How to Protect Your Personally Identifiable Information

middle aged man at laptop not sharing personal identifiable information

You know what can be more valuable to a thief than the money in your wallet?

Information. Specifically personally identifiable information, or as security experts refer to it, PII.

And it's more important than ever for you to know what this information is and how you can keep it away from people who mean you financial harm.

First, what it is. Personally identifiable information is any information associated with a person that can be used to trace, target, and/or contact them. Examples of personally identifiable information include:

  • A name, including your full name, a maiden name, your mother's maiden name, or an alias;
  • Numbers, such as a full Social Security number and/or its last four digits; driver's license numbers, passport numbers, tax ID numbers, patient ID numbers, financial account numbers, telephone numbers, and credit and debit card numbers;
  • Addresses, such as those associated with your home, work, or email; and
  • Other data, such photos, fingerprints, numbers associated with personal property, and so much more.

Some of your personally identifying information, such as a home address or phone number, may be readily available on the Internet through a Google search. Also your personal identifying information can be obtained through a legitimate transaction, such as with a retailer, car dealership, or financial institution. In these cases it's called non-public personal information (NPI or NPPI). There's an expectation that the organization that has this information will protect it and keep it private.

However, a scammer or an expert in social engineering can gather bits of personally identifiable information in sneaky ways and use them to do things like open credit card accounts, file phony tax returns and unemployment claims, and even steal your identity to completely trash your credit and finances. 

As these deplorable crooks develop increasingly clever ways to rip innocent people off, it becomes more imperative to keep your personally identifiable information away from their prying eyes, hands, and ears.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Keep your personal documents and records locked up in a secure place at home. This could be a safe or a locking storage cabinet. Make sure your storage area is in a place where occasional visitors, such as repair contractors, have no business looking.
  • Carry only absolutely necessary identification. There's no need to carry every credit or debit card with you at all times. And leave your Social Security card at home in a secure location; it should not live in your wallet.
  • Be stingy about sharing. When you are asked to provide personally identifiable information, such as at school, a doctor's office, or at work, ask why it's needed, how they're going to use it, and if it's absolutely necessary for them to have it. Never share that information verbally in a public place, such as a waiting room or lobby.
  • Never give out personal information over the phone or through the Internet to anyone who has initiated contact with you. Even if they say they're from a company you deal with, phone calls and email messages that look like they're coming from a legitimate company or organization are easy tools scammers use to gain your trust...and steal your money.
  • Keep your shredder well exercised. When you're done with receipts, credit applications, checks, statements, credit/debit cards, or any paperwork that contains personal information, destroy them. 
  • Empty your home mailbox as soon as you can. If you're going to be traveling, put a vacation hold on your mail through the post office.
  • Peel labels off empty prescription medicine bottles before you throw them out.
  • Think about opting out of prescreened offers of credit by mail. You can do this by visiting optoutprescreen.com or calling 1-888-567-8688. Keep in mind you'll be missing out on offers that could save you money, but if the risk of identity theft is high, it may be worth it to pass up on these offers.
  • Safely dispose of electronic equipment, such as cell phones, computers, laptops, and tablets. 
  • Encrypt your personal data when conducting online transactions. If the site begins with https:// this means it's a secured website and it will encrypt any personal data you send through the page. You will also see a closed padlock icon indicating that the site is secure in the browser's address bar. However, bogus sites can also be secured, especially if you've gotten to them by clicking on a link. Entrust your personal information with sites you're absolutely sure are legitimate.
  • Practice good password safety. Read more here about keeping your passwords for websites and apps safe and secure.
  • Resist the urge to overshare. Keep your social media profiles as private as possible, only allowing people you know well to view them. Information you post about your family, your whereabouts -- even your pets' names -- can be used by a crook to wreak havoc. Be very careful about what you share online, even among friends.
  • Never send personal information through a public wireless network, such as those you find in retail outlets, hotels, or other public spaces. Wait until you're on a secure wireless network to share any personal information through the web. Criminals can easily hack public Wi-Fi networks and steal login names, passwords, social security numbers, and more.

If you believe your personally identifiable information has been used to compromise an account at Hanscom Federal Credit Union, please contact our Remote Support team immediately at 800-656-4328 so we can secure your account from additional damage.

 

Detect Safe Browsing (DSB) from EasySolutions is a free download that protects your Hanscom FCU Online Access session from malicious attacks before they can compromise your account's security. Detect Safe Browsing runs quietly in the background and provides real-time security so you don't become a victim of online fraud. 

Learn More About Detect Safe Browsing

Others are reading:

How to Detect Identity Theft on Your Credit Report
3 Surprising Regulations That Affect Your Finances

About Author

Diana Burrell
Diana Burrell

Diana Burrell is the communications manager at Hanscom FCU and edits the MoneyWisdom blog. She has a background in magazine journalism, as well as marketing, advertising, and public relations, and has written over a dozen books. You can reach her at dburrell@hfcu.org.

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