The Easy Way to Maintain Your Privacy in America
Over the past 15 years, Americans have enjoyed stunning technological improvements to their lives...
E-mail, social networks, satellite radio, Internet, and smartphones have reshaped our society.
Most people can't go a day without coming into contact with these technologies... and we're all aware of their benefits.
But what most Americans aren't aware of is how these technologies have left us stunningly vulnerable to government overreach, unethical corporate monitoring, and worse, dishonest thieves. Technology today has made it easier than ever to track you and steal your personal information.
Without realizing it, you're disseminating almost every detail of your life to entities that can and will use this information against you.
Fortunately, every American can employ a few simple techniques to reduce his exposure to these serious privacy threats. In this special report, I'll identify these threats and show you simple countermeasures you can use right now. They'll help you keep your personal information as safe as possible.
But first, you might wonder why I'm so worried about protecting your privacy from the technology we use every day. Longtime readers know I can't stand the fear-mongering the mainstream media use to get attention. However, in this instance, if you're not worried, you should be...
Privacy Is a Thing of the Past
Recently, a good buddy of mine and some of his friends were fishing in the Florida Keys. They were on two boats a mile or so apart. It was early in the morning, and there was not another boat for miles.
The guys on one of the boats had forgotten to pick up ice for the day. As they drew closer together, they signaled to their friends on the other boat about the predicament. The two boats backed themselves stern to stern so the men on the boat with the ice could toss over a few large bags to their buddies.
They thought nothing of it... But within minutes, an armed Coast Guard cutter appeared on the scene. The officers asked them all kinds of questions and shadowed them for the rest of the day.
Because a group of guys tossing large bags from one boat to another, sitting stern to stern, looks an awful lot like a drug meet, right?
The real question is, how did the Coast Guard see these guys?
The fishing buddies never made radio contact. They never made a phone call. The only way the Coast Guard officers could have seen what was going on was if they were monitoring the boats with drones or satellites. That's frightening... and this type of surveillance will only increase in the coming years.
The Federal Aviation Administration has already authorized 20 states and 24 universities to fly remotely piloted "drones" in U.S. skies to spy, take photos, etc. And according to a source quoted in Bloomberg News, "The federal government has already allocated billions [of dollars] for these, and state and local governments will follow."
Yes, the military uses the same type of miniature flying machines to spy on enemy movements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ten years ago, using this technology on U.S. citizens was unthinkable.
We expect the National Security Agency and the government to spy on foreign countries... sure... but not on us.
Of course, corporate America is doing its part to essentially end privacy in America, too...
Did you know that Apple was recently granted a patent that allows it to disable the camera in iPhones, with the simple flip of a switch?
The story went mostly unreported in the mainstream press, but a little blurb did appear in the September 17, 2012 issue of the International Business Times.
Imagine if the government or the company itself doesn't want something filmed... It could simply flip a switch and disable all cameras in all iPhones located in a certain area.
And that's not all...
There was a report about secret tests at a Wal-Mart store where "radio-frequency identification" (RFID) tags were inserted in packages of lipstick, so they could track customers' movements.
CVS Pharmacy sold private information about what kinds of prescriptions its customers were taking... just so drug companies could improve their marketing.
Everything you eat, watch, buy, and do is being tracked, cataloged, and used by the government to spy on you and by big companies to market to you more effectively.
As one former tire company executive recently stated: "If you show us what you buy, we can tell you who you are, maybe even better than you know yourself."
And yes, the government and corporate America are totally in this together. And of course, it's all being done to keep us "safe"...
Well, we are not safe. With our aggregated privacy data easily accessible, we are more vulnerable than ever before. And trust me, the criminals know it.
Thieves are getting much cleverer and bolder. Last year, the FBI issued a warning about how thieves are stealing identities and using the personal information to take out mortgages in other people's names – even filing fake papers to steal people's homes.
In Los Angeles, a man defrauded more than 100 homeowners. The amount of money missing was more than $12 million.
I don't know if you've heard about this yet, but you actually have more to worry about with identity theft than the money and the hundreds of hours it will take you to get the situation properly resolved... Some completely innocent people who have had their identities stolen are actually getting locked up in jail.
You're probably wondering how that is possible.
Basically, the explosion of identity theft has made it super easy for a criminal to use someone else's identity when they get arrested. And once police book a criminal under a fake name, it can be a problem for the identity theft victim for life. That's because so many agencies now share databases... and these agencies are reluctant to take a name out once it's been added.
I saw a story in 2012 about a Wisconsin man who has been arrested several times because a criminal stole his identity and gave it to police when he was arrested.
As a result, the innocent man has spent several nights in jail... been handcuffed face down on the side of the highway... lost his job... was denied government benefits... had his driver's license taken away... and nearly had his children taken away by Child Protective Services.
Without realizing it, you're disseminating almost every detail of your life to entities that can and will use this information against you...
Privacy: Where Your Main Vulnerabilities Lie
Three powerful forces have collided to create the ideal conditions for privacy violations...
