A couple of months ago I was sitting in my living room when a thought occurred to me. What would I lose if someone broke in to my house? Besides the loss of a sense of security, I was mostly concerned with what additional impact the break in would have on us. For the most part, nothing in this house is really very valuable to me. TV’s are replaceable, as are most other things. (I don’t have any valuable family heirlooms or anything like that).
What kept coming up in my head was identity theft which led me to the question: “What is in this house that could lead to identity theft?” I quickly realized that the two big risks were my computer and my file cabinet.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I decided to tackle the two drawer file cabinet in my home office. I went through each and every piece of paper in both drawers and asked the questions:
-Why do I need this?
-What would happen if I didn’t have it?
-Are our social security numbers on any of the documents and if so, do I need to keep it or can I shred it?
As I went through the files I found a number of items that DID have my social security number on them. Up until a few years ago, every single document that my health insurance company sent me included our social security numbers on them. If the document was over three years old I put it in the “shred” pile, which meant I saved none of the health insurance paperwork because it was upwards of 5 years old.
The only items that I found in there that I needed to keep were tax related and then a few other things like passports, birth certificates etc.. I removed all of these from the standard file cabinet and have put them in a file safe in another location. It’s not completely fool proof but it’s a lot more secure than doing nothing.
My other big concern was our main computer. There are plenty of threats, and protecting your online identity is crucial, especially in this day and age. Cyberstalking is a serious issue that could potentially lead to identity theft. The first step to preventing this from happening is tightening up your privacy settings on all social networks. Next, you need to refrain from using any software or apps that steal your location. I’ve been very careful to follow these steps and have yet to encounter any cyberstalking issues on the main computer.
However, since we use this computer to file our taxes it has a number of years worth of tax returns on it. I had a couple choices on how to address this. I could opt to try to move all of the files over to a DVD and then physically protect the DVD or I could opt to use disk encryption technology. With disk encryption, you can encrypt the entire contents of your hard drive so that even if someone steals the computer, they won’t be able to access the data on it.
I decided to go the whole disk encryption route because it seemed like better protection. With the latest version of Windows 7 Ultimate, whole disk encryption is included. They use a program called Bitlocker and it works very well. With Bitlocker you can even encrypt usb drives that you connect. This gives you the ability to backup your files without the concern of someone getting their hands on the portable drive.
Protecting our identity at home turned out to be a lot less hassle than I initially thought it would be. An afternoon of surfing through the files in our file cabinet and an operating system upgrade has us protected much better than we have ever been. Of course, I’m probably more likely to have my identity stolen through the mistakes of others (like my company or someone I do business with) than I am to have it stolen at home but I think it’s good to do everything we can.