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When you're working with someone in a store or on the phone, what do you say when they ask for your name, address, phone number, zip code, number of children, annual income, etc? Hopefully your response is, "Why do you need that information?" followed by "I'd rather not provide that, thank you" (or sometimes in spectacular fashion).
Here are some specific pieces of data you'll commonly be asked for and tips for protecting them in cases where just "not providing" the information won't work:
Protect Your Name
You might be wondering why not just use your real name. Here are several reasons (though there are certainly many more):
- Anonymous blogging – Many bloggers and online writers don't use their real names because they don't want what they post to come back on them. This is fine, but if you do it, be sure the things you say don't reveal enough information to identify you indirectly.
- Writing a book – They even have a name for this: "non de-plume" or "pen name". There are lots of reasons why an author might want to hide their identity when writing a book.
- Checking into a hotel – It's common practice for famous people to use fake names in hotels, but that doesn't mean you can't benefit from it too.
- Ordering food – In places where they call your name, why broadcast it to whoever is around? Besides, Jeremy sounds like Jerry, Terry, Mary, Barry, and every other "arry" name in the universe over those scratchy loudspeakers. Using a name like Vladimir or Rasputin is more fun and easier to hear all at the same time.
Use a PO Box
Post Office boxes are cheap and a great way to give out a mailing address to just about anyone without having to give away the location of your home.
Using decoy addresses
In some cases, you will have to provide information to get service. For example, if you buy something online, you have to give them an address to ship it to. Try convincing a neighbor to accept packages for your or maybe talk to your boss about receiving personal packages at work.
Another instance is where you are trying to get directions using an online map service. Don't put in your address! Use your zip code instead. Chances are that you know the general area around your house and don't need to be told the first five turns to get to the major road where your trip really begins.
Give an e-mail address instead
If you think they have a legitimate interest in contacting you, but you don't think it warrants the right to instantly connect with you via phone, give out an e-mail. And, of course, make sure you give them your disposable secondary e-mail address, not your main e-mail address depending on the situation.
Use your work phone
If you are not prohibited from doing so, you may want to take calls relating to an order or other professional service at the place where you'll be all day anyway.
Use Google Voice (or similar)
As of the writing of this article, Google has a function that lets you create a phone number with them (for free) and give it out to people. Besides allow you to then change your cellphone number in the future without worry (some people keep the same bad plan forever just to keep the number), you have several controls on incoming calls and being able to sort or block them.
Things like information about your family (spouse, kids, etc), annual income, work place, personal history, and such are things I would hope I wouldn't have to tell you to protect. But then again, when was the last time you saw one of those web forms that asks questions like "your pet's name", "the name of your high school", "your father's middle name" in case they need to reset your password? (remember never to give real information to challenge questions).
And when someone you're talking to in person or on the phone asks you a question that you don't really want to answer, the best tip I've heard was to ask them in return, "Why do you want to know?" while smiling innocently. This forces them to come up with some kind of response to justify their nosiness.
Protect your trash
Don't make it easy for people to rob you. Haven't you ever seen a box like this on the curb and thought, "Huh. The Smiths got a new plasma." Thieves see just as well as you do. Come Christmas time, it's pretty easy for them to drive through the neighborhoods and pick targets based on their trash.
Remember to always dispose of trash in a way that doesn't call attention to you. Put it in front of a neighbor's house instead; someone you hate preferably (ok, I'm only kidding on that one).
Bills and letters
You should never just throw away documents with your valuable data on it. Do you really think people won't go through icky trash to make a mint off your personal data? Shredding is good, but the larger the paper that comes out, the more likely it is that someone will be able to easily piece it back together.
Right now, the only shredders that come close to obliterating your documents is a "Microcut" shredder. They tend to me more expensive, but worth it for the security.
Check out my Shredders and Shredding guide for more information.