First, government programs and regulations have formed the foundation of a massive tracking grid for all individuals. Identification tags like Social Security numbers, passports, and drivers' licenses are almost inescapable in today's society. Beyond this, the government has passed laws that give it sweeping "snooping" authority... It can now legally peer deeper into our daily lives than ever before.
Second, corporations want to know as much as possible about their customers. They use this data for research and development of new products and services, as well as for marketing these goods. The government also forces them to hand over certain records of their customers' transactions. In essence, banks, Internet service providers, airlines, car-rental agencies, cell-phone companies, and more have all become proxy agents of the government's domestic intelligence apparatus.
Third, we live in a hyper-connected technological age... and criminals know it. Smartphones, "cloud" computing, and credit cards have made it easier than ever to rob someone's resources... even his or her identity. This provides unprecedented opportunity for crooks to use your data against you in cases of fraud, blackmail, and even wrongful arrest.
As you may know, a lot of great research has been published on this subject. Our research team has crosschecked all the ideas you're about to read against multiple resources. One of S&A's researchers has years of experience working within the United States intelligence community. He knows more than a thing or two about surveillance… and has personally vetted all of the solutions contained within this report.
These days, it's impossible to build an impenetrable wall around your privacy. The good news is, a few simple steps can reduce your vulnerability. By following the suggestions below, you will have protected your privacy better than about 98% of the population. That should help anyone sleep better at night.
Part I: Government – Big Sister Is Watching You
Even if you don't recognize the name Janet Napolitano, I'm certain her face has gazed down at you from countless billboards, TV commercials, and even smartphone screens. Napolitano heads the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the organization created in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to consolidate most federal police forces.
DHS uses the powers granted to the government via the Patriot Act to inspect your banking transactions, restrict your ease of travel, and even monitor your routine actions out on the street. The undertones of Napolitano's media blitz – the one that has her face plastered everywhere – are hard to miss...
Big Sister is watching you.
Perhaps you may trust what your "public servants" in government are doing with your private data... But a mountain of data on every citizen presents an enticing target for all who would harm you. In the points that follow, I'll show you where the five major government-caused vulnerabilities in your privacy exist, and the best ways to "plug" these holes...
1. Passports. Since 2007, the U.S. State Department has issued passports with RFID chips inside them. The government added these chips in order to make the passports "more secure." Well, this may provide an added level of security for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but it blows a gaping hole in your individual privacy and security...
Now, anyone with an RFID reader device can access your passport information. This includes all of your biometric data and even your digital picture. And get this... RFID scanners have been shown to communicate with chips up to 100 feet away. It is an identity thief's dream.
But there is a solution...
You can block the RFID chip from connecting with any scanner device by cloaking the passport in a "secure sleeve." These sleeves shield the passport inside a metallic composite material. This prevents communication between the RFID chip and the scanner.
I've found "secure sleeves" for passports (as well as credit cards with internal RFID chips) on Amazon for $5 to $20. And if you don't want to buy the sleeves, you can do what I do and wrap your passport in aluminum foil. The result is the same.
The problem with using the sleeves is that you are still vulnerable to theft during the moment you give the passport to a customs agent. An identity thief loitering in the vicinity could steal your data. There is a solution to this problem as well... But beware, there are serious ramifications for this technique, as it's actually a federal crime.
Wired magazine posted details of how to disable your passport's RFID chip. An inoperable chip does NOT invalidate your passport. The problem is, tampering with a passport is a felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. If you are still curious to learn how it works, you can read the Wired article here.
I'm not worried about people and scammers loitering near border agents. But you should at least be aware of it.
2. A way around TSA's "unfriendly skies." The federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) changed passenger-screening policies in 2010. From then on, travelers were forced to submit to irradiating "full body scanners" that amount to a virtual strip search. These machines are so invasive, they were even held up for a time in the United Kingdom... The graphic images they provided violated the U.K.'s child pornography laws. And this doesn't even count the machines' harmful health effects.
If you're traveling through an airport and want to avoid the radiation exposure and the dehumanizing search, you can "opt out." In this case, you must endure an invasive "pat down" search, where a TSA screener lays hands all over your body.
It's hard to believe these degradations now happen in "the land of the free."
But there is a solution...
The TSA has initiated a "trusted traveler" program. It's called "TSA Pre-check." Travelers who enroll in the program must undergo a background check and pay a $100 fee. The background check lasts for five years.
After approval, Pre-check travelers can go through expedited screening lines about 80% of the time. These lines somewhat mimic the bygone days of air travel, including:
- Keeping shoes, belts, and light jackets on
- Leaving laptops and toiletry bags in carryon items
- Greatly reduced time in line (a recent Minneapolis screening took about 30 seconds)
Not every airport and every airline is a part of the program, but the number is growing. By the end of 2014, 11 airlines and 120 airports will participate in the program. Further expansion will happen throughout 2015.
Pre-check is not open to all passengers yet... but there is a "back door" way into the program. Travelers enrolled in the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) program called "Global Entry" are eligible for Pre-check. In fact, I've just recommended my brother and sister take advantage of this. You can learn more about both programs at www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck and www.cbp.gov/global-entry/about.
