The Personal Information Blues

Personal information is a wide term, we find. The definition varies from person to person, but in the end, it comes down to a few pieces of information about yourself that you need to take better care of than the rest of it.

Social security number. In the US, it’s known as just that, the SSN. This little string of numbers is also called a personal number, an identification number or similar terms. In short, it’s a string of numbers, 11 – 20 digits long (normally) that identifies you as a unique person in the eye of your (and other) government(s).

That is also the reason why this little string of numbers is potentially dangerous to you and your life as you know it. With it, the wrong hands can create credit cards, make purchases, sign up for phone service, change your address, and some other nasty things. Now, if you’re old enough and smart enough to use the internet, you also know what these things can potentially do to things like your credit score (another US term – in other countries a failure to pay your bills will lead to a notice on your credit check, as most countries do not operate with a set, numerical scale to measure credit value).

Numbers. Let’s talk a little about numbers in general. While it is imperative that you safeguard your SSN/PIDN, there are other strings of numbers floating around that links us to important pieces of our lives. These are not always as important, nor will they be as easy to exploit or have the same magnitude when it comes to consequences, but the theft of them will be a real pain none the less. Here they are.

– Bank account numbers. Not very useful in themselves, but a skilled con artist or phone freaker will be very happy to get them, especially coupled with your SSN/PIDN.

Credit card numbers. You get the point. These are easy, very easy, to exploit. Even kids surfing the net knows how.

– Parcel tracking numbers. Get a lot of packages, or just once in a while? In either case, the tracking numbers on them will tell anyone that understands the USPS / UPS / insert carrier website where the item is, and what it’s doing. With a quick call to the carrier, the package can be diverted, and picked up from somewhere other than its original destination, often without showing any form of ID.

There are numerous such categories of numbers out there, and the three above are merely the most normally abused ones. Now, lets move on to how you can stop them from getting into the wrong hands.

At home:

Always use a shredder. Shred, shred, shred. When the government throws out paper, it comes out of the buildings in large plastic bags, and they are filled with fine dust. There’s a reason for it. If you work in a company that handles personal information, medical records, military information perhaps, maybe even you have a special little wastebasket under your desk that goes out with a special garbage man every evening, or every morning. You should do the same at home. We’re not saying you should get government spec shredders for all your old bills and papers, and turn them into fine particles of dust, but get one that will at least make sure your bills and papers aren’t readily readable straight out of the dumpster.

Here’s a nice one.

Next, there’s storage for your personal documents. When your documents and valuables are not in use, take the time to put them away. A small, fire- and waterproof safe should have a place in every home. Even if you think that your home is safe from burglars and prying eyes, a sudden water leak or small fire can destroy much more than you know. Remember, a home safe doesn’t need to withstand fire for more than 30 minutes to an hour. The fire will be out by then.

This should do it.

Remember that it is never about being paranoid, it’s about being prepared. And, as Mulder would say; just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Wink wink.

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