Identity theft is on the rise affecting nearly 10 million people in 2008 alone. A 22% increase since 2007! The plethora of victims has increased as technology becomes more of a necessity reaching individuals of all demographics. The trade off? Privacy.
Take Google for example. Google offers many free services including search, GMAIL, and Android for starters. Google was recently in the hot seat for releasing Google Buzz (a social network similar to Twitter and/or Facebook) to the public with glaring omissions in privacy options. Google's algorithm just picked people out of your email box for you to follow and be followed by, regardless of whether they are friends, spouses, mistresses, stalkers, or enemies. Worse, the list of your followers and followees was made public by default, so anyone can see it. Take it one step further, using an Android phone with GPS enabled (most newer phones do) any Buzz (think of it as a Tweet) made by you included your exact location on Google Maps.
During the snow storm of 2010 Google Buzz was released. Like all Google products it ignited excitement when I heard about it. I quickly download the app to my phone and began to check it out. I was immediately able to see other people in my neighborhood “Buzzing” using Google Buzz, but the crazy part was, it showed their exact location and even somehow is smart enough to select a picture of you (if you use one of their online photo services). Scary! Before I “Buzzed” I noticed a message which advised me that my location would be included. I looked for a way to disable this feature to no avail. I quickly deleted the application and sat back and watched the outrage from bloggers, tech media and others. Sure enough Google was forced to put additional privacy measures in place. The damage is already done in my opinion. It will be a long time before I consider using Google Buzz again.
Then you have public records. Have you ever Google-ed your name? You might be surprised at what you find. Go ahead, give it a try. I’ll be here…… you done? Amazing huh? I was surprised to find very little on my name. Mainly because I have always been big on privacy. But some things are unavoidable like public records or data harvesting from other websites.
Public records include marriages, home buying, and more. I found a wedding registry online (which my wife registered for before we got married), it told our date, location of wedding, and of course our registry.
Data harvesting. A Google search of my name included our home’s address, purchase price, and our full names appeared as excerpted local news paper. It eventually expired or fell off, but that was disturbing nonetheless.
Most states even offer a free website to obtain public records. For example, there’s a website in a particular state where you can put in a person’s first and last name and see any court proceedings from tickets, divorce, to domestic violence. By the way, you’d be surprised how many guys at my job beat up their wives (allegedly). To make matters worse, a citation listed in this system also includes your address. It appears domestic violence and restraining orders have victim addresses omitted to protect the privacy of the victims. How nice. But what about potential victims?
That brings me to my point. As technology makes it easier for friends, family and co-workers to keep in touch, is also makes it easier for criminals to find you. In this blog I intend to open your eyes to things you may have never knew were happening behind your back as well as tips to protect yourself both on and offline!
- Shred EVERYTHING and opt for online statements and bills whenever possible. Believe it or not identify theft often happens by means of dumpster diving. Who knows even an underpaid trash man might be in the business of selling your trash to identify theft rings. Think twice before you just toss away a credit card statement. Better yet, do what I do. Not only do I shred all identifying documents, I even rip, cut, or peel any labels with my name and address off junk mail. Then toss the junk mail in the trash. But don’t just shred, get a shredder that does cross cut and confetti shredding. The shredders that simply cut your paper in 10 rows is easy enough for someone to tape back together. Most shredders will now even shred your credit card, and CD/DVDs.
- Take your address out of your GPS under HOME. Most cars with built-in GPS have a function called HOME. Hitting home will get you GPS directions back to your home regardless of where you are or how drunk you are. This is again one of those conveniences that we find useful but also invade our privacy. How? Next time you loose your keys and someone grabs them, hits the alarm on your keypad to locate your car in a parking lot, or better yet, carjacks you. Now he has an entire set of keys and your car with GPS coordinates to get him straight to your house. Now you’re looking to file a claim with your car insurance, and homeowner’s insurance. This suggestion is only as good as you make it. In other words leaving identifying documents and papers in your car doesn’t help matters. Yes I’m a little paranoid. Fuck you!
- Encrypt passwords. Don’t walk around with your passwords in your wallet, don’t walk around with pieces of paper containing passwords. Don’t store your passwords in your mobile phone UNLESS you’re storing them in an app that encrypts that information and requires you to use a password to access it. Some great apps include KeePassDroid (for Android OS) and SplashID for most other phone operating systems including Android. Both allow sync with Windows (SplashID includes Mac).
-Always use secure passwords. Don’t use password that use part of your name, child’s name, address, age, dog’s name, etc. Make it totally random, at least 6 characters include numbers, letters, special characters, and a combination of uppercase and lowercase characters.
- Don’t drive around with your name on your license plates! Besides looking like a douche bag, it makes it easy for someone to walk up to you and say “Hey <insert your douche bag name here>, remember me” and the scam begins. Or maybe someone is looking for you, child support collectors, people wanting to serve you with a summons, etc. Oh look, there goes <insert douche bag name here again>. Yep that must be him. Look at his tags.
- Always keep your head on full swivel. Always be aware of your surroundings, take note of anyone or anything that looks suspicious or out of place. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Humans have a keen sense of intuition, the problem is many choose to ignore it. How many times has someone said “I should have followed my gut, I knew something didn’t feel right.” That’s not an imaginary feeling, wildlife and humans alike are born with intuitions. Only human intelligence often forces us to rationalize this feeling, don’t rationalize it, get the fuck out of dodge.
