12 tips for managing your information footprint

Take an active role in controlling your personal data

True, it's inconvenient. You pay a small fee to freeze your credit report at each of the three reporting agencies. Then you pay another fee each time you unlock it. But you'll have the security of knowing exactly who is trying to access your credit report -- and for what reasons -- every time.

8. Request a copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com and review it for errors.

Ignore the sales pitches for credit monitoring products. Identity fraud monitoring services, including those sold by the three credit reporting agencies and others, can provide peace of mind, but they're pricey for what you get and most tell you only after someone has compromised your identity.

See this Privacy Rights Clearinghouse report on credit monitoring services for details.

9. Opt out of the marketing databases at the big data aggregators such as ChoicePoint and Acxiom. Unfortunately, the companies usually won't take requests from third-party services like Reputation Defender, which attempt to do this on your behalf; you have to contact each one yourself. You can also ask to see the profile they have of you and ask for changes if the data is incorrect. They won't, however, pull information about you that's used for "risk purposes," such as for insurance underwriting or litigation.

While you can opt out of Web people search and background checking services such as Intelius and US Search, there are simply too many to contact. Intelius will honor your request, but Ed Petersen, co-founder and executive vice president, says it's not worth the effort. "You're tilting at windmills. I'm not the original source of the data, [and] there's a lot of companies like Intelius out there." This is one reason why it's so important not to let these data bits get out there in the first place.

10. Protect your cell phone number. If you don't want it in public database records, don't give it out for business transactions. "If you never put it down anywhere, then it is not going to be in the public records," says Petersen.

Using an unlisted phone number reduces, but does not eliminate, the number of places where your telephone number will appear online. Every time you give out the number, as may be requested for purchases, registrations and other business transactions, it goes into databases that may be sold to aggregators.

11. Don't participate in surveys or fill our product registration cards. It's not required for warranty service (all you need is your receipt), and the information you submit goes right into marketing databases.

12. Think twice before signing up for retail store loyalty cards — and read the privacy policy. Are the incentives worth it if the business is tracking your every purchase? In many cases, the business will keep that information for its own use. In other cases, some or all of that data may be shared with business partners, marketing companies or data aggregators.

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Robert L. Mitchell

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