privacy mistakesWhen it comes to keeping your sensitive personal information (like your credit card number and social security number) private, it can be easy to think that you’re doing all that you can to protect and secure it. However, it can be easy to accidentally make a mistake when you’re out in the open and not even realize the result of your actions. As such, we’re covering five privacy mistakes that you could be making in public and how to avoid them.

Why the privacy of your personal information matters

Before getting into what privacy mistakes you should watch out for, we’ll first explain why it matters if your sensitive personal identifying information — which includes social security numbers, payment card numbers, passport information, bank account information and other types of information used to identify a person — gets compromised. One of the biggest potential consequences is identity theft, which can result in unauthorized access to your credit cards, bank accounts and medical benefits, new bank accounts opened under your name without your consent and other nightmare scenarios. While identity theft can’t be completely prevented, there are still steps you can take to reduce the odds of your identity getting stolen, including being aware of how you share or use your personal information in public. That’s why we’re explaining how you can avoid five of the most common privacy mistakes made in public.

5 privacy mistakes you should watch out for

Spelling out your personal or payment information in the open

This is something we’ve all seen: someone’s on the phone in a public space and they start reading their credit card number aloud. While this may seem like something you would never do, this kind of privacy mistake can be easy to make. For example, if you’re sitting around on a bus or waiting at an airport, it can be easy to figure that it would be a great time to call your credit card issuer to sort out a bill, which could lead to you verbally sharing your credit card number and other personal information (e.g., your date of birth) over the phone. Instead, it would be ideal to type up your number and other personal identifying numbers through your keypad (usually an option for such personal calls). If touch-tone input is not an option, you should just pick another time to make the personal call.

The moral of the story is that you should always be aware of your surroundings when you’re going to share personal or payment information. If you’re within earshot of someone else, you’ll want to pick another time to share such information via phone.

Using free or public Wi-Fi

Another privacy mistake that you could be making is using free or public Wi-Fi. This is something that we’ve covered in the past, but it’s a point worth reiterating. Free, public Wi-Fi access can be convenient when you’re out and about, but the consequences that could come about if things go wrong could be severe. For one, if you’re not careful, you could accidentally connect to an evil twin instead of the actual network you should be connected to, allowing a hacker to monitor your activities. Often, the names of evil twins are designed to look like they’re the names of the valid network you want to connect to, tricking you into choosing them. Even if you are able to connect to the correct network, you should be wary. Because anyone can connect to public Wi-Fi, these networks are insecure and easily hackable. As such, you run the risk of your web activity getting tracked or exploited when you log onto public Wi-Fi.

Instead of using free or public Wi-Fi, opt to go with alternatives, such as a VPN, your phone’s mobile data or your own private hotspot.

Sharing your personal information through email or social media

A lot of our lives are lived online, which means you may be tempted to respond to an email from your doctor or your child’s school with personal information. Unfortunately, this isn’t the best option. While your email and Internet connection may be secure, you’ll want to remember that anything shared online cannot be deleted, as it lives on your email provider’s servers. The same goes for text messaging and other forms of online communication. That’s why it’s best to share personal information over the phone (in a secure location) or in person.

This same concept applies to anything you post online through social media sites and forums. Although you may be excited to share photos of your new home, for example, it’s best to evaluate whether you are sharing your address or any other identifying markers by posting them. Even if you personally know all of your social media friends, there’s a chance you could be exposing your personal information. That’s because a lot of social media sites have algorithms that allow friends of friends to see posts their friends have interacted with, meaning strangers may be able to see your post without you knowing. As such, it’s safest to avoid sharing any of your personal information online. When you do post photos, consider stripping them of their metadata to ensure nobody with ill will can use that information against you.

Not adjusting the privacy settings for your social media profiles

One other major area that you probably want to pay attention to is your social media privacy settings. That’s because if you aren’t careful, you could inadvertently share your personal information, such as your photographs, with more people than you intend to. If you’ve never checked your privacy settings for a given social media site or app, there’s a chance that your posts are automatically set to public, meaning anyone using the site can see them. Making sure you check and strengthen your privacy settings can help you safeguard yourself from cyber identity theft, scams and more. In addition to checking any sharing settings, you’ll want to also make sure you keep an eye out for settings that relate to the sharing of data with third parties, as that’s what caused the Cambridge Analytica Facebook scandal. If you allow your children to use social media, it’s important to discuss privacy settings with them as well.

Not being aware of your surroundings at ATMs and checkout lanes

One final privacy mistake that you could be making in public is to not be aware of your surroundings when you’re at an ATM or using a payment terminal at a store or gas station. Unfortunately, ATM fraud is a reality, and while some criminals are getting more sophisticated with their tactics, as they use devices like shimmers to steal your credentials, it’s still possible for them to carry out fraud through old-school means, like spying over your shoulder as you enter your information into an ATM or payment terminal keypad. To prevent something like this from happening, you’ll want to block the keypad and screen with your arm and body, as doing so can prevent others from seeing your information. Also, before you start using any card reader, make sure to keep an eye out for other signs of fraudulent activity, such as duplicate cameras that could be recording your information. If you see anything that looks off, leave the machine and use another one.

Recognizing your privacy mistakes when you’re out in public can get tricky, especially if they’re habitual. By keeping these five mistakes in mind, you can prevent yourself from revealing too much about yourself in public space. To learn about what else you can do to safeguard your privacy, follow our privacy blog.