My Data Feels Secure – Does Yours?

An interesting note was posted by Russell Beattie, entitled Mobile Security Thoughts. Getting some scoop on the Paris Hilton “My Phone Was Hacked Craze,” I think everyone will get the hint about mobile security after the read.

Unfortunately, CNN, in the tradition of mass media skewing the picture in a wide ranging attempt to scare the daylights out of everyone, posted their own version of how to protect yourself in: You and Paris Hilton can prevent identity theft. Sort of. – Feb. 22, 2005.

Sorry folks, but it isn’t going to work on its own.

While quoting some obscure security expert, CNN notes you should do things like shred your receipts before throwing them away. Hey, maybe we should stuff them in old mattresses until they fade!

The last check of my credit receipts showed a bunch of XXXX’s where the credit card number should be. And AMEX is happy to send me a new card every year, with a new account number, each time I “lose” it to kitchen scissors.

Yes, there are simpler (and some more complicated) ways you can protect your address book, your credit information, and your identity as a whole. And it doesn’t take a genius, as thieves are usually (I say USUALLY) pretty dumb to begin with.

Simple stuff:

1) Don’t put outgoing mail in the mailbox by the street, and stick up the stupid little flag. Scumbags know there will be checks for bill payment in there. Drop it off at the post office or in a USPS mailbox.

2) Check your credit once a year, minimum. MyFICO.com is a good place for comprehensive, if paid for, reporting.

3) Get a post office box. Having inbound bills going to a different address than your home is a easy way to spoof thieves who think they know your mailing address from the numbers on the side of the house, when they call asking for a new credit account. Click here to find the most convenient one.

4) Don’t use internet services to keep your “rolodex” accessible. You put the onus of security in the service provider’s hands. If a thief is smart (most aren’t but good hackers are very), they will target the aggregators before they try and pickpocket your individual day planner.

More complicated stuff:

1) Keep important documents in a safe deposit box. Easy. Scan the middle of the road stuff, and shred. Not so easy. Using a combination of Adobe Acrobat and Pretty Good Privacy can keep your important documents safe and sound on your hard drive. But don’t forget to make periodic backups.

2) Purchase products only from reputable internet vendors. I say this, because such vendors are usually a little bigger, therefore they have more money invested in security measures.

3) Put a fraud alert on your credit report. MyFICO is still a good place to start for information on making that happen (as it takes a little time to do). I keep one on all mine reports, and it works, because I tested it!

I recently entered a T-Mobile store to check on how easy it was to open up an account. I like my existing service – this was purely investigatory, and, not so easy. Even with two forms of picture identification, T-Mobile quickly turned it down, citing the fraud alert, and suggesting I contact my credit reporting agency. Great!

Funny that the dummies over at T-Mobile are exactly the ones that kept fine Paris’s address book for her.

4) Now number 3 might suggest getting financial service (or other) is difficult. It isn’t, if you have a face to deal with. The meaning – use a local bank or branch, and get to know them by walking in for transactions. Also, don’t trade securities online only, while simultaneously buying your insurance online, and doing all your banking and shopping online. It isn’t the online part that is troublesome, but the aggregation of it that is. You need a face or two that know you well.

Despite their sometimes cheesy reputations, insurance agents and stock brokers are a great human connection to have in our virtual world. Your portfolio and insurance are important – keep their administration with someone you know and trust (and can actually have a cup of coffee with). If you are ever a victim, they can be EXTREMELY helpful.

5) When all else fails, hold the information aggregators responsible. I am surprised that more folks aren’t suing the daylights out of these folks (maybe they are, but I don’t hear much about it). Maybe that is because of cost, or maybe the powers that be don’t want you to know how much information is really floating around, but you get the hint – they (Choicepoint and others) have a lot!

If they screw up, it is their fault, plain and simple. Get a good lawyer. I am not one to going around causing trouble (I have never sued anyone), but the way these credit reporting and other information brokers operate is beyond sleazy and stinky. They won’t release information they have about you without charging a bundle, but they don’t think twice about selling the information, in bulk, to some bucket shop around the corner.

It is about the money, guys and gals. They need to be made an example of. Since Mr. Bush has tightened the screws on class actions, I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure these folks pay for their arrogance.

Yes, this post ended with a call to order. And I meant it as such. No, I am not bitter, as I have never been a victim. But I feel sorry for those who have, as it is not always stupidity on the part of the consumer, but on the part of the information bureaucrats, the internet social networks, and your friendly phone company, that is causing so many innocent folks so much trouble.

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