If you’re like three-quarters of Americans you take part in the annual ritual of spring cleaning, according to research from the American Cleaning Institute. The places that top your list for dusting off or sprucing up include the bedroom (76%), kitchen (73%), bathroom (69%), family room (61%) and dining room (45%).
Well, I’ve got another few targets to add to that list: How about spring cleaning your desktops (both real and virtual), your wallet and your online presence as a way to protect yourself from identity theft. Nearly 8.5 million people that were victims of a data breach in 2014 were also victims of fraud, according to a survey from Javelin Strategy and Research sponsored by LifeLock. That’s not a trend that’s going away any time soon. But while it’s tough to protect yourself from becoming someone whose data is pilfered, there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of a data heist turning into full-blown identity theft. Here’s what you’ll want to do.
Desktop: Is your desk in open sight? Could someone walking past see information that – when combined with stolen data like a Social Security Number – be used to impersonate you for the purposes of getting credit or a job. The more data points a smart id theft can compile on you, the better a shot he or she has at success. And while you’re tackling the front of your desk, you might as well hit your files. Clean out any documents you no longer need and run them through a shredder. It’s particularly important to destroy anything that might have a birthdate, PIN, password or SSN on it.
Computer Desktop: Update any files that need updating (do this on your phone as well). Updates often have new security measures that you won’t get if you don’t push the trigger. Make sure your firewalls are working and that your anti-virus software is up to date. Then go through and delete files and apps you’re no longer using. Not only do they take up precious memory, they’re a hassle to have to wade through. Research from UCLA found that clutter causes a spike in the stress hormones of women. I know that for me, this is definitely true of computer clutter, as well. Oh, and empty the trash.
Social Media Presence: The more information you make available online via your social networks, the more likely it can be used to, again, create a fuller profile of you offline. Take the time to scrub your accounts to get rid of things like pets names, mother’s maiden names, birthdates, mother’s birthdates, etc. Be similarly careful about how much you reveal about where you are. You cancel the newspapers when you’re going on vacation not just because you don’t want to be charged for them but so that a stack of them in the driveway doesn’t announce the fact that you’re away. So, why would you announce it virtually? Post your pix after you return.
Wallet: The commercials ask, “What’s in your wallet?” It’s a great question. If you’re carrying around checks, your Social Security Card, or a cheat-sheet of passwords or PINS, you shouldn’t be. t’s also a good idea to pare down simply so that if your wallet is ever stolen, there will be fewer steps to take in cleaning up the mess. Put the items you’re not using in a home safe or other top-secret secure location.