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IDENTITY THEFT ISSUES

Do you fear that criminals could commit Identity Theft using the data on this site?

There is a lot of information available about Identity Theft and how to protect against it. Much information is available on the Internet, for example:

You may be surprised to learn that data in genealogical sites is not considered a significant risk: much more personal information is readily available from other sources. If, therefore, you are worried enough to demand that information on this site be removed, you should worry even more about information which appears elsewhere, and you should consider these actions:

  • You should get unlisted phone numbers for all family members, because information is published and readily available about those who have public phone numbers. In addition to printed phone directories, Internet directories exist which let people find your name and address if they have your phone number, or let people find your phone number and full address if they have your name and a partial address.

    Related to this, you should have your family removed from telemarketer lists.

  • You should get a burglar-proof mailbox for mail you receive, because identity thieves have been known to steal mail to find the personal information which appears in the items mailed to you: and this information is far more detailed than anything which may appear on this site.

    Related to this, you should watch for sudden decreases in the volume of mail you receive: identity thiefs have been known to file change of address forms with the post office, to make the post office divert mail to some other address. A sudden reduction in the volume of mail can be a clue to this.

    Related to this as well, you should have your family removed from junk mailing lists.

  • You should routinely shred all unneeded paper documents containing personal information — old bills, pay stubs, bank statements, tax forms, receipts, personal letters, etc. — because identity thieves have been known to search garbage to find the personal information which may appear there: this information is far more detailed than anything which may appear on this site. Personal shredders are readily available and inexpensive.

    Note that, for this to be effective, you should not leave receipts behind when you use credit cards or bank machines: you cannot shred what you do not have.

    You should likewise destroy any media you discard — e.g. diskettes and CDs — which contain personal information.

    You should also destroy the contents of any hard drives in PCs which you discard or give to someone else.

  • You should not use credit cards, since identity thieves can forge cards in your name. If you do have credit cards, check your statements carefully for purchases you did not make, and do not use your credit cards for Internet purchases from companies you do not know are trustworthy.

  • You should not post personal information on social networking sites, for example on FaceBook.

  • You should have software on your PCs to check for spyware and other malware which might harvest personal information for criminals. Malware can infect your PCs and harvest files which contain personal or confidential information. Malware can also capture user names, passwords, credit card numbers, and other information you enter at websites.

    You should consider having a PC which is not connected to the Internet, for tasks which do not need the Internet: for example, typing letters, managing finances, and doing taxes.

  • You should not use open, insecure wireless networks when you use portable computers or smartphones. Identity thieves can monitor your communications and extract passwords, account numbers, credit card numbers, and any other information being communicated wirelessly.

  • You should conceal your true identity whenever possible, for example when using the Internet to communicate with people you do not know, or with organizations you do not fully trust: in many jurisdictions it is legal to assume a false identity so long as you do not use it for legal documents or illegal purposes.

    One tactic is to pick email addresses, usernames, and passwords which do not reflect your true identity. Another tactic is to use a pseudonym when you communicate with others using Internet technologies such as chat rooms, bulletin boards, and user groups. A third tactic is to supply misleading information when it does not matter if the information is incorrect: e.g. to claim a different age, sex, or nationality, to confuse criminals about your true identity.

    These tactics can be combined to create an avatar, or multiple avatars: the word avatar is used today to refer to an artifical persona which people adopt when playing computer games, but it could also refer to an artifical identity which you adopt when dealing with people you cannot be sure are worthy of your trust; your avatars can become a shield between you and the outside world, protecting true personal information which you do not wish to reveal to others.

  • You should not allow notices to be published in newspapers or other publications when someone in your family is born, marries, dies, or otherwise deserves public notice or acclaim, since such notices include personal details which could be harvested by criminals intent on identity theft. This even includes informal publications such as: school bulletins, honours lists, and annuals; church notices and records; and newsletters produced by organizations in your community. Court action may be required to ensure compliance, which can be costly, and may not be successful. ;-)

    You must also be concerned with information published in the past. Newspapers, magazines, and other publications keep archives of their older publications: these archives are often called morgues. Because these archives are often available to the public — sometimes over the Internet — they can make a lot of personal information available to anyone, including identity thieves. You should locate personal information in such archives, and order the publishers to remove the information. Court action will be required to enforce compliance, which can be costly, and may not be successful. ;-)

  • You should search the Internet for all personal information which might be about people in your family, for example, search the Internet for all pages containing names which are similar to names of members of your family. You should then determine which pages actually refer to members of your family, and order the search engines to stop indexing these pages, and/or order the makers of the pages to remove the information. Court action may be required to enforce compliance, which can be costly, and may not be successful. ;-)

    You should similarly search for photographs of family members, and order that they be expunged.

    Unless the names of your family members are very uncommon, you will likely have to read tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of pages. For example, one person who demanded that their information be removed from this site had their name listed by the Yahoo search engine on more than 94,000 pages: most of those named on these pages were surely other people with similar names; it would take some time for that person to go through all the pages to identify the very few pages which actually refer to him. Indeed, part of the reason why pages in genealogical sites are not a significant risk, is that these pages are, like needles in a haystack, buried in an enormous mass of other pages, making it extremely difficult and time-consuming for identity thieves to match information to specific individuals: thieves are lazy; they won’t do a lot of work when they see ways of getting more with less effort.

You should be prepared to spend the rest of your life, all of your money, and a large portion of your afterlife, accomplishing the above. But it will be worth it: you will have no money or other valuables left for thieves to steal; and you can bask in the confidence that you have achieved the anonymity which you crave so much.