It happens to celebrities every day all over the world: paparazzi photographers appear out of nowhere to snap pictures, ask questions and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Just how they get their information on the whereabouts of the rich and famous are closely guarded secrets. But dumpster diving, paying informants and taking advantage of people’s carelessness – and human nature – are all part of the toolbox when it comes to compromising identity security.
Most people don’t realize just how easy it is to obtain private information. If you know what you’re doing and if you are persistent and unscrupulous enough, it’s possible to get all kinds of information on practically anyone. The good news is that there are some simple things that everyone can do make it harder for the bad guys to get what they’re looking for.
1. Don’t throw away anything that has your name (or other personal info) on it
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Especially if it contains names, birthdates, social security/ID numbers, signatures, street or email addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information. Paparazzi photographers know this – but so do identity thieves and industrial spies.
So remember to err on the side of caution. Collect everything that contains your personal information – including receipts and even junk mail – and shred it. This includes all those papers you end up tossing into the hotel room garbage can: save it and shred it. Once garbage is put out for collection, it turns into public property.
2. Don’t leave sensitive materials where they can be stolen – or photographed and copied
You know you shouldn’t leave valuables anywhere where they can be stolen. But you’d be surprised to learn how many people leave them where they can easily be photographed. Just today, I happened to walk by a car in our parking lot and saw someone’s travel itinerary lying on the front passenger’s seat in plain view. Think you’re the only one with a smart phone in your pocket? Think again.
Don’t be that someone, and don’t make it easy for hotel staff or others to copy your credit card, passport or other sensitive documents. Keep them with you, or keep them safely somewhere else.
3. Do protect your phone, tablet and computer from theft – use the password protection function – and be ready to wipe clean if stolen
Our devices contain all kinds of sensitive information that we really don’t want to share. So don’t make it convenient for others to gain access to them.
First, make sure they aren’t easy to pickpocket or steal. Don’t keep your phone in a back pocket. Keep tablets and laptops in a zipped bag, and when you’re in a crowd, keep the bag in front of you with the flaps toward your body. Second, make it hard for a thief to get into your device by protecting it with a password. Third, be sure to enable wiping your devices clean, remotely, if they are stolen. How to do this varies by device, but the functionality is available for practically any PC or Mac, iPhone, Android or Windows phone or tablet.
4. Don’t use your name in hotels unless/until you have to
It’s your identity, and it’s OK to be stingy with it – especially at busy public places like hotels.
Many of our VIP clients never use their real names when they book a hotel room. They either use an alias to book, then check in with their actual name (“the room is reserved in the name John Smith, but I’d like to check in”). Or they have us, as their executive protection firm, take care of the whole thing so all we need to do is show up together – which we do anyway.
Another thing we think about at hotels and conference centers is agendas and schedules. These often include the names of high-profile individuals along with detailed information on when they will be where. These can be widely distributed throughout the hotel to catering and conference staff, drivers and who knows else. If you really want to be sure that you don’t get bothered by the wrong people, then make two agendas; distribute the real one on a strictly need-to-know basis; distribute the false one more generally.
5. Don’t let your good mood get the best of your common sense
Sometimes our enthusiasm is our own worst enemy. In our eagerness to share some great news or plan the next big move, we end up revealing things we should have kept to ourselves.
Did you just happen to run into a friendly stranger after a big meeting, someone who’s intelligently curious about your business and easy to talk to? In can be at a hotel bar or at an airport lounge. It can seem totally harmless to drop a bit of information to someone who works in a completely different field. But don’t let your good spirits diminish your good sense. Go ahead and talk about the weather or sports, but maintain a healthy skepticism about disclosing sensitive information – even when there is no apparent risk of it going any further.
As for discussing negotiation tactics for an important meeting while on a plane: you’ve no doubt overheard all kinds of interesting (and uninteresting) conversations yourself. Why make it easy for others to hear about your plans? And how do you know who’s sitting in the row behind you?
We hope you can make use of these tips. Do you have any to add?