Participating in the Pre-check program is not a perfect solution. The TSA can still subject you to radiation scanning and/or pat downs. But your odds of having a simple travel experience are improved. For some, this is well worth the background check and application fee.
3. How to register your car in another name. "It's one of the most rapidly diffusing technologies that I've ever seen." That what a former police officer said about the new automatic license plate scanners sweeping through police departments across America. The scanners sit atop police cruisers and log the license plate number and location of every vehicle within the scanners' line of sight. This means logging the name and location of the vehicle's registered owner, too.
Over 70% of all large police departments use the technology. Private repossession firms and insurance companies are also using the scanners. Suffice it to say if you live and drive in a major metropolitan area, the government is tracking your movements... without you even knowing it.
But there is a solution...
You can title the car in the name of a limited liability company (LLC). Here's how:
- A New Mexico-chartered LLC is the best choice due to the state's privacy protections (you don't have to be a resident).
- Make sure the LLC is managed by a single member.
- List a ghost address as the principal place of business (doesn't have to be in NM).
- It costs about $100 to form the LLC and $100 for annual maintenance fees.
- The LLC name is not required to appear on a state or federal tax return.
- When you buy a vehicle, buy it with cash, normally from a private party.
The hardest part in this process may be establishing a "ghost address." In essence, a ghost address entails renting a mailbox from someone else. Examples might be a vacant commercial or office suite. Instead of getting zero cash flow from the vacancy, the property manager or owner might appreciate a small fee to let you use the address for the LLC's correspondence.
None of the processes listed above are illegal. Sure, they require a little more time and effort than a conventional vehicle purchase. So the question becomes... how much is your privacy worth to you?
4. How to get a new Social Security number. I noted earlier that the government's programs form the foundation for a universal tracking grid. And inside this grid, the tracking program par excellence is Social Security.
If your Social Security number falls into the wrong hands, you are in for a world of pain. Identity theft, credit destruction, and lingering trouble with law enforcement are just a few of the pitfalls.
But there is a solution...
The government does not want to issue replacement Social Security numbers. It undermines the tracking grid. However, the rule has three main exceptions. If you can prove...
- You have religious objections to certain numbers or digits
- You can provide evidence you are a victim of domestic violence or harassment
- You're a victim of identity theft
... you can get a new Social Security number.
If any of these applies to you, contact the Social Security administration to arrange for a new number. Click here to learn more about this process.
If you've been the victim of identity theft, getting a new Social Security number won't necessarily solve all your problems. Instead of having ruined credit, you will have no credit to speak of... and it will take time to build it up again.
If you do get a new number, do whatever you can to keep it under tight wraps from the beginning. Many organizations and people (from banks to landlords) will ask for your full Social Security number... but most do not have a legal right to demand it.
Always try to establish another identification number with the party. For example, if a landlord requests your Social Security number to run a credit check, offer three months of rent up front as a "bond" against credit risk. Be creative... suggest alternative solutions.
Always keep this in mind: Only supply your Social Security number when you have no other alternative.
5. How to beat facial recognition technology. I've already shown you how government uses your Social Security number as the core element of a massive tracking grid. It's the underlying basis to monitor your financial transactions, your business relationships, your medical history, your vehicles and property, and so much more.
But the Social Security number only provides a "paper trail." For more advanced, real-time surveillance, the government employs state-of-the-art technology. One of the most alarming is facial recognition software.
Facial recognition technology measures the distance between features like the eyes, nose, and mouth. And we're not talking about just a few key points... most programs compare around 45,000 unique points on the face. The average system then crosschecks this biometric data with the profiles of 13 million other faces... all in the blink of an eye.
Most people make the task of facial recognition even easier... they flood the web with their pictures. Social media websites like (the aptly named) Facebook and LinkedIn are chock full of "mug shots."
If you want more privacy, there is a solution...
The technology is not foolproof. Here are some ways to thwart facial recognition:
- Wear a low-lying hat
- Grow out facial hair
- Wear big, dark glasses
- Wear a clear plastic mask
- Put on dark eyeliner or "eye black" used by some athletes
- Comb hair strands down into your face
- Tilt your head more than 15 degrees to the side
- Attach LED infrared lights to eyeglasses or headwear
Now, some of these techniques will attract quite a bit of attention. They may even single you out for closer scrutiny. But on second glance, many of these techniques are more innocuous than they appear...
Some of these techniques try to cover up facial features. Beards and dark glasses do this without garnering extra attention. Other techniques attempt to distort the distances between measured facial points. A smiling face is markedly different from a deadpan facial structure. This is why we're told not to smile when taking ID photos.
I think the most ingenious technique of all is to utilize infrared lights. One 9-volt battery can power these for days on end. The bulbs are pea sized and emit no visual light... but to a facial recognition camera, bright streams of infrared light will cloud out a person's face.
