Fact Sheet 1:
Privacy Survival Guide:
Take Control of Your Personal Information


Send to PrinterSend to Printer


Copyright © 1994 - 2014
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Posted October 1994
Revised March 2014

Every day, we give away personal information about ourselves, often without even realizing it.  In many instances, we cannot control how this information is used by others. However, many opportunities exist to protect your privacy and take control of your personal information. You can begin by following the tips featured below.  Educate yourself further by reading the information in our Fact Sheets highlighted in the "Learn more by reading" bullet of each section below.

Order Your Free Annual Credit Reports         

  • There are 3 nationwide credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). You can obtain a free credit report from each credit bureau once every 12 months. Order your free reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com, download the Annual Credit Report Request form to mail in your request, or call (877) 322-8228.
  • To monitor your credit reports year round, order your report from a different credit bureau every four months.
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 6.

Consider Restricting Access to Your Credit Report         

  • You have the right to freeze access to your credit reports. This is an effective way to reduce your risk of identity theft.  A security freeze locks your credit file, preventing others from getting new credit in your name. 
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 33.

Opt Out of Pre-approved Unsolicited Credit Card Offers

Reduce Unwanted Telemarketing Phone Calls

  • Register with National Do Not Call Registry by calling (888) 382-1222 or online at www.donotcall.gov.  You can also verify your registration or submit a complaint online.
  • If you receive a call from a company with which you do business, ask to be placed on its internal "Do Not Call List."
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 5.

Protect the Personal Information on Your Smartphone

  • Your smartphone store a tremendous amount of personal information. If your smartphone were lost or stolen, what information would someone be able to access?
  • Password protect your phone. Make sure to use a strong password.
  • Do not allow your smartphone to automatically remember login passwords for access to email, social networking, or financial accounts.
  • Use your smartphone’s security lockout feature.  Set it to automatically lock after a certain amount of time not in use.
  • Install security software that allows you to remotely lock your smartphone and wipe the data if your phone is lost or stolen.
  • Never leave your phone unattended.
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 2b.

Secure Your Computer and Portable Devices

  • Use up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware programs and firewalls.
  • Be cautious when using wireless connections and Wi-Fi hotspots.
  • Make sure that all of your software is current and patched.
  • Use unique and complex passwords to protect all accounts and devices.
  • Be skeptical. Think before you click your mouse or touch your screen.
  • Encrypt sensitive information before storing or sending.
  • Before you donate, sell or discard your computer or portable device, be sure to remove all personal data. 
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 36.

Understand How Your Personal Information is Revealed Online

  • When you are online, you provide information to others at almost every step of the way.
  • Use your browser's settings to maximize your privacy. Disable 3rd party cookies.
  • Log out of webmail, social networking, and all other accounts before visiting other sites or using search engines.
  • Be aware of the dangers of cloud computing.
  • Do not use the same password for multiple accounts. Instead, use strong passwords that are unique to each account. This is particularly important for your most sensitive online accounts (for example, banking, email, and social networks).
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 18.

Be Aware of Online Data Brokers

  • There are hundreds of data broker websites that publish your personal information (for example, address, phone number, and date of birth) for anyone to see. They get your information from public records and other sources.
  • There is no single mechanism of suppressing your information from all data brokers.
  • Some data brokers will allow you to opt out in order to remove your personal information, others will not.
  • View our list of online data brokers to determine which ones offer an opt out.
  • Learn more by reading Online Information Brokers and Your Privacy.

Stay Safe When Using Social Networking

  • Be aware that identity thieves, scam artists, debt collectors, stalkers, employers, and corporations looking for a market advantage use social networks to gather information about you.
  • Companies that operate social networks collect a variety of data about their users, both to personalize the services for the users and to sell to advertisers
  • Carefully read a social network's Privacy Policy and understand how your information will be shared with others.
  • Don't post anything online that you wouldn't mind seeing on the front page of the newspaper. Use privacy settings to control who sees your posts, but keep in mind that even the strongest privacy settings won't prevent someone from re-sharing what you have posted.
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 35.

Don't Use a Debit or Check Card

  • Debit cards offer less legal protection than credit cards in the event of fraudulent purchases. A lost, stolen, or otherwise compromised debit card can result in your bank account being wiped out by a thief, without using your PIN number.
  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card.
  • If you have a debit card, ask your bank to replace it with an "ATM only" card.
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 32.

Reduce Your Junk Mail

  • Remove yourself from as many national mailing lists as possible by registering for the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service at https://www.dmachoice.org/register.php. You must renew your registration after 3 years.
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 4.

Safeguard Your Social Security Number (SSN)

  • Remove your Social Security card and any other documents containing your SSN from your wallet. Securing your SSN is a key step in avoiding identity theft.  Carry your Medicare card only when you are planning a medical visit.
  • When someone asks for your SSN, ask why they need it. Ask them to explain their authority for requiring it, and what the consequences are if you do not provide it.  Ask if you can give another identifier instead, such as your driver's license number.
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 10.

Protect Your Financial Privacy

  • Read privacy notices of your bank, credit card, insurance, and investment companies. Financial companies are required by law to mail the privacy notice to you once a year.
  • Take advantage of any opt out opportunities regarding the sharing of customer data.
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 24.

Understand Your Right to Access Your Medical Records

  • The federal law HIPAA gives you the right to access your medical records. Health care providers must give you a copy of their privacy notice. This includes doctors, pharmacies, dentists, and other healthcare professionals.
  • You can get a free copy of your MIB Group Inc. (formerly Medical Information Bureau) report once a year. MIB will only have a record on you if you have applied for individually (not group) underwritten life, health, or disability insurance in the past 7 years. Phone: (866) 692-6901. Web: http://www.mib.com/request_your_record.html.
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 8.

Be Aware of CLUE and Other Specialty Consumer Reports

  • You can get a free copy of your CLUE Report once a year containing your homeowner's or automobile insurance claims history.  Phone: (866) 312-8076. Web: https://personalreports.lexisnexis.com/index.jsp (click on "Insurance Reports")
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 26.
  • Obtain copies of your other consumer reports covering tenant history, check writing history, employment, and medical conditions.
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 6b.

Handle Your Personal Information Carefully to Avoid Identity Theft

  • Shred any documents containing your Social Security number, bank or credit card information, or other personal, identifying, or financial information.  Use a cross-cut or confetti shredder.
  • Mail theft can result in identity theft. Use a locked mailbox or try to pick up your mail right after it is delivered.  Try to mail letters containing personal information from the Post Office or before the last collection time at a Postal Service blue box.
  • Be suspicious when receiving calls asking for credit card, bank account, Social Security or PIN numbers.  Instead of providing any personal information, contact a company directly to verify the need for the requested information.  Use a known legitimate number such as the one on your statement or credit card.
  • Learn more by reading PRC Fact Sheet 17.
Copyright © Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. This copyrighted document may be copied and distributed for nonprofit, educational purposes only. For distribution, see our copyright and reprint guidelines. The text of this document may not be altered without express authorization of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.


X

Sign In!

Loading