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A Guide to Protect Your Personal Information Online

August 26, 2022

The dangers of sharing your personal information online are often underestimated. 

In fact, sharing various personal details online is so commonplace at this point, it’s almost impossible to bear in mind that it makes you more vulnerable to multiple different online security threats, including spam, cyberstalking, doxxing, online blackmail, even identity theft.

Read on to learn the risks of sharing your personal information online, the personal information you should never give out, and how to better protect your information on the web.

How your information ends up online in the first place

You often are your own worst enemy when it comes to sharing private information online. 

However, the bad news is, even if you’ve never willingly shared your details yourself, it’s likely there’s still a lot of information about you on the Internet that’s readily available. That data comes from sources that you may not be aware of including utility providers. 

The reason for this is the work of data brokers.

Data brokers collect and amass consumers’ personal data from various online sources, like public records, social media, browsing histories, and they sell it off to reap big profits. Often, it’s to third-party marketers, but it can also simply be to the highest bidders. 

Technically, data broker transactions aren’t illegal. After all, they collect information that’s available to the public, and simply bundle it together into a detailed profile. This is the main reason why your personal information ends up compromised.

With hundreds of operating data brokers, this means there are also hundreds of listings of your, and everyone else’s, personal private information. 

Below is an example of a data broker site called Whitepages and the diverse array of details they’re able to collect about consumers like you.

They have phone numbers, current and previous addresses, even your criminal records, all readily available for anyone willing to look, and pay.

The risks of sharing personal information online

The dangers of sharing personal information online are numerous. Bottom line: the more information of yours available on the Internet, the more vulnerable you are to threats.

1. Identity theft

If enough of your information is compromised online, you can become a target for identity theft

Personal data can be used to make online purchases, apply for credit cards or loans, even claim unemployment benefits. Untangling the web identity theft can weave when you become a victim is incredibly stressful, and it may take a long time to get your life back.

2. Online spam and scams

There are many different methods to online scams, like spam texts or robocalls, that pose as banking institutions or government agencies. The more information that is available about you on the Internet, the more sophisticated these frauds targeting you can be.

3. Doxxing

Doxxing (or doxing) is when your identity, or sensitive personal information, is exposed without your permission. 

This became known as a revenge tactic hackers took to reveal identities of rivals, but has been regularly used of late to harass, intimidate, or punish innocent victims. Public figures, reporters, and gamers are often targets, but anyone with compromised information is at risk.

3. Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking is a crime that involves the use of technology to harass or stalk someone. 

The goal of most cyberstalkers is to annoy, embarrass, or threaten victims. Common forms include false accusation, data manipulation, online blackmail, online threats, or monitoring a target’s online and offline activity.

4. Online blackmail

The threat of having your sensitive private information exposed online can also make you a victim of online blackmail (often referred to as online extortion). 

This is when someone has threatened to reveal damaging private information about you online in exchange for payment or some other benefit.

Examples of personal information you should never give out 

As we’ve stated, the more information available about you online, the more vulnerable you are to the aforementioned dangers. 

However, some information can be more sensitive than others. After all, a criminal can do a lot more damage with your social security number than they can with your marital status. Below are some examples of the most sensitive information you should never give out online.

Addresses and locations

If your address is published online it doesn’t just result in junk mail. It can also make you a target for privacy threats like stalking and doxxing.

Phone numbers

A phone number published online will make you a target for relentless telemarketing and deceptive robocalls. This is reason enough to keep your number private, but there’s more risk as well. You could also become the victim of a sophisticated phishing scam.

Social Security or ID numbers 

As a general rule, never share your social security number (SSN) or ID number online.

While legitimate online platforms might require you to confirm your identity using your SSN or ID number, in these cases you should always double-check to make sure the website is legitimate and you’re not the unwitting target of a phishing scam. 

If your SSN or IDN ends up in the wrong hands, it can easily lead to identity theft.

Financial details

For obvious reasons, you should never give out financial details online, but this doesn’t just refer to credit card or bank account numbers. Never give out passwords or login details, and make sure never to allow any automatic authorizations.

What you can do to keep personal information private right now

Simply keeping personal information private is the first important step towards minimizing the risk of your data being compromised. 

Taking the actions below will help effectively delete your personal information from the Internet.

1. Remove yourself from data-broker sites

As mentioned, data brokers are one of the main reasons your personal information gets compromised in the first place. Therefore, removing yourself from each and every one of their databases is an essential step to reinforcing your Internet privacy.

To do this, you can go through the process on your own using these free DIY opt-out guides, or you can sign up for our service at DeleteMe and we can do it for you.

While these opt-out processes aren’t impossible to do on your own, they are time consuming. 

With over 500 sites in the U.S. alone, many of which are notorious for relisting profiles after they’ve been removed, constantly monitoring them to ensure your personal information remains safe and secure can be a task that might be too big for just you.

2. Use strong passwords

An easy step toward better online security is being smart about passwords. 

Passwords should be changed regularly,and you should never use the same password across different devices or sites.

Unique passwords (at least 12 characters with a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special symbols) for each account is a great way to keep your information safe. 

We also recommend using a password manager to generate strong passwords and keep them all safely in one place.

3. Use a VPN and a private browser

A virtual private network (VPN) reroutes your IP address and disguises and encrypts your browsing traffic while you surf the web. It’s a great way to prevent anyone from tracking your browsing history, and especially important when using free WiFi.

There are plenty of free VPNs you can choose from, but always make sure to carefully read privacy policies and customer reviews so you can be confident the VPN provider doesn’t sell your information in exchange for free software.

Also, we recommend privacy focused browsers like DuckDuckGo to prevent third-party tracking.

4. Secure your social media profiles

If you haven’t already, set all your social media profiles to “private,” and always use a nickname.

Delete any content that may reveal too much private information about yourself, and it’s also a good idea to delete any old accounts you’re no longer using. 

You should also disable location tracking for all social media apps on all your devices.

5. Verify all your apps

Many apps (especially free ones) make money by selling user data. 

Always make sure to review the app terms of use and check privacy settings with all apps and your phone. Disable the tracking feature to prevent apps tracking you, and, additionally, delete apps you no longer use or need. 

After you’ve deleted an app, contact an app admin directly and ask for all your information to be removed from their databases.

6. Be careful shopping online

Whenever possible, avoid giving out personal information such as phone number, full name, or email address when making online purchases. 

Avoid creating accounts for various e-commerce sites and delete accounts you might already have. This information is often sold to data brokers.

If you make an online purchase and have to provide an email, we recommend masked email.

Protecting your privacy one personal detail at a time

If you want to protect your privacy and reinforce your security, the first line of defense is to never share personal information online and remove as much existing information as possible.
Information like your address, phone number, social security or ID number, and financial details should always be kept safe and secure at all times in order to avoid various threats like spam, cyberstalking, doxxing, and identity theft.

Will Simonds runs Senior Marketing Operations at DeleteMe, and is a steadfast privacy advocate who has a resolute dedication to online privacy solutions and helping people regain their privacy. …

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