Part II: Corporations and Commerce –
The Privacy 'Threat Matrix' Expands
We've identified government as the core of the privacy threat matrix. It "sets the table" for rampant privacy violations. Unfortunately, private companies and corporations are almost as bad as the government...
The cozy relationship between government snooping agencies and dominant corporations like Verizon and Google is bad enough in its own right. But where government snooping tends to impact your civil liberties the hardest, corporate privacy violations may have an immediate impact on your wallet.
The widespread use of credit cards, online banking, and smartphones has created several holes in your personal privacy "firewall." If this information falls into the wrong hands, your credit, even your savings, can get erased in a blink.
The good news is, protecting yourself from these risks is simple. Follow the suggestions below to keep your business, credit, and personal activities as secure as possible.
1. Slow, even freeze, your credit. In "the old days," credit was a two-part relationship between business and customer. Mutual trust grew with time... and with it, the issuance of credit to the customer.
The 1950s saw a new idea enter the credit market. Banks became a third-party middleman to the traditional two-party credit relationship. Businesses could outsource the responsibility of determining the customer's creditworthiness to the banks. Now, these businesses only had to assess the credit of the middleman. This reduced the businesses' risk and streamlined their efficiency.
The customers benefited, too. They found great convenience. They no longer needed to allow credit relationships to grow over time, on a case-by-case basiss.
And, of course, the banks made money coming and going, through transaction fees and by charging interest on unpaid balances.
The irony of this system is that its greatest strength (extreme efficiency) is at the same time its greatest weakness. The mass centralization of credit scores into just a few hands (there are only three credit rating bureaus) is dangerous. A negative blemish in one area of a person's credit sphere has the potential to cause a catastrophic loss of his creditworthiness to all businesses across the board.
The blemish could have been accidental (for example, a reporting error by one firm), or intentional (credit cards or whole identities stolen by thieves). It really doesn't matter how it occurs... the results are the same: You may be locked out of the credit markets for years. Even when you do regain some access to credit, your interest rates may remain sky high.
The average American does not realize how vulnerable his creditworthiness is... until it is too late.
But there is a solution...
You can limit, even freeze, the issuance of new credit under your name.
Limiting the issuance of new credit just means establishing an extra layer of credit security, across the board. You can do this by issuing a "fraud alert" for your credit. (You don't have to suspect your credit has already been hacked to do this.) It's free and takes less than two minutes to do. You'll even get a free update of your credit report in the process.
Once the fraud alert is active, lenders are to double check with you whenever new credit is requested and verify you did the asking. Here's how to set this up...
- Go to the website of any of the three credit-rating bureaus (Equifax, Transunion, or Experian)
- Search for "Fraud Alert"
- Submit the appropriate information
- Once the alert is active, it lasts for 90 days
- You can renew the alert every 90 days, indefinitely
- For active-duty military, the alert lasts one year, and can be renewed indefinitely
It's important to note that this measure does not stop the issuance of new credit... but it does make the process more accountable to you. It's a great, free way to establish an additional layer of credit security.
If a fraud alert doesn't give you enough peace of mind, you can take things a step further. You can place a freeze on any new credit issuance. This method is typically not free, but it does ensure that no lender will issue new credit in your name. It locks your credit profile and prevents any lender from accessing it.
The fee to freeze your credit profile is minimal and varies depending on the state in which you reside. It ranges from free to $10. The credit bureaus may charge to both "freeze" and "unfreeze" your profile. It takes a few business days for the changes to apply.
If you are in the market for a home or business loan, you may want to avoid doing this. But if you have no new credit needs, this technique brings great safety and peace of mind.
Search for "freeze" on any of the three credit bureaus' websites and follow their instructions.
2. Monitor your credit for free. Once again, in the old days, monitoring your credit was an annoying ordeal. You could pay someone to alert you to any changes for around $10 per month (some services charge more). And even then, you still had to pay extra to receive your "FICO" scores – the numbers lenders use to judge creditworthiness.
By law, you're entitled to receive your credit report for free, but only once per year. If you used an aggregated website to do this, you'd get all three bureaus' reports at the same time... and then not see them again for another 12 months. You'd have to cough up some money to peek again before the 12 months passed.
Twelve months is a long time not to know what is happening in your credit profile. One work around was to request a report from each bureau, every four months. But this still means 120 days passed without seeing what has transpired. In a world of one-click identity theft, 120 days might as well be a lifetime.
No more. There is a free service called CreditKarma. This service monitors your credit every day, and sends you an e-mail if it detects any significant change. It also creates a CreditKarma score similar to the FICO credit score.
The website also helps you do debt analysis and suggests how to improve your scores. It even extrapolates what type of interest rates to expect for various purchases like houses and vehicles. And again, this is all free.
With this tool, there's no excuse for anyone not to have a firm grip on his credit. You can check out their website here.
A similar service is called LifeLock. This company charges for many of the same things that CreditKarma does not. But LifeLock also boasts a $1 million guarantee if someone hijacks your credit or identity "on their watch." LifeLock charges between $10 and $30 per month, depending on the suite of services you order. You can visit its website here.
