shredder. Shred all documents that contain sensitive information, including unused credit-card applications, old bank account statements and other paperwork that you no longer need. Many copy and printing centers offer shredding services. However, as with all things, turning your sensitive paperwork over to another entity comes with some degree of risk. It's always better to handle your paperwork yourself when possible.

5. Know Who Has Your Information

Many companies, healthcare organizations and public entities maintain databases with personally identifiable information on thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of clients and customers. It's important to do your best to know which companies and entities maintain sensitive information on you - and how that information is secured. Many large companies are turning to corporate data centers - companies whose only business is the secure and reliable storage of large amounts of information. Before you allow a company to store information like your birth date, SSN, credit history, etc., it is a good idea to do some due diligence to see how they will use and secure this data.

Security should also be a concern for anyone who runs their own business. Storing sensitive information about your clients and employees puts you at risk, because if your computer systems were hacked and that information was stolen, you would be blamed. A corporate data storage center might also make sense if your client base is large enough. Considering the alternate possibilities, using one could be well worth your time and money.

It's a scary world out there. It seems like every time you turn around, you hear about a new scam or form of identity theft. However, as long as you make smart decisions, you can stay one step ahead of the thieves and keep you and your investments safe.

As a previous victim of identity theft, Catherine Harris is pleased to forward this information on protecting your personal information. She hopes more small businesses and clients will seek out the services of high-quality corporate data centers to better protect individuals' personal data files.

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