With all the news lately about deviants using ‘social engineering’ tactics to ‘mine’ your personal information, it dawned on me that protecting your personal information is actually really easy -- but the steps you need to take may not be so obvious.

It seems as though ‘privacy’ and protection against ‘identity theft’ are among the top news buzz words these days, which is a bit ironic given the current situation regarding the practice of voice-intercept of civilian communications in the US, without a court order… But I digress.

Identity theft and privacy are really big issues. I’m serious. Thieves are lazy. It’s easier to sift through your trash can to find your banking information than it is to drill into your wall safe.

The issue with your cell phone records is a bit different. People want those for other reasons. Who is trying to get these records anyway? It’s not just crooks. Your boss may want to check up on you, make sure you aren’t job shopping. Your wife may finally be on to that little thing you have with your kid’s gymnastics coach. You may have a long list of influential, power-house or celebrity-type friends. Just think how much money a trashy magazine would make if they ran an article featuring the calling patterns of Sean Combs.

Let’s talk protection now. There are some obvious and not-so-obvious ways to protect yourself and your privacy.


  1. 1

    Buy a shredder.
    Seriously. I don’t care if you are 22, with crappy credit and $70,000 in debt. Buy a shredder. Shred your phone records, bank statements and pay-stubs. Shred everything that shows your social security number and bank account information. If you are a property owner, with decent credit and a decent salary, you had better already have a shredder. You are a prime target.

  2. 2

    Change your passwords every month.
    Online banking, email, utility and cell phone accounts. Change the passwords to something no one can guess, and use special characters. Your password is easier to guess than you would like to believe. All you need is a 13 year old with a little ingenuity, a few hours of free time, and a tool called John The Ripper.

  3. 3

    Communicate with your phone company.
    Every phone company uses a kind of software that organizes your information in a specific way. When you call in, and enter your account number, cell phone number, last four of your social security number, mother’s maiden name and the number of spots on your Dalmatian… and then have to repeat the info to the person who actually answers your call, a little window pops up in front of the CSR that displays specific information about you.
    They can see your name, address, last four of your social security number, mobile device information, and PASSWORDS if you have any on your account. (FYI, they can also look up your full social security number in a matter of seconds.)

    Your cell phone company will allow you to set a password on your account, which will prevent anyone from accessing your account, making changes, or having records mailed out. This password is different from the verification process that involves the last four of your SSN and your phone number.

    The problem with that is getting the CSR to remember to ask callers for your password. This problem is typically solved by adding “hot notes” to the account. When you call in to set a password on your account, ask the CSR to note, in all caps, on the profile screen, that future CSR’s must ask for the password and for a frequently dialed number on the bill. Then, ask the CSR to read the note back to you. Let them know you are serious about protecting your information.

    This way, you can be sure that no one will access your account without your permission. If something does happen, and your information gets leaked, the cell phone company is then liable.