Keeping your personal data private

Personal privacy means clients not wanting specific entities or people to have access to their personal data. Personal information hacked from various databases or revealed through social engineering (i.e., individuals are manipulated or conned into divulging information) become commodities that are sold. Once the data is available it becomes more difficult to stop it from being used. This information can potentially be used to locate people, steal personal financial assets or health care resources, and even impersonate individuals (i.e. identity theft). The best way to prevent identity theft is by preventing the initial access to private personal data.

Some personal information may appear irrelevant but when combined with other information can be sufficient to provide access to your financial or health care resources.

A survey is a common way for criminals to easily collect information about you since we’re all inclined to be helpful. More active methods could include a sham customer service agent with your account number or the last four digits of your social security requesting that you provide additional personal information or make payments. You should be particularly resistant to answering unsolicited questions when you’re in a good mood or when tired. Remember that these are times when we may be more vulnerable to a well-trained manipulator (they can reach us by phone, online, email or even at your door).

When connecting through public networks, through unsecured email, or when using a public computer, or considering a new technology be sure that your personal information is not open for others to steal. At minimum use passwords, logout when finished working on a public browser and erase the browser history.

You might be surprised by the ways that privacy can be violated:

1) Financial identity – fraudulent use of bank or credit cards. The identity may be used to originate loans, get new credit cards, and open new accounts. This will appear in a credit report and in monthly reports.

2) Driver’s license – forged driver’s license can accumulate multiple traffic violations in your name and even result in suspended license, warrant for arrest or increased insurance rates.

3) Social Security and IRS identity – in 2012 the IRS predicted losses of $21B from tax refund fraud alone.

4) Medical identity – phony health insurance claims can result in erroneous diagnosis (a frightening scenario!) based on records that are not part of your health history, not to mention the costs.

5) Child identity – child’s information and social security number thefts are vulnerable since children don’t monitor their reports.

6) Synthetic identity – this is the use of several identifications to create one new person.

7) Online Home Technologies – these technologies by default record information which is fed back to their database.

Keep in mind that a breach today may yield no obvious impact but creates the potential for future use or abuse.

There is much to think about before adopting new technology and divulging personal information. Personal information can be secured, but it requires ongoing care and thoughtfulness which can at times be both challenging and daunting. You need to take the first step by understanding the various risks (which is the goal of this article), determining what you will do and always taking a secure approach before adopting the latest tech “toy.”

Edi Alvarez, CFP®