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Color of Money: Here's how to develop a criminal mind to protect your personal data

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- It happened again.

Another company that I've done business with sent me a letter saying that my personal data had been compromised. An investigation found that my name, address and Social Security number had been improperly accessed. I shouted out some things not fit for print.

And, wouldn't you believe it, not long before I got the letter, some odd things happened. An expensive camera was delivered to my home. In a panic, I called the store and through my own search of my account I found that it had been purchased and charged to my credit card from a personal computer in Oklahoma. I was able to return the camera and get a full refund, but the incident rattled me.

Around the same time, I received a confirmation notice from UPS that I was enrolled in its My Choice service, which helps you schedule and monitor the delivery of packages. I had never signed up for such a thing.

A quick Internet search found that scam artists like to use the UPS tracking service to redirect your packages to other addresses.

As part of its apology, the company that was hacked offered free identity-theft protection for 24 months. But as I was registering, I paused to consider this irony: To get the service, I had to give yet another firm access to sensitive information so that it can monitor my personal data.

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Trying to stay ahead of the creeps and criminals stealing our data from companies with vulnerable information networks has become a hellish adventure.

And, as much as we have the right to criticize corporations for data breaches, we consumers also leave ourselves exposed, too.

How much of your personal data do you routinely reveal online? Do you tag your best friend or post cute photos of your pooch? All this information can be mined to help an impostor answer security questions about you.

Most likely a lot of your information has already been compromised, but there are some things you can do to mitigate the damage. For the Color of Money Book Club for this month, I've selected "200+ Ways to Protect Your Privacy" by Jeni Rogers, a technology writer and consultant.

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