As a writer, you probably understand that it’s important not to overshare on social media. Do you prevent your address and phone number from being overshared, too? Identity theft is another major concern when your information is readily available. Even if you’ve opted yourself out of every people finder website on the Internet, there are myriad ways your private information might be disclosed through normal writing-related business matters.
Why worry about this? It’s important to take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from stalking and harassment. There have been documented cases of stalkers who have showed up on writers’ doorsteps, called them at work, and even physically assaulted them. Angela Hoy, the publisher of WritersWeekly, has been harassed and threatened many times over the years.
A comprehensive list of all the places your address might be exposed would be as long as a novel, but five common culprits for writers are listed below.
Some people don’t need help exposing their personal details. They do it all by themselves. There are writers who put their home addresses on their websites, blogs, business cards or self-published books. Email has issues, too. If you publicly share an email with an academic or corporate domain, you’ve just broadcast where you work or study. If it’s your personal email address, strangers can use it to look you up on social networking and shopping websites.
Never list your home address on your website or blog, in your self-published books, on your business cards, or on social media or networking accounts. There’s no reason for it to be there. Don’t post your phone number online or in your books, either.
Invest in a P.O. Box, mail forwarding service or virtual office for situations where you want or need to give out a postal address. You can also obtain a virtual phone number. Consider using a contact form on your website instead of your email address. Keep separate email accounts for writing-related matters and personal communications.
2. ISBNs and Copyrights
Have you self-published a book? If you purchased your own ISBNs, or used your own imprint name, you are the publisher of record, and your information is publicly available. Copyright registrations are also public. You need to provide valid contact details for transactions like these, but you don’t need to use your home address. Time for the P.O. Box!
It’s mandatory to provide contact information when buying a domain, and it’s not kept confidential. Anyone can run a simple Internet query and instantly obtain the registration data for any domain name, including the owner’s address and phone number.
Some companies offer private registration. Under this system, the registrar lists their address, email and phone number in the public database instead of yours. Some mask all your data; others identify you as the domain owner but hide everything else. Private registrars still need to keep your info on file and may be forced to give it up if they are challenged, so using that P.O. Box address might still be prudent.
4. Photos on the Web
That cute picture of your cats that you posted on your website could lead people right to your doorstep. Images captured on mobile devices, such as phones and tablets, are geotagged with disturbingly precise location information, which is helpfully mapped for your stalkers.
Disable geotagging on your devices. This shouldn’t stop you from taking or posting photos. It just prevents location data from being embedded in your images. Since it’s separate from the regular location setting, it shouldn’t interfere with your GPS or other apps, either.
5. Financial transactions
Personal checks are a goldmine for thieves. Your bank account number and home address are right there. When you’re doing business with an unfamiliar company or individual, consider using an online payment service, money order, or credit card. All of those payment methods keep your banking information private and offer some consumer protection on purchases. For another layer of protection, you can get a prepaid credit card that is not attached to your permanent one. If you must use personal checks, just have your name ñ and not your home address – printed on them.
Itís much easier to keep your details close to the chest all along than to try to lock them down after someoneís started harassing you. Be vigilant about how, where, and when your personal information is being shared!
Denise Reich is an Italian-born, NYC-raised freelance writer who moved fourteen times before she was fifteen years old. Her work has appeared in numerous books in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, the anthology She’s Shameless, Bunker Hill and many other publications in the USA, Canada, Bermuda and elsewhere. Visit her online at http://www.freewebs.com/denisenox.
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