Feature Article
Mark Pribish
How to Protect Your Personal Information from the Internet and Database Marketing
By Mark Pribish
Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader

This morning (October 18, 2010) I read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal (please see here) on how Facebook users' personal information via popular applications (or "apps") was being transmitted to advertising and Internet tracking companies.

I was particularly interested in learning that FarmVille (a virtual farm game for children and adults) was one of the applications that exposed the personal information of a user. Since I have a 7th grader who is a regular FarmVille user – I am especially interested to learn if her very strict privacy setting on Facebook has prevented her user information from being exposed.

While I am not surprised about companies that build detailed databases on people in order to track them online – I am surprised by how aggressive companies have become in tracking the user information of children and students.

And to be fair, the tracking of customer/user information by organizations is common practice and has been a marketing strategy for years. This is called Database Marketing (data mining) where a systematic approach to the gathering, consolidating, and processing of consumer data (both for customers and potential customers) is maintained in the database(s) of a business or organization.

The database marketing strategy requires consumer data to be retained and maintained – and that data is used in sophisticated ways in which marketers analyze the data to learn more about consumers, select target markets (e.g. demographic segmentation based on age, income, buying habits, etc.) to provide more specialized offerings for consumers.

For example: associations, credit card companies, credit bureaus, financial institutions, grocery store loyalty cards, insurance companies, magazine companies, travel and hotel loyalty card companies sell more information about you (and family members) than you can ever imagine. When database marketing is used accurately and responsibly it can serve the interests of both businesses and consumers.

At the same time, your Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is at risk of being lost/stolen and misused at any given time based on the thousands of data breach events that have taken place over the last five years from the very companies and industry groups mentioned above.

Since your personal information can be used to uniquely identify, contact, or locate a single person (e.g. you or a family member) and can be used in combination with other sources to uniquely identify a single individual (again, you or a family member), your risk of ID Theft and fraud increases each time your personal information is transmitted to advertising and Internet tracking companies.

Based on the above, here are some tips regarding the Internet, social engineering, social media and database marketing:

Internet Search Engines - where your risk of ID Theft and fraud increases when your search engine request include words like "FREE" and "MP3" in the same search query. In addition, computer hackers use words like free in order to infect your personal computer with malicious software.

Social Media - according to the June 2010 Consumer Reports Magazine, there are seven tips, "7 things to stop doing now on Facebook" (please see here). Consumer Reports also found that 52 percent of adult users of social networks such as Facebook and MySpace have posted risky personal information online and 23 percent of the users of Facebook, the largest social network, either didn't know the site offered privacy controls or chose not to use them.

Social Engineering - takes place when individuals knowingly lie, cheat, or steal their way past your personal or professional relationships' (e.g. employer, doctor, dentist, financial institution, insurance company, school system, social media, utility, etc.) security controls. It also takes place when individuals with access to your personal information unknowingly give up your personal information. Either by not paying attention or being irresponsible with your personal information.

Database Marketing - consumers need to be reminded that whenever you (or family members) enter a contest at the grocery store (to win a free car) or enter a contest online to win free tickets to the World Series or Super Bowl, that your information (along with your children's information) is being sold not once or twice, but multiple times to multiple organizations.

To conclude, take care with social media. Do not give up your personal information. Many adults and students put themselves at risk by posting full birth dates, street addresses, photos of children (with names), and vacation schedules (e.g. when they are away from home).

Take care on the Internet, as ID Theft thieves are constantly searching for your personal information by way of phishing and email scams, hackers and malware infections, and scams where if it is too good to be true, it most likely is.

Finally, take care when you choose to enter a contest or join a loyalty program - and make sure the company or organization that you are giving information to is legitimate and has the history and security controls in place to be responsible with your personal information.

To learn more about these threats and how to protect yourself and your family from Identity Theft, you can read my past newsletters at the Merchants Identity Theft Educational Website at www.idtheftedu.com.


Scam Central

Job Offer Scam

In the current economy, being out of work for any length of time is a painful experience. Finding a job can be a lengthy and frustrating process. However, as frustrating as it may be to find a job to apply for, it must be even more frustrating to know that commonly there are several other individuals applying for the same position. So for someone that has been unemployed for an extended period of time, the promise of a guaranteed position must be as refreshing as a light rain shower in the middle of the desert on a hot summer day. Finally, you've found a job! Not so fast - scammers are now targeting desperate job seekers.

How It Works:

You may see an advertisement guaranteeing a job within a promising organization. The job listing says there is some certification or other training required or an application fee involved. Once payment for the fee has been received, the position is yours. And if for some reason you are not happy with the job or change your mind, the money will be fully refunded. The only problem is, this is not a real job offer. Instead, this is a scam advertisement posted by a thief who is making the same promise of employment to all who are willing to pay the upfront fee. After collecting several "application" or "certification" fees, the scammer simply takes down the advertisement and vanishes with whatever money they have collected.

Your Defense:

Avoid responding to any advertisement which requires an up-front fee in order to be accepted for a position of employment. No matter how desperate for a job you may be, you should be aware that no company would require you to pay a fee simply to be considered for a job opening, much less guarantee you a job. We all must go through the application process, have our qualifications reviewed, and of course be interviewed.

While it is true that there are many costs involved with hiring new employees (background checks, drug screening, etc.), nearly every legitimate organization should be willing to spend this money to ensure they hire individuals with integrity, who are qualified. If there are any costs associated with training, certifications etc., which you will actually be responsible for, this should be clearly disclosed during the interview process or when a job offer is extended. By that point you will certainly already know if the company is legitimate.

If you believe your identity has been stolen, call 866.SMART68 today.