Personal identifiable information (PII) is any information that can identify you. There is information everywhere about you. Some information you have made publicly available while other information about you is placed out there by the government, creditors, friends and family.
The government will publicly provide information about court records criminal and civil, marriage/divorce, death, driving and many other public records. All of this information is public and for convenience, available online. My personal favorite is the property appraiser website. I can look up information on anyone to find out if they own property and if so, how much they paid for it. I can then take the address and search on any of the online map services and get satellite imagery of their home.
Creditors release information about items you are financing or failed to follow through with your obligations. This information will help or hurt you when you are looking to buy large items you do not have the cash for or decide to finance instead for some crazy reason. (You will ultimately have to pay for the things you bought with those plastic cards.) Information about how much you owe and how much you make is out there and easy to get to.
Unless you are living in a rock somewhere, you will more than likely have a social media account with information about you. Your height, eye color, hair color, hobbies, your sexual preference, your status (married, single, dating), favorite things and anything else you post about your life. Those post will include things you feel strongly enough about to share with the rest of the world if you did not set your privacy settings. If you do not directly participate in social media, there is a big chance that you are all over the web without even knowing about it. The best example that comes to mind is my wedding pictures. Without me knowing it, my proud mother in law put pictures on the web for everyone to see. Now when anyone searches the web for my name, they will see my wedding pictures. Your friends and family will tag you and place information about you all over the web. Social media has made everyone a paparazzi looking for something funny, cute, embarrassing, or amazing to post on their page.
If you have kids, you are not known by your name to them. You are known as Dad, Daddy, Mom, Mommy, or some other endearing name. To your kid’s friends, you’re known as so and so’s Dad or Mom. Your face is all they need to identify you. That information is not enough to identify who you are. You could have an evil twin or someone could have made a clone of you. Your face is not enough information for you to get a place to live, your own transportation or even a job.
The more information about you, the better chance to confirm your identity. The amount of information has changed overtime. At one point your name, social security, address and proof of employment may have been enough to provide proof that you are who you say you are. That has changed to include information about your past. You may find yourself talking to your bank and they seem to ask you some random multiple choice questions like which of the following cars have you owned, which school have you attended or which of the following places you have lived at. This information is pulled from multiple sources to help prove you are really you. Your potential employer will perform a background check to verify you are who you say you are. They will also check social media sites looking for you. They are looking to see if you have posted anything that would hurt the company’s reputation. Through the process, they will get to know who you are. A bad credit score could cost you the job as well.
The first thing you need to do is accept the fact that there is information about you out there. Trying to stop it is impossible but you need to be aware that it is out there. Your information can be used against you.
Years ago when I refinanced my home, I received a letter in the mail with my mortgage company’s name on the letterhead. It looked just like what I would expect to see from them. The letter contained information about my rate, monthly payment, terms of the loan and my address. It also had a breakdown of how much money I am wasting if I do not take advantage of the weekly mortgage payment. It looked so real that I called the number but when I called, I noticed the computerized greeting did not include the name of my bank. Every time you call your bank, you will hear “Thank you for calling bank name.” I hung up and I called the bank from the number off of their website. Once I got a representative on the phone, they confirmed my suspicion. It was a scam. My bank does not offer a weekly or bi-weekly payment option. They also made sure I know payment is made through their website directly. I was shocked at how much information they had about me but none of that information is harmful. Think of your favorite movie star, singer or comedian. Think about how much information you can find out about them. You can easily get their name, address, names of their children and so much more. Think about the information you have collected and ask yourself, what can you do with it? There is key information missing to build an identity but it’s a start. When someone is looking for information, they will look to get it from the point of least resistance.
Make sure your social media profiles are set to private. This will help keep your information within the group of people you have accepted as friends. This is important because if you do not, anyone can follow your movements and learn things about you.
Never save your social security number, credit card or debit card
numbers to a file and store it on your computer, USB drive, cloud storage, email or any other media. This makes it too easy to get out there. If you have to write down some numbers to help you remember how many cards you have, then you have too many.