6 tips for protecting personally identifiable Information


Personally Identifiable Information, or PII, is unique information used to identify individuals. PII includes contact information such as phone numbers and addresses or more private information such as a Social Security numbers.

For most people the amount of PII found online isn’t worrisome. If you do an online search of your name, you might see yourself mentioned in an article or social media post. There’s a good possibility your address and phone number are available too. In rare cases you might find even more sensitive information. To find out what a determined voyeur can uncover, try searching on a service like www.recordsfinder.com . Fortunately, there are ways to protect your Personally Identifiable Information from falling into the wrong hands.

Basic Personally Identifiable Information includes:

  • All known names including maiden names and middle names
  • Names of family members
  • Past and present known addresses
  • Email addresses including business emails
  • Phone numbers including cell phone and business phones
  • Employment history
  • Education
  • Photographs

Highly sensitive Personally Identifiable Information includes:

  • Social Security numbers
  • Financial information including bank accounts, mortgages and personal loans
  • Criminal records
  • Driver’s license number
  • Health care information
  • Fingerprints
  • Vehicle registration information

How to control your Personally Identifiable Information

While most people have some PII online, no wants every detail available to the general public. If you’re concerned that too much of your PII is available online, there are a few things you can do to keep it in check.

  1. Understand who has access to your information

Before giving personal information to a business, ask why it’s needed, where it’s stored, and who has access.  There are laws in place to protect your privacy but due diligence is essential. Always know what happens to your information once you turn it over.

  1. Know your rights

You don’t have to give your Social Security number out to everyone who requests it. In fact, many states have laws that allow you to avoid using your SSN if it’s not for employment or financial purposes.  For example, in many states you’re not required to give your SSN to the cable company, even if it’s requested.

  1. Be careful what you share online

When you post personal information to a public account, you’re opening it up to the whole world. Change your social media accounts to share photographs or restaurant “check ins” with select friends rather than on a public post. No one but your friends and family needs to know where you live, where you eat, or what you look like.

  1. Make sure you’re sharing to a secure server

If you have to share sensitive information make sure it’s to a secure server. Secure servers encrypt your information making it more difficult to read or steal.  You can identify a secure server by “https” (instead of “http”) in the web URL. Also, if you see a padlock symbol on your navigation bar it’s good – that means your data is encrypted.

  1. Avoid sharing PII on public WiFi

Public WiFi isn’t always protected. Avoid sharing sensitive information while online at the local coffee shop unless it’s a secure network.  Steer clear of any network that doesn’t ask you to sign in or check in to their privacy agreement.

  1. Use strong passwords

Be smart when it comes to passwords: use a combination of upper and lower case letters, symbols, and numbers for better protection from hackers and identity thieves. It’s best to use unique strong passwords for all your important accounts. Instead of making passwords easy to remember, make them difficult to duplicate.

Be smart when sharing Personally Identifiable Information

A few more ways you can protect your PII include always looking for a company’s privacy policy before sharing sensitive information. If you can’t find it on their website, request a copy.  Take time to understand exactly how businesses are using your information. And, don’t download anything from shady websites, especially if they’re offering free software. A few precautions now can save you and your family from a serious breach of privacy later.

For more tips, such as destroying old computers so your personal and financial data can’t be stolen, see https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0272-how-keep-your-personal-information-secure.