The police department frequently receives calls in reference to Identity Theft.  Online privacy is a difficult and complex issue that we face in our technologically advanced life styles.  Below we discuss some of the pitfalls to watch for, and options for those social media and smartphone applications that may go unnoticed from our day to day online activities.




Personal information has been a protected resource for all of us with the increases in Identity Theft.

With the development of new database driven websites, as well as the advancement of search-based web technologies, personal information is now more readily available than ever before.

Identity theft is at an all-time high.  Anyone with a smart phone or Internet connection can learn where you live, who you bank through, and other private information.

Some forms of identifying information have been available for decades:  marriage and divorce records; property tax rolls; census statistics; voter registration, all of which we have very little control over unless laws are changed.

However, the information we place onto the Internet can be controlled.  If we stop and think about the accounts we create on line, the information we place on social networking, or forms we fill out, we add to the very data bases that we are being victimized with.

Have you ever shared your name, home address, phone number or even your date of birth or social security number to an online shopping website, sweepstakes or survey?  How about social networking and media sites?  What about you’re your exact location as you walk through the mall, notifying your “friends” of your location.

Prior to the Internet, public records and personal information that was available by law was stored in paper form at a court house, public offices, or other governmental agency tasked with collecting and disseminating the information.  Now, all of your personal information is available on the Internet and can be obtained from any device that is capable of connecting to the Internet.  Public Records Act(s) and various other forms of legislation make these records available to provide citizens the opportunity to monitor the government.  This includes how the government collects and spends tax revenue, what public agencies are using the money, and how the government is awarding contracts to winning bidders.

However, these public records remained obscure due to the sheer volume of information and the inability to make these records easily available and search-able.  Obviously, web based databases and the computer capabilities of today have changed everything.

Database technology enables all of the past written forms of information to be digitized.  This makes cataloging the information into search-able media that is easily found online.  Because of these advertisers, businesses and even criminals have an easily search able list of information that they can exploit.

An example of this is when you buy a home.  The information is public record.  Brokers are willing to pay for this information and resell it to other companies that will use it for direct marketing campaigns.

Company “A” conducting routine business purchases the Counties database of the latest home sales for the year.  The information is entered into their databases and now you begin receiving mailings about refinancing your home from multiple brokers.

How many credit card applications do you receive a week?  Credit Card companies and banks also sell your information to other businesses.  These businesses then use your information to solicit their services.

Public information is not the only way our personal information is released.  How does “Google” or “Yahoo” know to display your picture or name when a search is initiated?  These websites use online tracking programs that keep track of what you do online, what you post on social networking devices, and the information you search for.

Did you know…?

Some Mobile Apps on Smart phones have geo-tagging metadata to locate and target you with advertisements.  Ever wonder how the ads on “words with friends” or “angry birds” know where your local hardware store is to display on your phone?  Some Apps even display your location to other persons with similar interests, hobbies or dating preferences.  When you receive the prompt “this app would like to use your location” during the set up process, your decision is important.


Social Media:  The most underestimated leak of personal information.

When you register for Facebook©, Google+©, and other social networking websites they ask for your complete name, date of birth, hobbies, interests, etc..  This has the same implications as discussed above.  Brokers and advertisers pay for this information, conduct surveys of the compiled data to target specific population groups for marketing.

Social media is a great way to stay connected to friends and family around the world.  But never forget the information placed on the Internet is open targets for businesses, prospective employers and even criminals.

Look at a picture you post, or a piece of personal information given to a website as a “bullet”.  Once it is “fired”, or placed into the www (World Wide Web) it will never return.  But, the bullet will always be able to be found, even if it is deleted off of your computer.  An example would be a college student posts a picture of him / herself intoxicated at a party.  The day after the party they realize the picture was not appropriate and delete it from their account.  Unfortunately, four people or “friends” already have saved it and posted it on their social media profile.  An employer sees the post and fires the individual for violating company policies.  Or a potential employer sees the information years later and uses it to avoid hiring the individual.

So many children are victimized time and time again by predators that post a picture that is placed in a database accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.  Think of it as a virus that starts with one person, and spreads time and time again as it is passed from one person to the other.

Privacy settings are very important to understand before posting information or creating accounts.  When you see settings that say “public” or “open”, anyone in the world with an Internet connection can see the information you are posting.

Ask yourself this question when you consider social media “friends” or friend requests; “if you would not invite a stranger into your home for dinner, why would you invite a “friend” or a stranger into your home online”.

Remember that criminals have computers too.  If you are posting pictures of your vacation, they know you’re not home.  I have seen people time and time again tag themselves on vacation, revealing their exact location at a restaurant or tourist attraction in other States or Country.

So this brings us to, how can I secure my data?

If you cannot avoid sharing, be smart about the information you provide.

Unsolicited email or other resources requesting data that you did not initiate should be avoided.  If someone calls you on the phone, you would not give them your name, date of birth or social security number.  Unsolicited requests for this information online should be denied.

Use privacy settings installed on web browsers and social media sites.  Keep your privacy setting set to “private” and do not permit individual who are not “friends” see the information.  Lock down your social media profiles and do not “friend” individuals you do not know.

Secure your smart phone.  Make sure you set up a password to access your phone and download an antivirus application from your app store.  Turn off your geo-locator features on your phone for apps.


Protecting your personal information may seem difficult.  However, vigilance in who we provide our information to, and how and when it is released will help us in securing it.

Share →