Protect Your Personal Information: It's Valuable

By DON CIO Privacy Team - Published, June 1, 2009

Privacy TipWhy should you protect your personal information? To an identity thief, it can provide instant access to your financial accounts, your credit record and your other personal assets. If you think that no one would be interested in your personal information, think again.

The reality is that anyone can be a victim of identity theft. In fact, according to a Federal Trade Commission survey, there are almost 10 million victims every year. It's often difficult to know how thieves obtained their victims' personal information, and while it definitely can happen offline, some cases start when online data is stolen. Visit to learn what to do if your identity is stolen.

Unfortunately, when it comes to crimes like identity theft, you can't entirely control whether you will become a victim. But following these common sense tips from can help minimize your risk while you are online:

  • If you are asked for your personal information, such as your name, email or home address, phone number, account numbers or Social Security number, learn how it's going to be used and how it will be protected before you share it.

  • Do not open unsolicited or unknown email messages. If you do get an email or pop-up message asking for personal information, do not reply or click on the link in the message. To avoid opening such messages, you can turn off the "Preview Pane" functionality in email programs, and you can set your default options to view opened emails as plain text to avoid active links or pop-ups in the messages. Most important, do not respond to solicitations for your personal or financial information. If you believe there may be a need for such information by a company with whom you have an account or placed an order, contact that company directly in a way you know to be genuine. Never send your personal information via email because email is not a secure transmission method. Most email programs have email filters built in to the application.

  • If you are shopping online, be careful about providing your personal or financial information through a company's website without taking measures to reduce the risk. There are some indicators that show vendors have taken measures to secure their sites such as a lit lock icon on the browser's status bar or a website URL that begins "https" (the "s" stands for "secure"). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some scammers have forged security icons.

  • Read website privacy policies. They should explain what personal information the website collects, how the information is used, and whether it is provided to third parties. The privacy policy also should tell you whether you have the right to see what information the website has about you, whether they provide and/or sell your information to third parties, and what security measures the company takes to protect your information. If you do not see a privacy policy, or if you do not understand it, consider doing business elsewhere.

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