3. Get a temporary credit card number. Since paying with "plastic" is so commonplace, people can forget how vulnerable they are to credit card number (and identity) theft. Think about how easy it is to order a pizza with plastic. You need to give them the name on the card, the card number, the security code on the back, and the expiration date. Did the pizza parlor have any way of verifying this was really you?
Each time you use your card, you expose these critical details. Even if you did order the pizza, who says the clerk won't later use that data for himself?
But there is a solution...
You can get a temporary credit card number. Most major cards offer this service. Log onto your card's website and search for "temporary card number" or call them directly. They should be able to give you an alternative number to use for your next transaction.
Depending on the company and your own preferences, this number may be good for one transaction or for unlimited transactions up to a certain pre-determined date. You may also be able to set maximum credit amounts for this "virtual card."
One of my favorite ways to use a temporary card number is for limited, free trials. Let's say I get the first month free, but then must pay monthly after that. I can establish a temporary number that's good for one month only. Then, if I really want the service and trust the company, I can supply them with my regular payment details later.
Internet transaction king PayPal also offers this option. You can establish your own temporary PayPal numbers by looking under the "Profile" section of your account. Click the "secure cards" link and then select "generate new card." You can then specify rules for how you want to use your temporary "virtual" card.
4. Use your credit card to enhance your privacy. It's almost impossible to fly on a plane, stay in a hotel, or rent a car without a credit card anymore. Of course, this just provides more opportunities for malicious entities to decimate your privacy and steal your identity.
But there is a solution...
I've discovered a trick that will allow you to stay in a hotel using a credit card and no one will know you're there...
Credit card companies give you the ability to request multiple cards for one account. Parents add their children onto their own account in this way. But you can also add a "stage name" or "professional name" to your account... and use this when booking a hotel room.
When providing ID to the desk clerk, use your passport (for added security – it doesn't show your home address). If questioned why the card differs from your picture ID, just explain it is your business or professional name. There shouldn't be an issue.
I first learned of this trick when I read the great privacy masterpiece, How to be Invisible, by J.J. Luna. I recommend it to all those looking to "plug the holes" in their privacy firewalls. You can find out more about the book at Amazon here.
5. Credit cards and bank wires are not the only way to transfer money. Credit cards form a perfect paper trail for every person and every transaction. No wonder governments, banks, and corporations love them so much. I enjoy the anonymity of cash purchases, but those are becoming more and more difficult, as in our hotel example.
Many people believe electronic transfers of funds are the only alternative in today's environment.
But there is a solution...
You can send large sums of cash anywhere in the United States via the U.S. postal service. It's legal, it's safe, and it's inconspicuous... if you follow these easy steps:
- Go out and buy 50 business-size envelopes, 50 first-class stamps, and a magazine (one with lots of pictures is best)
- Wrap five $100 bills in one page of the magazine and seal them in an envelope
- Repeat 49 more times
- Do NOT place extra tape along the flap or do anything to make the envelope stand out
- Mail these from different post offices, over a few days, if possible
- Total Cost: around $25
- Total Cash Sent: $25,000
Privacy expert J.J. Luna has used this technique for over 25 years and has never lost one dollar in the process.
6. Global, anonymous "cash" transfers also exist. In the post 9/11 world, any transaction that happens outside of the banking system has been under attack. Heck, the government has even cracked down on little kids' lemonade stands. Of course, it's all being done in the name of "fighting terrorism." We can't have terrorists laundering money through little Suzy's lemonade stand now, can we?
Those with any degree of understanding know the real reason. Every exchange of goods or services is a "taxable event"... even barter. And our bankrupt government wants every last cent. That's why most people think credit cards, wire transfers, and tax ID numbers are the only way to transfer money abroad.
But there is a solution...
Hawala banking is a tried and true means of transferring money... anonymously. It began in the Middle East in the 8th century. It's still thriving in the modern world... for those who know where to find it. It works like this...
- You go to a "hawaladar" (hawala banker/broker).
- You give him, say, $25,000 in U.S. dollars and tell him you want to transfer it to your friend in Australia.
- He accepts your money and gives you a password.
- He also tells the password to his hawaladar counterpart in Australia.
- You then give the password to your friend in Australia.
- Your friend goes to the Australian hawaladar and tells him the password.
The passwords match, and that hawaladar gives your friend the equivalent of $25,000 in Australian dollars.
Both hawaladars take a small commission. They promise to settle up with each other at some point in the future.
This private money transfer system is still 100% legal in the U.S. and around the world. The problem is, it can be difficult to find your local hawaladar. But if you are patient and resourceful, you can do it. The following websites can offer you a good starting point:
Part III: Communication Breakdown –
How We are Our Own Worst Privacy Threat
A government tracking grid doesn't belong in a free society. And corporate complicity across this structure is perhaps more disappointing. These are serious threats to our privacy rights. Yet, the greatest threat of all remains ourselves.
Criminals of every sort are out to steal your data. Some sophisticated hackers are dead set on hacking into a government Social Security database or getting behind Apple's firewall. There's not much any one of us can do to prevent such a breach.
