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For Seniors: Understand Your Internet Exposure

Many people think that if they aren't active online, their information isn't exposed. But you aren't the only one sharing your information. Consider how those in your life might expose your information:

  • Employers: Many employers share information about employees. Consider carefully how much information you're comfortable with sharing through, for instance, an employee bio posted on your company website. How much information should be visible to other employees on your intranet?

    When you attend a conference, is the attendee list shown in online conference documents? And even if you're retired, there may still be information about you on your former employer's website. Review the site to determine if it reveals more than you'd like it to — and ask your employer to take down or alter the information if needed.

  • Government agencies: Some agencies post personal information, such as documents concerning your home purchase and property tax, on publicly available websites. Government agencies may also post birth, marriage, and death certificates, and these documents may contain your Social Security Number, loan number, copies of your signature, and so on. You should check government records carefully to see if private information is posted — if so, demand that it be removed.

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  • Family members and friends: They may write about you in their blogs or social networking sites or mention you on revealing special-interest sites, such as those focused on genealogy.

  • Clubs and organizations: Organizations with whom you volunteer, the church you attend, and professional associations you belong to may reveal facts such as your address, age, income bracket, and how much money you’ve donated.

  • Newspapers: If you've been featured in a newspaper article, you may be surprised to find the story, along with a picture of you or information about your work, activities, or family, by doing a simple online search. If you’re interviewed, ask for the chance to review the information that the newspaper will include, and be sure that you're comfortable with exposing that information.

  • Online directories: Services such as whitepages.com or anywho.com list your landline phone number and address, unless you specifically request that these be removed. You may be charged a small fee associated with removing your information — a so-called privacy tax — but you may find the cost worthwhile.

    Online directories often include the names of members of your family, your e-mail address, the value of your home, your neighbors' names and the values of their homes, an online mapping tool to provide a view of your home, driving directions to your home, and your age.

    The record may also include previous addresses, schools you’ve attended, and links for people to run background checks on you. A smart con person can use all that information to convince you that he's a friend of a friend or even a relative in distress who needs money.

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Because services get new information from many sources, you'll need to check back periodically to see if your information has again been put online — if it has, contact the company or go through their removal process again.

Try entering your home phone number in any browser's address line; chances are that you’ll get an online directory listing with your address and phone number (although this doesn't work for cellphone numbers).

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