By its very nature, a background check is an invasion of privacy. A screening company is verifying information to make sure it’s truthful and accurate and at the same time searching for past indecencies and indiscretions that may give an employer pause. It’s not that the screening agency is trying to dig up dirt, it’s just they have a responsibility to whoever has hired them to perform due diligence to prove you are who you say you are and that you’ve done what you say (or haven’t said) you’ve done.

Ok, that’s a lot to digest in an opening paragraph. Whew!

What’s important to note in this discussion, however, is that it is completely, 100% legal for background screening firms to search for this information as long as compliance, privacy and hiring laws are followed. Most background screening companies are committed to operating at the highest standards and keeping your Personally Identifiable Information (PII) protected. Click here for a list of the most proactive firms (these are the ones like Active Screening who have taken a pledge to never off shore your PII).

Anyone who has an online presence, though, can fall victim to privacy invasions (at best) and identity theft (at worst?) and it has nothing to do with background checks or the agencies who conduct them. Sometimes, you, as a World Wide Web user, are your own worst enemy. So here’s some things you need to know about protecting your online privacy.

You are NOT invincible… or invisible. Every time you check Twitter with your smartphone, browse through Zulily while waiting to pick your daughter up from daycare, watch an episode of Rookie Blue On Demand on your iPad, text your college buddy, or enter a new bill in your Bank of America auto pay feature, you’re leaving a digital footprint. Your information is getting out there whether you realize it or not which makes you and millions of other casual internet users prime targets for identity thieves. Don’t, for one second, think it won’t happen to you. Approximately 15 million United States residents have their identities used fraudulently each year with financial losses totaling more than $50 billion, reports

Shield Your Browsing History. If it weirds you out to suddenly realize that ad for a pet sitting service on your Facebook page wasn’t so random after all (you did post a status update last week about looking forward to your trip to Puerto Rico in November, didn’t you?), then it’s time you knew about data brokers. These information hounds are hoarding your WWW moves and selling that information to anyone who wants it – namely marketers, advertisers and yes, screening companies. Robert Siciliano, a security speaker and expert on virtual privacy, recommends browsing “incognito” on his blog. Here’s his advice, direct from a post titled Data Brokers: What They Are; How to Get Control of Your Name

Browse “Incognito”: with Googles Chrome browser you can open a “New Incognito Window” once opened, you’ve gone incognito. Pages you view in incognito tabs won’t stick around in your browser’s history, cookie store, or search history after you’ve closed all of your incognito tabs. Any files you download or bookmarks you create will be kept. However, you aren’t invisible. Going incognito doesn’t hide your browsing from your employer, your internet service provider, or the websites you visit.”

Shred. In an increasingly paperless society, it’s easy to forget about eliminating a paper trail of private documents. Invest in a good shredder and keep it handy so you’ll use it. Anything that includes private information like medical receipts or solicits for personal information like credit applications and those fake cards and checks (ESPECIALLY those fake cards and checks!), should get annihilated.

Be Skeptical. Don’t give out your PII to anyone who asks for it in an email or on a website or over the phone. Most reputable businesses don’t ask for this information in a cold call and they certainly shouldn’t demand it over email. If someone does, get on the phone and call customer service or a fraud detection line immediately. Also, look for web site certificates. Two methods of detecting if you’re on a secure site include a lock icon at the top (which is actually locked) or a webpage that begins with ‘https’ instead of ‘http.’

Unfortunately or fortunately, you have to be your own advocate when it comes to protecting your personal information online. We’d love to share some of your tips and tricks with our readers. For example, has anyone tried Ghostery? Remind? Wickr?

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