But most crooks are not so sophisticated. They're happy to go after the easy, low-hanging fruit... And our personal communications are an easy target.
Think about it... let's say you own a rare, jeweled necklace. Would you leave this out on a table in your front yard, just so others could admire its beauty? How long would it be before someone steals it?
In the modern age, your personal information is more valuable than exquisite jewelry. Yet we flaunt this information and broadcast it for all to see...
Patching the holes in your communication security is one of the best precautions you can take. The simple steps below will show you how to eliminate all the "low-hanging fruit" from your digital existence.
Let the crooks focus on somebody else.
1. Block the restaurant "entry point." In the last section, I showed you how crucial it is to keep your credit card number under tight control. It's not just about protecting your credit rating... or avoiding identity theft... it's about every facet of your digital life.
In a recent Wired article, one of the magazine's senior writers described how a hacker "dissolved" his entire digital life in about 60 minutes:
In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed. First my Google account was taken over, then deleted. Next my Twitter account was compromised, and used as a platform to broadcast racist and homophobic messages. And worst of all, my AppleID account was broken into, and my hackers used it to remotely erase all of the data on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.
Among the casualties in this "digital massacre" was every digital photo he had of his newborn daughter's first year of life.
The article details the key weak spots the hacker exploited. It turns out one of the easiest points of entry comes through something most people do every day... signing credit card receipts.
You may notice that credit card receipts "X-out" all but the last four digits of your credit card number. You may think this provides a strong degree of security. Think again.
Any company that uses passwords also uses "recovery tools" in case their customers forget these passwords.
In Apple's case, the recovery tools require the last four digits of the credit card linked to the account, and the account holder's billing address. Addresses are easily attainable via public records searches. Combine this with the last four digits of a credit card and voila, you have taken over access to someone's AppleID. And it's not just Apple that works like this... any number of corporations have similar programs.
But there is a solution...
From now on, whenever you use your credit card, always black out the last four digits on your receipt. Do this on the business copy as well as your own. If anyone hassles you, explain you have a legal right to do so. The digital transaction has already occurred... you are just keeping your personal data private.
2. Understand the No. 1 way people get hacked. The Wired writer referenced above admitted he made a lot of mistakes. Had he taken some simple online security precautions, his digital life would still be intact.
But he didn't. And chances are, you haven't either. Your passwords may be 50 characters long, use lower-case and upper-case letters and numbers... and you may still be as vulnerable as ever.
But there is a solution...
The No. 1 way people's accounts are hacked has nothing to do with the actual password. It has everything to do with the password recovery tools.
Most websites allow you to select what your password recovery "security questions" will be. These are often mundane questions like...
What town were you born in?
What is your mother's maiden name?
What was your high school mascot?
What was the name of your first pet?
It is vital you do NOT supply answers to these easily identifiable questions.
A simple search of public records and social networking sites (like Facebook) should yield these answers. At the very least, it will give a hacker a short list from which to deduce the correct answers.
If you're given the option to choose your own recovery question, make it a tough one. Make it nonsensical. Make it something that only you would know. And if you have no choice but to use the stock questions provided, provide false answers.
For example, if the question asks for your mother's maiden name, make up a name like "MacSmithowitz." Keep the answers written down on paper (never in digital form), in a secure location that only you can access!
3. Provide the most strenuous defense to your "inner sanctum." A hacker can use the tactics above on any of your online accounts... but the greatest "prize" is your primary e-mail account. That's because on the Internet, all "roads" lead to your e-mail address. It's the nexus of your online environment.
A hacker with access to your e-mail can immediately:
- Change the password and shut you out from it.
- Gain access to your other accounts, by resetting their passwords (the confirmation e-mails for these are sent to your primary account, which he now has control over).
- Peruse financial data and gain partial account numbers, like the last four digits of your credit card and Social Security numbers.
- Rummage through all your private data, including photos, videos, and more.
- Gain access to your cloud-based files and devices.
- Delete things of value to you.
This is exactly what happened to the Wired writer.
But there is a solution...
You can make hacking your e-mail account difficult. For most hackers, it's not worth the effort. There are a million easier targets out there. Follow these simple guidelines...
- NEVER "daisy-chain" your passwords. This means do NOT use the same password for every account you own. A compromise of one means a compromise of all.
- NEVER provide an easy/logical password recovery answer.
- NEVER select "remember me" or "keep me signed in" on your e-mail website. (This allows others who use the same computer to access your e-mail without needing a password at all.)
- NEVER keep a list of any passwords or recovery questions online.
- ALWAYS use "two-factor" authentication whenever it is offered (for example, you need your password plus a code sent to an alternate e-mail or mobile device that is associated with your account). Bank of America does this.
4. Use this easy method to remember highly complex passwords. Most websites encourage you to use complicated character sets for your password. But who can remember all those random numbers, letters, and special symbols? This is hard enough for one account, let alone several. It's just too much work for most people.
But there is a solution...
