Identity Protection: Simple Steps to Prevent Fraud and Reduce Your Footprint
Reduce Your Exposure, Help the Planet, and Save Yourself Time with a Few Simple Techniques
As part of my New Year's Resolution to simplify my life, I’ve invested several hours in removing my information from nearly a dozen databases. My reason for doing this is to reduce my online footprint and the amount of unsolicited mail I receive. It hasn’t been an easy task, but it’s been very much worth the time investment.
If you’re like me, you will be astonished (and a bit horrified) by how much of your personal information is floating around on the internet. Although sometimes these databases are inaccurate (when did I become a doctor? Who is that a profile picture of?), they still have access to a shocking amount of data on you.
Many databases access this information using public records. They will list things like your birthday, family members, previous addresses, phone numbers, emails, and other key information—all of which can be used by scammers to impersonate or spear phish you. For example, someone might send scam messages to your friends and family, manipulating them into sending them things like gift cards or wire transfers. By referencing tidbits they’ve collected about you online, they are able to make the impersonation more believable.
Here’s an example of a spam text that was sent to a colleague of mine. We are friends, so he found using my full name and title strange and reached out.
Although he caught on to the fact that something was off, not everyone does. Even the most savvy people can still fall victim to schemes like this. By using real-life details they find about you on the internet, scammers are able to make their lies more realistic than ever.
The good news is that you can take a few simple steps to reduce the amount of data available about you and lower your risk of fraud and identity theft.
Remove Yourself from People Search Sites
Your information is likely in a number of public databases, which are leveraged by people search sites. While most information on these sites is general, like your name and address (think of them as online phone books), they often contain personal information that you may want to make harder to find. Some also have inaccuracies, such as confusing your identity with someone else’s.
Many of these services imply that you need to pay to access or remove your information. The truth is, they all have opt-outs, which I have linked below. For those without opt-out pages, you can email them to have your information removed. You can find an opt-out request email template below as well.
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