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Sparking joy has taken on a whole new meaning thanks to the KonMari method of tidying up. Cleaning up your physical and digital life are some ways to prevent identity theft.

Marie Kondo took the world by storm in 2019 with the premise of decluttering your life, tidying up your home and workspaces and living by a simple principle: if it doesn’t “spark joy,” you don’t need it. The mindset behind the so-called KonMari method proved to be so effective that second-hand stores and thrift shops saw record-setting levels of donations.

This decluttering concept can be applied to physical possessions, but you should also consider its ability to benefit other areas of life. For example, you might clean up your email inbox or desktop. There’s another level of protection that consumers can take from this “spark joy” concept, and that’s keeping their identities out of a criminal’s hands.

Before You Begin

Several steps can help you organize your identity before you ever have to deal with cluttering consequences. These would include things like halting subscriptions to magazines and newspapers you don’t read, blocking credit card offers with your financial institutions and going “paperless” on bills and bank statements. By ensuring these things don’t arrive at your home, you’ll have less clutter to deal with and fewer security pitfalls that a thief could exploit.

Another possible vulnerability is your email inbox. Adopt the good habit of not just deleting unwanted emails but actively unsubscribing from them. You will have to open them, scroll down and click unsubscribe. Do not follow this procedure for emails that appear to be scam attempts. Clicking a link can redirect you to a harmful website or install malicious software on your computer. Instead, you should avoid links or attachments in unsolicited messages and block the sender.

One other thing you can do is update your contact information. Review all of your contact information to ensure it is up-to-date and you are not missing any essential information. There are other ways to prevent identity theft.

Physical Mail

As for identity tidying in your home or workplace, that can seem very daunting. Don’t worry; it’s not. By following commonly shared methods from organizational experts like Marie Kondo and others, you can start by creating “piles.” Establish a temporary spot for everything that could be linked back to your identity: a pile for bills, a pile for junk mail and a pile for important papers.

  • The bills: Your monthly statements must be accessible but protected. Find out where you are most likely to see them but keep others from coming across them. As you pay a bill, shred the remaining mailer portion so that you don’t end up with random piles of paper that will need to be addressed later.
  • Junk mail: It’s too easy to toss some junk mail on the counter and think you’ll deal with it later. It’s even easier to throw it in the trash unopened. However, that could lead a dumpster-diving identity thief to pieces of your overall data puzzle. Keep a basket near your cross-cut shredder to stash these items until you’re ready to shred.
  • Important papers: Many people would agree that tax documents, health insurance statements and other key forms don’t “spark joy” and therefore should be done away with immediately. However, that’s not wise. What is helpful is investing in a small file cabinet or file box where important papers can be stored when they are not needed. The file must be accessible in an emergency but not left out in the open where anyone could rifle through it.

Digital Clutter

Your digital identity becomes more important every day as the world evolves to a digital-first model. However, the same principles behind decluttering can help you in the virtual space. Investing in an external hard drive or cloud-based storage subscription can protect the things you want to keep while getting them out of your physical space. Even better, if there’s a paper you might need at a later date, you can photograph it or scan it, then store it in these outside spaces. That way, you can discard the original but retain a protected printable copy if you need it. It is also a good idea to organize your digital files. While it is time-consuming, it will make more space available for the most important things that need to be stored on these devices.

Mobile Apps & Privacy Settings:

  1. Take a look at all of the apps on your device – are there any you’re not using anymore? Delete those.
  2. Visit your mobile device settings to see what information your applications collect from you and update them for increased privacy. For example, you might need to let a map app see your location, but does it need to be active all the time or just when in use? The same thing for photos, do all of your apps need access to your media library? It’s also a good time to run any updates for your phone software or apps.

You should also pay attention to the permissions you allow the mobile apps on your device. Third-parties might be tracking information about you that you might not realize like your location, search history and even your photos through these apps. If they aren’t actively using this collected data, they’re still storing it, leaving your personal information vulnerable to cyberattacks should the third-party fall victim to a breach. Also, think twice before discarding an old device and be sure to reset your factory settings.

Finally, make sure all of the passwords are different for each of your accounts and use a 12+ character passphrase. Right now, threat actors are after credentials more than in years past. You should have a different password for each account and use multifactor authentication if possible for an added layer of security. If you follow these steps, you will be enacting different ways to prevent identity theft. 

Contact the ITRC

If you have questions about tidying up your identity and ways to prevent identity theft, or if you believe you are a victim, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center. You can reach an expert advisor toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat. You can also find resources on an array of identity-related topics. Just go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

The post was originally published on 2/15/19 and was updated on 4/6/21