You can use a standardized "random" password that only has minor changes in it. These changes are associated with the individual domain you are accessing. As you'll see, it's easy.
Start with your "core code." It will be a mix of letters, numbers, case sizes, and symbols. Memorize this core code. It will never change.
- Example core code: APB@c3p
Next, select your "variable code." This will be, for example, the 1st and 3rd characters of the website you are on.
- Example: you are on gmail.com. So in this case your variable code will be "ga."
Finally, combine the core and variable codes in a regular manner. For example, you may attach the variable code at the beginning, the end, or the beginning and end of your core code.
- Example: gAPB@c3pa
This is a great way to remember different, complicated passwords while still appearing 100% random to an outside observer. If one password does get hacked, the hacker will not be able to use it anywhere else.
5. Encrypt your e-mail messages. If you follow my suggestions to this point, you'll establish a strong "defense perimeter" for your e-mail and other accounts. This is a good thing.
Unfortunately, it's also just the first part of a comprehensive e-mail privacy strategy.
Securing the content of your messages is important, too. That's why you should encrypt every message you send out.
Think of it this way... if you were going to send your bank account number via conventional mail, would you put it on a post card or inside a first-class envelope? Without an extra layer of security, everyone can see the content of your message.
But there is a solution...
Make sure you have selected SSL (secure socket layers) as the default encryption in your e-mail service. If you are using a webmail service, you'll know SSL is active as long the webpage you are on starts with "https://" (The extra "s" stands for "secure" and is not the same as "http://").
Using SSL encrypts the routing information (to:, from:, etc.), but not the actual message content.
The steps to full e-mail encryption differ depending on which e-mail client you use. Both you and the recipient must have full e-mail encryption enabled. This is easiest to accomplish when you both use the identical e-mail program.
If you are using an e-mail program like Outlook or Thunderbird, you can encrypt e-mail contents by selecting this option under the settings menu. If you need help, simply type "how to encrypt Outlook messages" into Google's search engine.
If you use a web-based e-mail system, I recommend you investigate your encryption options here.
6. Give your web browsing as much privacy as your e-mail. The techniques above will go a long way toward ensuring your e-mail message traffic is safe and secure. But what about your general web browsing? This is another matter altogether...
Every website you visit attaches tracking files that show your browsing history. Companies use these to tailor their marketing around you. Other malware programs may also track your movements through the web for any number of reasons.
But there is a solution...
You can take proactive steps to ensure your privacy remains intact as you browse the Internet. It may require a little extra effort, but it's worth it. Until we return to a society where privacy is the default condition (and not the exception to the rule), I'm going to do whatever it takes to protect my personal data.
The following two articles provide a lot of detailed information:
- Everyone's Trying to Track What You Do on the Web: Here's How to Stop Them
- How to Really Browse Without Leaving a Trace
You'll learn how to configure your computer to browse with much greater privacy. Not only that, but you'll be able to safely browse the web faster, and with fewer advertisements.
After you've optimized your web browser configuration, you can also add another layer of security. Every computer connects to the Internet via an IP (Internet protocol) address. IP addresses can pinpoint your physical location, as well as which Internet service provider you use.
If you want to eliminate others' ability to know this information, you can use a "proxy" IP address, a VPN (virtual private network), or a P2P (peer-to-peer) decentralized network. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, a proxy may be faster, but a VPN may ensure a greater degree of anonymity.
I've found the best "one-stop" location on the web that explains your networking options. You can access it here.
Once you've configured your chosen solution, you can go to this website to see just how much you've improved your browsing privacy (or not).
One last note: www.startpage.com is known as "the world's most private search engine." Startpage is a proxy server that routes your search terms to Google via its own IP address. It collects zero personal information on any of its users. This means your IP address, browser type, computer platform, and search terms remain 100% anonymous.
After your search results appear, the website even lets you open the pages through its own proxy link – so you never make a direct connection with the results page, unless you want to. It's a great, free online privacy resource.
7. Encrypt your audio communications, too. Governments, corporations, and identity thieves love to focus on the "paper trails" that e-mails and browsing histories leave. But don't forget about voice communications. There are programs and devices designed to listen in on your conversations in more ways than you can imagine.
But there is a solution...
You can encrypt your voice communications just as you encrypt your text communications. The easiest way I have found to do this is through "Zfone."
Zfone works for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephony. That is a fancy way of saying you can use it to encrypt most voice and video call programs. This includes popular programs such as Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, and Apple iChat. It does not currently work with Skype.
You can learn more about this great product, and download a free copy of Zfone here.
8. Make your cell phone anonymous. The advent of the smartphone has been a tremendous technological achievement. These tools have revolutionized the way we live our lives, often for the better. They've also unleashed a scourge of privacy abuses once believed impossible. Sadly, many are willing to give up every last shred of privacy to enjoy the convenience smartphones provide.
But there is a solution...
You can "rent" a phone from a trusted confidant. This is similar to renting a ghost address. The phone is listed under the other person's name and credit card account. You may sweeten the deal by offering up a bond of, say, $1,000, as added assurance of your good faith.
