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Archive for the ‘Protecting Your Personal Data Online’ Category

New Year’s Resolutions: A Few Tips for Protecting Your Privacy in 2014

Posted by Writing PIs on December 30, 2013

It’s almost 2014 — let’s go over a few tips you might want to add to your New Year’s Resolutions for protecting your confidential information.

Tip #1: Stop giving out your home address

It’s your home, your private residence, the center of your family life — you don’t need to share this

Don't advertise your home address to the wrong people

Don’t advertise your home address to the wrong people

address with anybody other than trusted friends, family and pertinent business contacts. One way to avoid giving out your home address is to purchase a private mailbox from a U.S. Post Office or private mailbox service, then use this address on forms, registrations, mailings, and so on.

We’ve used a pob address for years, but unfortunately some services and registrations will only accept street addresses. In such instances, we use the street address of the law firm where we maintain an office.

For people who don’t have such an alternate business or other address to use, but would like one as they’re constantly needing to provide a street address in forms, they can purchase a street address. Let’s look at a few of those services.

Purchasing a Street Address

There are services that let you use a street address that is really a pob or virtual mail center

There are street-address services that let you use a pob or virtual mail center

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) as well as various private mailbox companies, also provide “street” addresses (often where your mailbox is the suite number).

Below are a few services that offer street addresses.

Post Offices

At a U.S. Post Office, a post office box can also be used as a street address, but you’ll first need to fill out street addressing forms (available at your Post Office).

Advantages of using this street-addressing option is that USPS post office boxes are usually much less expensive than private mailbox services, Post Offices tend to be more permanent than private mail box services that can quickly move locations or go out of business, and the Post Office will also receive packages delivered by private carriers such as UPS and FedEx that are street addressed. Also, some Post Offices offer a “text to cell phone” message at no extra charge when a private-carrier shipment is received.  Fyi, not all Post Offices participate in the street-addressing program.

Disadvantages of using your U.S. post office box street-addressing service is that items must qualify for mail delivery (no shipments of alcohol, items over 70 pounds and other restrictions).

Private Mailbox Services

Most private mailbox services offer a street address and secure, 24-hour access to delivered mail and packages. They have additional services (some for a fee) that include mail forwarding and texting/emails when packages arrives.

Examples of private mailbox services:

The UPS Store – Personal Mailboxes



Virtual Mailbox Services

Virtual mail services forward scanned images of mail to you anywhere in the world

Virtual mail services electronically forward scanned images of your mail to you anywhere in the world

There are also a variety of virtual mailbox services that offer street addresses for your use.  The virtual mailbox service then receives all of your mail — they scan the envelopes and send those scans to you via email or other venue for your review. You decide which envelopes are opened (and its contents scanned and sent electronically to you), and which envelopes are to be thrown away. Such virtual mailbox services let you live anywhere in the world. Pricing can get costly (some of these services charge premium rates of $60 a month).

Examples of virtual mailbox services:


Earth Class Mail

Box 4 me

Tip #2: Don’t announce your location

It’s all the rage for people to automatically announce their location through social media sites

Geo-location services let you tell the world where you are -- but don't

Geo-location services let you tell the world where you are — you sure you want to do that?

(such as Twitter, Facebook and other online communities).  If someone has decided to break into your residence, or confront you, or confront somebody who’s still at your residence (while you’re at your “location”), or conduct some other not-in-your-best-interest activity, don’t help them by letting them know your location.

So when you see those prompts (“Click here so people can know your location!”) don’t click.  It’s as easy as that.

Tip #3: Don’t give out your phone number

Protecting your phone number is about more than just getting unwanted calls

Protecting your phone number is about more than just getting unwanted calls

It’s somewhat easy to find personal information from a phone number, such as a home address. It’s just as easy for you to protect that number, and your personal information associated with it, by using a virtual phone number.

Virtual Phone Numbers

A virtual number is a regular number (area code + number, such as 123-456-7789) that you can set up to ring through to your real number.  When someone calls that virtual number, the call is routed to your regular phone, you answer, and nobody knows the real number you’re answering from.

If someone attempts a trace on that number (to find the name/address it’s registered to), they won’t find it.  Well, unless you start broadcasting the virtual number on the Internet with your name attached.

Virtual numbers typically cost anywhere from $4.95 to $10.95 a month (if you get extra features, such as fax services, it’ll cost more). We use a virtual phone number in our business because it lets us easily keep records of incoming and outgoing phone numbers, the ability to re-route calls to different cell phone numbers as needed, block incoming phone numbers and other features.

