Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

In the last couple of years, I have seen a couple of friends fight through identity theft problems. I have to admit that their experience has changed my take on PII and being so lax when it comes to protecting the information.

First, I did a little digging as to just what is considered PII. While many of us immediately jump in with our Social Security Number (SSN), I don’t know if that is really considered PII anymore. However, I am not about to suggest that you give it out. So, let’s go through a few:

  • Full Name – Well, this might seem crazy, but think about it. How many friends know your full name, including middle name? While it is a matter of public record, it isn’t well known. Also, many of us use shortened names (nicknames) in our everyday lives.
  • Address – This is also publically available information, but it is also used as a means of proving identity.
  • Phone Number – With the advent of cellular phone numbers, this is not as easy to get as it used to be in the past. BTW, what happened to the white pages that they put on out on our front door steps every year? Well, nobody uses them anymore as everything is online, and it is easier to find somebody online that in a big thick book. When talking about phone numbers, there is the old fashioned landline home number and there is the new cellular phone number as well as other phone numbers that we might have through online services such as Skype and Google Voice.
  • Mother’s Maiden Name – This is a very common one when it comes to a means of proving our identity online and on the phone. Yet, it is also very easy to get through public records.
  • Name of the Street Where You Grew Up – This is used more and more by companies as a means of proving identity.
  • Name of Your First Pet (also Favorite Pet) – Another new one used by companies to prove your identity.
  • Name of the City Where You Were Born – Again, often used, but easy to research and find in public records.
  • Name of Your First School – Another new one used by companies to prove your identity. BTW, this is a pretty tough one to find in public records.
  • Email Address – This one can be pretty good if you have multiple email addresses and only use a particular one when working with finances. Personally, I have 23 different email addresses. I know, it is overkill, but it is also nice when it comes to protecting which one I use for finances.

It really annoys me when I call a company and enter my account information and then they start in with the twenty questions treatment. However, I recognize that they are only trying to protect my account against fraudulent use. They need to be comfortable knowing that they are talking to the right person.

Now, looking at the above information, it is pretty clear that we really don’t have a great deal of PII that is really safe from those that would try to steal our identities or even just get into some of our accounts and steal our money. Very little of our PII is really private anymore.

Suggestions:

This is a tough one. I have been contacting all of the companies that I work with and asking if they have the ability to use a special password to access my accounts when calling into their call centers. Obviously, most of them have passwords that help protect online accounts, and many of them require use of secret questions (see above) when accessing their online services. I have even noticed a couple of my credit cards have started setting cookies on my computer and then asking me lots of questions if I try to access their service from any other computer than my standard computer.

I strongly recommend pushing back when people ask for information that they don’t need.

I had a long talk with my Dentist the other day because of his sign-in sheet. They wanted my name, phone number, email, and address when I signed in. I understand that the goal was to see when information has changed, but he didn’t understand that having it all written down on a sheet that others can read and access is crazy. After our talk about the privacy of patients and how important it is to protect PII, he removed the sign-in sheet.

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