Now, if you can live without a smartphone, your options expand. You can buy a used phone from a private party (check www.craigslist.org) and activate it through a service like Page Plus Cellular (www.pagepluscellular.com). Page Plus offers prepaid cellular phone and texting service, without requiring a contract. If you don't use your cell phone much, it may be more economical than your current plan.
Some companies even offer prepaid phones. They may even be disposable. Once the predetermined number of minutes is up, you can discard it and buy a new one. The benefit is these phones require no deposits, contracts, monthly fees, credit checks, or other identifications. Search www.amazon.com for "prepaid cell" to explore this option.
If you're really serious about keeping your cell communications private, you may also want to look into buying a pager. Yes, that's right, pagers still exist. And pagers cannot provide precise geolocation data (the way a cell phone does).
Keep your cell phone off until you need to use it. In the meantime, use your pager to monitor who is trying to get in contact with you. One added bonus is that you can give your pager number out to strangers, not your cell phone. When a stranger calls the pager, they'll be able to leave a voice message. You can then determine if you want to call this person with your phone (or not). The pager can act as a convenient "gate keeper" for all your cell communications.
9. Regain phone anonymity while "unmasking" others. Using a pager to "reinsert" another layer of privacy into your cell phone communications can be a smart idea. That's because absolute telephone anonymity is a thing of the past... even if you pay to have your phone number "blocked."
You see, when anyone calls an 800 number, the phone number is "unmasked" to the 800 number owner – even if it's "blocked." A company called TelTech uses its TrapCall program to reroute a person's incoming calls through an 800 number. So now, even if you have a "blocked" number, if you call a person using TrapCall, they will still know it's you on the other end.
But there is a solution...
You might not be able to mask your phone number anymore. But you can change the way it appears via a service called SpoofCard (also offered by TelTech). Choose any number you want (e.g., 555-555-5555, 123-456-7890). That's the way it will appear on the other person's caller ID.
10. Retake control of your own phone. SpoofCard and TrapCall are two tools you can use to retake control of your cell phone number. But there are larger attacks aimed at the phone itself. In this case, the largest danger may come not from a hacker, but from the device manufacturer...
In August, Apple applied for a new technology patent. The stated use of this technology for its iPhone is disturbing...
...for preventing wireless devices from communicating with other wireless devices... and for forcing certain electronic devices to enter "sleep mode" when entering a sensitive area. (U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902)
The patent application later gives a hint as to who will determine what is and is not a "sensitive area."
Covert police or government operations may require complete "blackout" conditions.
In other words, government and/or corporations will determine when and where you can use your phone to communicate, take pictures, or record video. They can use cameras, drones, and warrantless searches to snoop into every corner of your life... but you cannot record their own misdeeds.
But there is a solution...
If you can disconnect the phone from its network, you should still be able to use your phone to record video and take pictures. You just won't be able to share them while the phone is offline. Most phones come equipped with an "airplane mode" which keeps them from sending/receiving external signals. If a remote source ever hijacks your phone, putting your phone into "airplane mode" should put you back in control.
Even though Apple applied for this patent, you can be sure the other major smartphone companies are working on something similar. Remember the "airplane mode" trick if you ever lose control over your own phone.
***BONUS: Retake control of your physical privacy. In this report, I've focused on how to protect your "virtual existence" – your credit, your identity, and your lines of communication. But let's not forget all this is meaningless if your physical security is compromised.
Cyber theft may be many thieves' favorite crime. But "old fashioned" burglary is still a major threat to you and your family's safety. With over 47 million Americans needing taxpayer assistance (food stamps) just to eat, people are becoming desperate. They may target your home for invasion and burglary... even with you inside it.
But there is a solution...
Jack MacLean is a former burglar. He's stolen over $133 million in jewels. After his arrest and conviction, he decided to reform. While in prison, he interviewed some 300 other burglars about their preferred tricks and tactics. He compiled what he learned in his book, Secrets of a Superthief.
It turns out there is one technique that 100% of the convicted burglars he interviewed admitted would scare them away from a property in an instant...
One blast from an extremely loud air horn.
Search online or go to your local marine supply store. You can buy one for around $20. Be sure to buy the $20 model... $10 horns are not loud enough.
It's clear that maintaining your privacy in our hyper-connected age requires more work than ever before. But it can be done.
In this report, I've shown you the threats governments, corporations, and thieves pose to your privacy. Please do not underestimate them. Together, they form an insidious web that touches almost every aspect of our lives. Given the chance, they will all use this information against you.
I've also shown you the steps you can take to neutralize these threats. As you've seen, it's easier than it may first appear. And while 100% anonymity remains a near impossibility, you can rest well knowing your privacy is now stronger than about 98% of the population's.
Unless you join the witness relocation program, or move to a powerless shack in the mountains, your privacy can't get much better. Plus, you still get to enjoy the pleasures and conveniences of our modern way of life.
Convenience. Security. Privacy. Now THAT is the Retirement Millionaire way...