Protecting Your Personal Data

Our personal details are increasingly available online. Companies know a shocking amount about us, recording every move that we make (from our shopping habits to the places we’ve looked at visiting on holiday) to create a ‘personal profile’. Many don’t realise that it takes a lot more than setting their Facebook account to ‘private’ to prevent out details from being misused on and offline.

At the lower end of the scale, websites keep a record of our data for promotional purposes, sending us endless amounts of spam and driving us up the wall with cold calls. Data collection can be more sinister, however. It is possible for the more serious spyware, viruses and hackers to collect enough information about us to commit online fraud or identity theft. To stay safe, here are some tips for keeping your personal details private.

Store

This might seem like no more than common sense, but the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), an independent body set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, encourages people to store any documents containing personal details in a safe place. This means that your passport, driving licence, bank statements and utility bills need to be kept out of sight.

Shred

Any personal items which are being thrown away should be shredded or destroyed. Bills, receipts or bank statements that include your name, address or other personal details must not leave your home intact. Buy a shredding machine to use at home, or use professionals such as Datashred to make absolutely certain that confidential waste remains confidential. You should also check that any companies holding your information dispose of it in compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998.

Send Safely

Any information sent through the post places you at risk. If you’re mailing personal documents, ask the post office to advise you on the most secure method of posting.

Change Passwords

Don’t use the same password and PIN for everything. You should have different passwords and PINs for different accounts. Take special care when using public computers to access personal data, and never save your password on the machine.

Don’t Share

Always think very carefully about who you’re giving your information to. If you receive a telephone, email, fax, post or personal request to divulge any personal details, refuse unless you are absolutely certain that the person is who they say there are. If you harbour any suspicions, call the organisation on the advertised number or visit their website. Make sure that any numbers/emails provided tally.

Stop Spyware

Purchase a recommended anti-virus, firewall and anti-spam software package to protect your computer against viruses and spyware software which could be used to obtain your personal details.

Protect Your Texts

Use an app called Tiger Text to ensure that your texts disappears from a company’s servers after a time period specified by you. The software allows users to set a time limit from one minute to thirty days after which the text disappears from the company’s orders and thus the senders’ and recipients’ phones.

Destroy Data

A technology called Vanish is being developed to make electronic data ‘self-destruct’ after a specified period of time. Rather than relying on Google, Facebook or Hotmail to delete the data on their servers, Vanish will do it for you.

Go Offshore

Companies such as Connectinprivate.com offer ‘anonymous and non-traceable offshore browsing’. Using a virtual private network (VPN), a connection is made to the internet on your behalf, so that web services receive data which places you in Canada, for example, rather than England. The VPN knows where you are, but in keeping with Canadian law, no log is kept of this activity.

Update Your Browser

The latest version of Microsoft’s web browser, Internet Explorer 9, will give users the option to prevent third-party websites from tracking their activities.

Follow these tips today to keep your data safe from prying eyes. 

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