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 popular articles from our other sites:

Taking Herbal Supplements? Let Your Dentist Know: Sometimes those herbal supplements have unexpected side effects that can cause serious trouble when your dentist is working on your teeth so learn what they are.

The Relationship Between Blood Pressure and Exercise: Here are some guidelines to keep in mind about the direct and positive correlation between lower blood pressure and exercise.

Beautiful Chocolate Soup: If you’re getting bored with that chocolate-covered seaweed then check out chocolate soup, an oddly comforting dish.

Are These Food Myths Sabotaging Your Diet? If your diet isn’t working, these food myths may be to blame.

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 documents.

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 other.

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 address.

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 manage.

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

For an example, see trashmail.net 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!