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Personally Identifiable Information: What It Is and How to Protect It


Protecting your Personally Identifiable Information (PII) should be priority number one for all of us. Taking the initial steps to protect your PII is of vast importance nowadays, but what can someone do to ensure that their PII is as protected as it can be? 

Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is any information that could be used to identify a specific person. This can include:

  • Home Address
  • Email Address
  • Credit/Debt Card Number
  • First & Last Name
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Social Security Number
  • Bank Account Information

It is of vast importance for consumers to protect their PII, especially with everything being digital nowadays.

How to Keep Track of Your Personally Identifiable Information

Sharing Your Social Security Number.

The next time you are asked to share your Social Security details, stop and think. Is the person requesting your information from a bank, a credit bureau, or some other entity required to report to the IRS? If not, do not share your information. Identity theft relies on a valid Social Security number—the more organizations that have it, the less protected you are. If you are not sure why a bank or organization is requesting your Social Security number, call them and ask.

Social Media Accounts

There is an incredible amount of personal information available on social media profiles, including birth date, relationship status, location, schools attended, employment information, and more. Cybercriminals can use this information for social engineering purposes: they answer security questions, hack into companies, and launch highly personalized phishing campaigns. Make sure that your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media privacy settings are locked down with two-factor authentication and resist the urge to share private information online.

Public Wifi 

Public Wi-Fi can make traveling easier, but be careful about how you use it. It’s pretty easy for criminals to set up a “free Wi-Fi” network, so before joining, confirm the name and password with the staff of the coffee shop or library. A VPN (virtual private network), which encrypts traffic between your device and the VPN server, is one of the best ways to keep your browsing session private. In addition, force your browser to use HTTPS. Remember to ALWAYS log off and tell your devices to “forget” any public networks when you are finished. 

Creative Security Answers

Nowadays most places require you to answer security questions to confirm your login information. If you make the answers to the questions easy, that also makes it easier for hackers to access your information. Make the answers creative and as difficult for someone else to guess or piece together as possible. 

Strong Passwords

Strong passwords are essential for protecting your PII. Creating a password that is unique and difficult for hackers to guess is of key importance. Try using symbols, capital letters or numbers to spice up your passwords, and try not to use the same password for more than one account. 

Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are very common nowadays, and it can be easy to fall for one. If you are questioning if an email is a phishing scam or not, do not open the email. It can pay off to be too safe in certain situations like this. 

Monitor Your Credit Reports Closely 

Monitor your credit reports and financial accounts daily for suspicious activity. Also, scan your credit reports for unusual activity, such as accounts or cards that you did not open. 

Don’t Give Up Your Data Easily

Make sure you are aware of how companies are using your data. Always ask questions on how they ensure to protect your personal information.

Personally Identifiable Information Next Steps

In summary, you can’t have identity theft without PII. It is important to do everything you can to protect your personally identifiable information. Even if it seems silly, doing whatever you can to protect your PII is of vast importance. 

Here is a small sample of what you can do: 

  • Limit what you share on social media.
  • Shred important documents before discarding them.
  • Avoid handing over your Social Security number just because someone asks for it. Make sure they need it, and ask how they’ll protect it.
  • Store your Social Security card in a safe place, not in your wallet.

Ultimately, there’s a lot more you can do, but the key point is to think twice about sharing your PII—and even more often about protecting it. Being overprotective of your PII is very important, even if it seems like overkill.

We can help.

If your PII has been breached and your identity has been compromised, Maginnis Howard’s attorneys would like to speak with you. You can reach our attorneys by phone at 919.526.0450, by email at, or through our contact page.