Examples of virtual number services:



That’s it! Three tips to protect your confidential information in the new year.

Here’s to 2014, WritingPIs

Happy New Year gold letters

To go to book's Amazon page, click on cover

To go to book’s Amazon page, click on cover

Posted in Hiding Your Personal Information From Internet Searches, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations, Protecting Your Personal Data Online | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on New Year’s Resolutions: A Few Tips for Protecting Your Privacy in 2014

Tracking People: Google, Social Media and Surveillance

Posted by Writing PIs on February 18, 2012

Get Out of My Face, Google+

Had an interesting experience this morning. Logged in to one of our email accounts…and had a lengthy message from Google+ with suggestions, based on the activity in that email account, for blogs we might like to follow. Oh, really? Like, uh, we wanted to know that? Scrolled down to the bottom of the message where Google+, in fine and barely legible print (tinted a lighter shade of pale), identified where to click to change preferences we’d never set up. De-selected checkmarks for every single item.

DuckDuckGo Is the Way to Go-Go

Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo doesn’t share your searches with sites. As they state on their home page, they don’t “track or bubble” you. Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, we like to think we’re relatively techno-savvy, but we needed to read up on what “bubble” means. For those of you in the same boat, here’s a link where DuckDuckGo nicely presents an infographic of what the term means and how they don’t bubble your searches: DuckDuckGo’s Definition of Bubble.

We’ll still use Google for some searches because it’s the most comprehensive, free public search engine available. Otherwise, we’re going with DuckDuckGo.

Social Media Sites: The Fraud Investigator’s New Best Friend

Interesting article in The Fraud Examiner about mining social media sites for clues in fraud investigations. To read article, click here.

The Old-Fashioned Way to Track a Subject: Rolling Surveillance

Colleen Collins, one of the Gums, Gams, and Gumshoes PIs, writes about her experience tracking a felon across three counties several years ago. It’s interesting how many people think 21st-century PIs do everything electronically — this article is a reminder that sometimes PIs still gumshoe it the “old-fashioned” way. To read the article, click on link below:

The Day I Tracked a Felon Across Three Counties

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Posted in Finding Missing Persons: On Foot, PI Topics, Protecting Your Personal Data Online, Tracking People on the Internet and on Foot | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Tracking People: Google, Social Media and Surveillance

3 Easy Tips for Protecting Your Personal Information Online

Posted by Writing PIs on November 22, 2010

The Web is a vast e-world filled with social connections, shopping expeditions, job opportunities, educational studies and much, much more.  As you login, register and post, you’re providing information about yourself, sometimes unwittingly so.  Although most people aren’t online to delve into your confidential data, unfortunately, there are those who are.  Let’s look at 3 easy ways to protect your personal information so it doesn’t find its way into the wrong virtual hands.

Get a private mail box. It’s fun to shop online, but it’s wise to not have your purchases shipped to your home address.  The biggest reason is that you don’t know which companies are selling your private information–such as your home address–to other vendors and databases.  Easy to circumvent this by purchasing a private mailbox (such as from MAIL BOXES, ETC.).  You could also purchase a private mail box from a United States post office, but they don’t accept courier shipments, such as from FedEx or UPS, on your behalf (whereas private mail box companies do).   It’s also handy to have a private mail box address for any online registration forms that require an address.

Get a virtual phone number. In our investigations business, when a valid phone number shows on our business caller ID, we have the person’s name, address, date of birth, gender, driver’s license number (and more) within thirty seconds. Rather than provide your main phone number or even a cell phone number to businesses and others online, instead use an untraceable virtual phone number (which you can set up to ring through to your “real” phone number, automatically go to voice mail, and/or be transcribed to an email text messages).  A few companies that offer virtual phone numbers are Inumber and Grasshopper.

Get a throw-away email address. Just as we’re often asked for an address and phone number in online forms, we’re almost always asked for an email address.  Instead of offering your main email addresses, instead use a throw-away one (one you set up for certain websites, businesses, shopping sites, even certain people contacts).  Lots of email services let you register anonymously for an email account (meaning, don’t register with your real name, address, and other personal information–instead, register with any information you want, such as Greta Garbo at 1234 Mysterious Lane).  A few sites that let you register anonymously for an email account are Google, Hotmail and Yahoo!.

There you have it.  Three easy, virtual means to protect your personal information while online.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Protecting Your Personal Data Online | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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