You Just Can’t Overdo Privacy Protection

Shredding absolutely everything is key to privacy protection: Internet Scambusters #514

When it comes to privacy protection you just can’t do enough,
as the concerns of one of our subscribers highlights in this
week’s Scambusters issue.

We’re retracing our earlier steps on the big issue of
shredding your documents and highlighting the importance of
managing your email accounts effectively.

We’ve also plucked the top 5 privacy protection tips from some
earlier Scambusters reports.

However, we encourage you to take a look at this week’s most
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Let’s get started…

You Just Can’t Overdo Privacy Protection

An email from a concerned reader prompts a return this week to
the thorny question of privacy protection and, in particular,
how you can prevent basic information about yourself falling
into the wrong hands.

We wrote just a few weeks ago about how to remove your name
from directory listings.

If you missed that issue, it’s worth checking out again.

How to Remove Name Details and Other Personal Info Online

In the physical world, an even more basic action is the need
to destroy any documents you plan to throw out that bear your
name and address or other important information.

As our anxious subscriber wrote:

“Just this morning I spent a few happy moments going through
our trash … to pull out all the receipts my husband had put
in the trash UNSHREDDED, including one from our bank!

“He just doesn’t GET it! Would you please do an article
sometime on how easy it is to steal someone’s identity by
rifling through their trash can?

“All it takes is ONE piece of paper with our name OR address,
and the wrong person has access to an awful lot of our
information — and potentially our money.

“I told my husband just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean
someone isn’t out to get me! I shred everything. I think he
just thinks I’m over-reacting. HELP!!!”

Well, dear reader, you said it for us and your words of wisdom
are worth passing on to other subscribers.

Indeed, there are numerous reported incidents of “dumpster
divers” — people who search through other people’s throw-outs
— using key information they’ve recovered to steal the
owner’s identity.

Crooks can also use stolen correspondence to learn when you’re
going to be away from home, how much money you have in the
bank, which schools your children go to and even possibly to
threaten or blackmail you.

Even if they don’t get stolen from your garbage can, your old
documents can still end up blowing in the wind at a rubbish
dump or recycling center.

A couple years ago we devoted an entire issue to the subject
of shredding after Scambusters co-founder Audri Lanford faced
the huge task of helping her mother destroy masses of

Shredding: A Key Weapon in Your Document Security and Identity Theft Prevention Strategies

As that report makes clear, even if you have a huge
accumulation of documents, you can still arrange for them to
be shredded.

There are firms that offer a paid-for service but increasingly
we’re seeing community events — free shredding days where you
just take your documents along to be destroyed.

You may be able to find out about these from your local waste
disposal company or even your sheriff’s department.

But on a day-to-day basis, a simple home-office shredder will
help you stay on top of the task.

If you don’t already have one of these machines, note that not
all shredders are equal when it comes to security.

Believe it or not, there are defined security standards for
different types of shreddings, ranging up to Level 6 — for
Top Secret!

That’s because it is technically possible to reconstruct
shredded documents and there are actually companies out there
that specialize in doing just that.

But assuming nobody’s going to be that interested in
reassembling your unwanted documents, the two key points to
know are:

1. Cross-cut or “confetti” shredders are more destructive than
simple strip-cut shredders.

2. Documents should be inserted into the shredder so the
blades cut across the lines of text, not parallel with them.

Of course, these days you should be looking to reduce the
amount of paper you have to deal with in the first place.

As one of our ‘sister’ websites, Paperitis, explains, there are now simple
and effective ways of eliminating most paper documents and
storing their digital equivalents securely.

Email Security

There’s another privacy protection and security issue we want
to raise here — isolating online and email accounts from each

You probably read an alarming story just a few months ago
about how tech writer Matt Honan had, in his own words, his
“entire digital life destroyed” when hackers penetrated a
number of his online accounts and wiped them clean.

There are lots of reasons why this happened but among the
lapses was the fact that, as Honan admitted, many of his
accounts were “daisy-chained” to each other, enabling hackers
to access them all.

This sort of hack happens for two reasons.

First, people provide one of their other email addresses so
that, if they forget their password on one account, it can be
emailed to another account.

If someone hacks account #1, they can then find out the
recovery email address for account #2. If you use a different
recovery address on account #2, they will get into account #3.
And so on.

Second, oftentimes your username for logins is also your email

If you use the same one for multiple accounts — even worse,
if you also use the same password — you’re a sitting target
for hackers, scammers and spammers.

To solve this problem, use different email addresses for each
important account.

They’re easy enough to set up — if a little unwieldy to

You can also get email addresses that you only use once.

For an example, see or do a web search on the
terms “disposable email addresses.”

However, as Honan suggests, it’s best to have just one email
address that you use purely for recovery purposes that isn’t
tied to any other accounts.

Then the crooks can’t “daisy-chain” access to all your
accounts as they did in his case.

More Tips

Here are 5 more quick privacy protection tips from some of our
earlier issues:

1. Use up-to-date Internet security to thwart attempts to put
spyware on your machine that will watch everything you do.

2. Don’t talk “aloud” or write about travel plans or other
sensitive issues even to people you know — online or offline.
You never know who’s “listening.”

From: Privacy Starts With You.

3. Use privacy controls on social networks and in your
Internet browsers. Always make time to track them down and
implement them.

4. Be aware of how your activities are tracked by your browser
and some of the applications that work with them.

For more on this see, Update Your Browser to Block History Sniffing.

5. Protect your Social Security number at all costs. If it
appears in any documents you plan to dispose of, shred them!

Check out this Scambusters issue, How 3.5 Million Social Security Number Details Get Stolen Every Year.

Which brings us neatly back to where we came in — the value
of shredding.

The reader who wrote us about her document destruction
concerns was absolutely right.

When it comes to privacy protection, there’s absolutely no
possibility of over-reacting.

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!