Michelle Singletary

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.

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.

What’s in your wallet right now?

Are you carrying your Social Security card? What about your latest bank statement or utility bill? Do you have all your credit cards with you? Why? Are you going to use each and every one during your trip to Target?

“You should make a special point never to regularly carry around sensitive documents on your person,” Rogers recommends. She adds that you should get into the habit of reducing the amount of personal data you stuff in your purse or wallet. Shred or secure financial papers in your home.

Each page of Roger’s pocket-sized book provides one concise strategy to police your information. Here are a few tips for protecting your data.

• Peel the label. Think about all the information on your medication bottles. Before tossing them, destroy the labels.

• Bypass the birthday freebie. Loyalty programs and retail stores often give you stuff on your birthday — a cup of coffee, discount coupons or free dessert. “It’s prudent to keep your birthday out of superfluous databases,” Rogers says.

• Don’t give your phone the finger. Lots of mobile phone users (myself included) use a finger or thumbprint to open our phones or various apps. But Rogers says to be careful with this security feature. It’s possible nowadays that a crook could swipe your phone and your glass at a café and, with some spy technique you think only happens in a movie, lift your fingerprint.

• Don’t charge using the free cord. Your battery is low. You forgot your charging cord. But don’t use the USB charging cord at a public charging station, Rogers advises. Your data could be accessed through the device. Use your own cord and only plug it into electrical outlets — not USB ports.

A 2018 Gallup poll found that 16% of Americans said they or someone in their household had been a victim of identity theft in the previous 12 months.

Your best defense to protect your privacy is to develop a criminal mind.

We have to look at our data from the perspective of a swindler who sees dollar signs with each piece of information about our lives that we post or keep unsecure — or that is stolen in a hack.

I’m hosting an online chat about “200+ Ways to Protect Your Privacy” at noon Eastern time May 23 at washingtonpost.com/discussions. Rogers will join me to answer security questions.

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