Protecting personally identifiable information

In 2014, approximately 17 percent of Americans over the age of 16 had their identity stolen. Taking precautions like deleting suspicious e-mails, avoiding untrustworthy websites and encrypting sensitive information can help prevent adversaries from stealing personal information.

In 2014, approximately 17 percent of Americans over the age of 16 had their identity stolen. Taking precautions like deleting suspicious e-mails, avoiding untrustworthy websites and encrypting sensitive information can help prevent adversaries from stealing personal information. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman 1st Class Sean Sweeney.)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Couples often celebrate the birth of their child by sharing the heartfelt moment with friends and family on social media.

While the family is rejoicing, it does not take long for a criminal to track down the newborn’s social security number with the information posted online. Several months later, the parents receive a notice in the mail saying their child owes several thousand dollars in debt, said Jeff Gordy, 20th Communication Squadron wing privacy act manager, describing a common mistake individuals make regarding personally identifiable information.

“I see it on social media all the time,” said Gordy. “People like to over share and they don’t look at what they share before they share it, and they are giving away all kinds of information. They give away dates of birth and names of babies being born. For an identity thief, getting the social security number for a baby is the best thing in the world.”

Apccording to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 17.6 million people over the age of 16 experienced identity theft in the United States in 2014. One of the main causes for identity theft is compromised PII.

PII is anything that can be used to identify an individual such as a social security number, home address and home phone number.

“Everybody should be concerned about not only their [PII] but others’ as well,” said Capt. Brock Wood, 20th CS plans and resources flight commander. “There is a certain amount of information we have to share in today’s information age, but by safeguarding what you can, you can limit an adversary’s ability to target you specifically.”

If personal information is compromised, it can leave an individual vulnerable for predators to take advantage.

Along with financial issues, identity theft can potentially put a person’s life in danger.

“Beyond (stealing money), they can potentially build a profile that they can use for stalking if they actually wanted to target you specifically,” Wood continued.

One way to limit the possibility of an information breach is to encrypt sensitive information.

“If you’re going to e-mail information, even if it’s your own information, I suggest you encrypt it,” said Gordy. “If you can’t encrypt it because you’re sending it off base, we have a program called U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center Safe Access File Exchange that allows you to send privacy act information off base that is password protected. By sending it through that program, even if it goes through a server, it’s still going to be safe because it’s encrypted.”

The loss of sensitive information can also threaten on an individual’s ability to effectively do their job.

Gordy said if your credit is compromised you can lose your security clearance and many Defense Department employees rely on that clearance to be able to do the mission.

Many aspects of the military require individuals to store and share PII in order to accomplish the mission. The proper storage and use of that information is necessary for protecting individuals from vulnerabilities.

“We have to be able to share information,” Wood explained. “We don’t have social security numbers, alpha rosters and recall rosters on the computer to be locked away where no one can get to them; the right people have to be able to get to them. So when you’re doing file sharing, it’s important that whatever folders or share point websites you’re using to share that information are locked down so that only the people who need access to it can access it.”

Some tips for storing and handling PII include:

- Password-protect sensitive documents.
- Encrypt e-mails that contain PII.
- Do not leave documents with PII out in the open.
- Do not talk about sensitive information in public.
- Do not give out PII over the phone unless you know who you are talking to.

If identity theft occurs, an individual can contact a credit bureau or seek legal assistance.

For more information on how to properly handle PII and other sensitive material, contact the 20th Fighter Wing Records Management office at 803-895-1631.