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Protect Your Identity

Data Brokers & Data Breaches

Author: Stephanie Nelson/Wednesday, March 20, 2024/Categories: Announcements, Information Technology, Local News, Security, Tech News

It's simply unsettling to know your personal information, from your address and phone number to marital status and estimated income, is readily accessible online by anyone who cares to look.  The good news is, you can fight back and take control of your online privacy.  Here we explain how the information is shared and what you can do to monitor and mitigate issues.

Data Brokers are businesses that aggregate and sell consumer data.  They collect information from various sources, including public records, social media, and even previous purchases you've made online.  This data is then compiled into profiles and sold to marketers, lenders, and other businesses.  This causes an inundation of ads based on your data profile, making it hard to escape the clutches of online marketing.

To remove yourself from data broker sites, you can manually opt-out.  Use a resource like Data Broker Watch to identify the players, visit each data broker’s webpage and manually submit your request to opt-out.  Processing times can vary, and there's no guarantee of removal.  Data brokers constantly acquire new information; therefore, you may need to periodically check and re-remove your information.

The use of Data Removal Services automates the opt-out process, searching for your information across a vast network of data brokers and submitting removal requests on your behalf.  There is a cost, as data removal services typically require a subscription fee.  However, the streamlined service approach continuously monitors, saving you significant time and effort.

Data Breaches are another way your personal information can be exposed.  This is an incident where sensitive or confidential information is accessed through hacking or malware and sold to unauthorized parties.  This can lead to identity theft, in which fraudsters use your personal details to hack your accounts, open new accounts, take out loans, or even redirect tax refunds.  This can wreak havoc on your finances and credit score. 

Keep an eye out for suspicious activity by regularly monitoring your credit reports.  According to the Federal Trade Commission, the three national credit reporting agencies introduced a permanent program that allows you to check your report for free once a week through a central website.  Visit annualcreditreport.com to access your reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.  Be wary of other sites as they may charge you or be fraudulent seeking your personal information.

There are Data Breach Services that scan the web, including the dark web, for your personal information that may have been exposed in a breach.  If they find a match, they alert you so you can take steps to protect yourself.  Identity Theft Protection Services offer comprehensive monitoring and assistance if you become a victim of identity theft.  They can help you track fraudulent activity, freeze your credit report, and work towards restoring your identity.

Additional steps to protect yourself:

  • Review and adjust privacy settings on social media and other online accounts.

  • Be mindful of what information you share online.

  • Use privacy-focused search engines and browsers.

  • Use a password manager that creates and stores strong, unique passwords for all your accounts.

Taking control of your data is an ongoing process, but it's an important step towards protecting your privacy.  By following these steps and remaining vigilant, you can minimize your footprint and reclaim some control over your online identity.

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