- Phone calls and emails that claim to be from credit card companies or other financial institutions such as PayPal. These companies do not need to verify your information. On occasion a credit card company will call to verify that you made a purchase which seems suspicious to them, but they will not need you to tell them your credit card number or your password. Never share that information over the telephone or online unless you know exactly who is receiving the information (because you contacted them yourself). My favorite phone calls are those from “your credit card company” that never even identify the company.
- Companies that offer to tell you your credit rating for free. They cannot look up your credit rating without your permission. Once you give them permission, they can look it up for you; then they keep that information for their own purposes or sell it to other companies that want to know more about you.
- Companies that offer to tell you how much personal information about you can be gathered online. “Do you ever Google yourself? Try this instead!” Once again, you are giving someone permission to gather information about you which they can use for their own purposes or sell to others. The information they gather about you will be linked to your computer so companies can target you with personalized ads.
- Strangers who want to be your friends on social media. If you don’t know them, don’t accept their offer… unless you don’t mind a complete stranger knowing what school you attended, the name of your favorite pet, and other facts about yourself that often are used as security questions. By the way, when you create security answers, lie. Write down your lie so you don’t forget what you typed. Almost anyone can discover your mother’s maiden name, but if you lie, they won’t know what you said.
- Search engines in general gather information about you. You can tell them not to retain such information, but you have to do so clearly and repeatedly. I was once curious to know if the Volkswagen Company had ever produced a purple VW beetle. The answer is yes. I received pop-up ads from Volkswagen for more than a year afterward.
- Stores that offer you a few cents off some items if you use their store card. They keep track of everything that you buy. Of course that’s not a bad thing: they will keep products in stock when they know people want to buy them. But their computer has a lot of personal information about your everyday life.
- Businesses that ask for your telephone number at the cash register. They are, once again, keeping track of your purchases for their own reasons. This is not always a bad thing. The mechanic who changes my oil and repairs my cars is able to tell me when I’m due for a new fuel filter or some other necessary service. But, once again, a computerized system is keeping track of your personal life for business purposes.
- The items you discard. Consider how much your neighbors would know about you if they could dig through your trash and recycling at the curb every week. Archaeologists learn more about prehistoric civilizations from their garbage than from almost any other source. Broken tools, animal bones, and traces of worn-out clothing all reveal significant historical and personal details of cultures that would otherwise be forgotten. J.