- When traveling, don’t rock the fanny pack. Aside from looking like you turned down the wrong street on your way to the gay pride carnival, it screams tourist. Leave your jewelry at home. Not need to make the lady massaging your foot on the beach feel like she’s any less because she gets $1 US for a foot massage. Besides you scream TOURIST, especially taking a picture every fucking moment you can.
- Just say “no” to anyone coming to your front door trying to sell you something or ask you questions. I mean really, when was the last time a stranger knocked on your door and it ended in something positive? Better yet, don’t open the door for strangers. If you must acknowledge them, speak THROUGH the door especially women. It’s easy to overpower someone by forcing your way through a door. Remember the days of “latch key kids”, times haven’t changed, criminals will still knock on your door.
- Get an alarm. Keep it armed when home (motion off if necessary) and fully armed when not home.
- Get a firearm. Preferably something 9mm or better. Though a .380 will do the job as well. Nothing says “you picked the wrong house muthafucka” like some flying bullets.
- Get cameras for your home. Wireless cameras are as low as $40 each, invest in a DVR to record everything and make sure your camera is night vision capable. It not only serves to help track down bad guys, it can be a deterrent, hmmm burglarize this house, or the house without a camera? Decisions decisions.
- Fence in your yard.
- Trust no one! How many times have we heard “I can’t believe that happened in my neighborhood.” “He seemed like such a nice guy, I can’t believe he murdered his entire family.” “Wow they were so quiet, who would have known they were terrorists.” First off, criminals don’t normally wear signs. Though if you look close enough there could be telltale signs. Not all criminals have tattoos, scruffy clothes, drive “Chester the Molestor” vans. Some of the most successful serial killers have been handsome and cunning. The best criminals are great actors.
- When traveling, remember you are a guest in someone’s country. You don’t run shit just because you’re American. Yes they like your money, but most don’t really like you. You might demand a certain level of amenities or way of life in the United States but don’t go to someone else’s country and demand anything. Shooting your ass on the spot might be illegal in the United States but in another country it might be as simple as giving the police a few U.S. dollars from the wallet found on your dead lifeless body to mind their business. The same rules do not apply. Leave the American arrogance at home in the U.S.
- Always use an alias online. If your name is Mr. Douche Bag. At the very least use only your first name but it’s preferred to use a completely different alias or screename unrelated to your real name.
- Avoid posting personal information in your online profile whenever possible. Instead of saying your city and state, try just putting your state, or “metro area”. When responding in forums, don’t give out personally identifying information. Telling a guy who lives on North Ave in Baltimore… “Ohh I live down near Coppin” is basically allowing this guy to put the pieces together to track you. You have a picture of your car in your profile, you just told him you live near Coppin, he’s seen a picture of you, that’s sodomy waiting to happen.
- Sell that TV in a well-lit public location not at your home. Next time you want to sell a TV on craigslist, tell the prospective buyer to meet you somewhere. Try meeting in a well-lit, public location in view of many people. If you must have the person come to your home, notify someone that a stranger is coming to take a look at a TV in your home and to call 9-1-1 if they don’t hear from you in 15 mins. Other alternatives include being strapped, cocked and loaded. Never turn your back to a stranger who’s coming into your home. Keep your front door open while the transaction takes place.
Funny story, a guy came by my home to pick up several gallons of peanut oil we used to fry a turkey for thanksgiving (if you haven’t tried frying a turkey, do it, you will never go back to dry baked turkey again). The guy literally pulled up in the Chester Molester van as shown above (no joke). I’m strapped (always) when he comes in, I follow my own rules, I never turned my back to him. As he came in he began to close the door behind him as he came in, VERY strange since when I let him in, I pushed the door as far open as possible to let a murder be witnessed by neighbors had he chose to lose his life over peanut oil that day by trying me. Not to mention the peanut oil was RIGHT THERE at the front door. No need to come all the way in buddy. For a second I thought I was really about to cap this cunt. To make matters worse he really did look like a serial killer, which is probably why he wasn’t a serial killer. Most serial killers look normal.
- Social networks, just say “NO” or at least take every privacy precaution offered. Even the most secure of servers including banks have been hacked at some point. Don’t trust Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Amazon with too much personal information. Use fake information whenever possible. Limit the information provided to essential basics. Don’t tell Facebook what high school you went to, what college, every job you ever had, pictures of your children, cars, homes, address, telephone numbers etc. Who knows, maybe the guy you used to beat up in school wants his revenge. Don’t share information with the world on Facebook, don’t allow friends of friends access to your information, disable GPS location on Tweets, Facebook, and Google.
- Delete your credit card information! Whenever you purchase something be sure to go back and check that website to ensure your credit card wasn’t automatically saved “for your convenience” for future purchases. Not only might a hacker get that information from their servers, someone might just consider hacking your Amazon account to make some purchases of their own.
- Stop telling everyone you’re on vacation sippin’ cognac on Facebook and Twitter. You’re leaving yourself wide open to burglary.
- Stop using Foursquare, Gowalla, and Loopt. These services announce your GPS location to friends and family “Douche Bag just checked in at the Pimps Up Hoes Down Convention”, but if you didn’t opt for privacy you might be announcing that to the world. Think about it, didn’t you just add your co-worker to Twitter? Then you called out Monday but Sunday at 3AM (technically Monday at 3AM) you Tweeted “Yooo I’m having a blast, we are so fucked up at this pimps up hoes down convention I don’t know how I’m getting home.”
- Make sure your friends list is really just your FRIENDS or family list. I know it’s hard to click the DECLINE button to someone you know but don’t really know. But you what I say? Fuuuuuck ‘em. The less exposure and visibility you get the better.