What is your most valuable possession? What would you need most after a fire, flood, or disaster to rebuild your life? What is so valuable that you should guard it carefully lest you be the victim of fraud or even identity theft?
The answer is information about you, including everything about your accounts, business contacts, friends, possessions, contracts, investments, savings, checking, and frequent flier miles. Mismanaging or haphazardly storing this information complicates your life and leaves you open to risks that may complicate your life even more.
Let's start with the most sensitive information you have.
TACTIC: Completely inventory and securely store the most sensitive information about your personal identity and finances.
I categorize this as "top sensitive" information. This is the information that someone could use in an effort to steal your money or even identity.
Your top sensitive information includes:
- All your identification documents such as driver's license, social security card, passport, employee id, and other identification.
- Information about all your financial accounts, including credit cards, investments, checking, and savings accounts.
- All important legal documents, wills, deeds, contracts, or any document that has a high financial or legal significance or negotiable value (like bonds).
Make a complete list of all your top sensitive information and documents. Write down the identification and numbers, the contact information of the issuing or managing institution, and any other information that would help in case the document or account were lost or compromised.
Protect all lists of top sensitive information and the original documents themselves in a very secure location. A safe deposit box is best. Don't leave extra copies or lists of top sensitive information in any place other than a secure location.
Take special care with any top sensitive information when it is outside of its secure storage area. You'll have to carry some items--identification or passport--routinely. Protect these documents with the greatest care. When traveling keep your passport in an inside pocket close to your body or use a waist pouch that fits under your clothing.
The next step is to look at the next category of information that is sensitive, but not "top" sensitive.
TACTIC: Completely inventory and protect the sensitive financial and personal documents that, if lost, would pose risk to you.
I categorize this as "sensitive information." Its loss or compromise would not be as grave as that of top sensitive information, but any loss would cause you problems.
You may have to keep sensitive information at home or use it on a day to day basis.
Sensitive information may include:
- Bank, investment, or credit card statements that regularly come to you in the postal mail.
- Pads of unused checks.
- Your stuff inventory from "Rule Your Stuff."
- Voter registration or other cards that might be used as part of an attempt at fraud.
Store sensitive information in a secure place away from where a burglar would typical go for valuables. Consider a kitchen shelf or a food storage container. Think of places where someone wouldn't expect to find papers of any value.
As you can, transfer the originals or copies of any sensitive information to a secure location outside of your home (a safe deposit box). Shred the information after you no longer need it. Ask at your bank or financial institution how long they recommend that you keep your old financial statements.
TACTIC: Protect confidential information about your life or finances that if lost or stolen would pose some risk or loss of privacy to you.
I define "confidential information" as information you wouldn't like anyone to get hold of for personal reasons. Confidential information might not alone enable someone to steal your money or identity, but it could be used as an overall attempt at fraud or impersonation.
Your confidential information might include:
- A list of business contacts.
- A list of personal contacts.
- Personal schedules, plans, and diaries.
- Your business cards.
- A written list of all your insurance policy numbers--typically renter's insurance, medical insurance.
You should reduce the risk of the theft or loss of confidential information. At home or as you travel about town, take care not to leave confidential information in plain sight or unattended.
When possible, store a copy of all your confidential information (or the original information if not needed at home) in a secure location away from your home (safe deposit box) and update the copy from time to time.
On a personal computer, protect sensitive or confidential files with password protection and place backups in a secure location.
TACTIC: Backup your paper or computer files regularly.
If you have a computer, make a copy of important documents and store these copies on a separate disk apart from your computer, preferably at another site other than your computer.
If you don't have a computer, make copies of important project work and store these in a secure place away from the originals. For example, if you are working on a key project for work or school like a thesis, copy key papers of the project like original data, outlines, and reports.
You don't want to loose the important work that you do on your projects. In case of loss, even having a week-old backup of only some of the key documents of a project could save you an enormous amount of time in getting back to where you were.