The guy next to me during a recent flight didn’t seem much like talking so we never introduced ourselves, but we’ll call him Bob. After the in-flight crew made the announcement that it was “ok to use your electronic devices,” Bob pulled out his laptop. Whether he was going to be productive or merely pass the time on a long flight, Bob’s computer usage was none of my concern. And though I was trying hard not to pay attention to what Bob was doing or what was on his screen, the proximity between airline seats makes that almost impossible. But it became readily apparent that Bob didn’t care that anyone else knew what he was doing.
The screen on Bob’s laptop was about 17 inches; hard to completely ignore in adjacent coach seats. So, unless my eyes were closed his computer usage was unavoidable. Even more interesting, it didn’t seem to bother Bob that every key stroke he made was recited by his computer. Apparently one of the features of his laptop was activated and announcing every key he hit, so when Bob accessed the internet via the plane’s onboard wi-fi connection and ordered something online, every entered element and number of his order, credit card, email, home address and other details was easily heard by the people around him, in spite of the airplane’s interior din. Were one so inclined, they could have easily noted Bob’s personal information and used it in a number of inappropriate ways.
Now, it is possible that Bob really needed this audio feature of his computer to be turned on because of a disability, but maybe not. If he deliberately engaged this feature, you’d think he would wear headphones or use ear buds to prevent others from hearing what he typed. But such was not the case, and he appeared unfazed by his computer’s recitations. And even if the audio feature had not been activated, Bob still “shared” his screen with others because everything he wrote was easily visible to all his seatmates, and the people across from him or moving through the aisle.
You should always exercise a modicum of caution and awareness of your surroundings when conducting business online or by phone, particularly in close quarters to strangers. These days, there are too many ways for your privacy to be invaded. Whether by hacker, scam artist, snooping, mail theft, or myriad other methods, there are people out there – professionals and amateurs – who are anxious to take advantage of you and your personal information, for their own fun and profit. These criminals can derail your life, your credit, your relationships, and your productivity, affecting you for years! So when I encounter someone like Bob, who is so open and unconcerned about others seeing (hearing?) what’s on his computer screen in public spaces, I’m inclined to encourage some prudence.
Would it have been as important for Bob (or anyone else!) to protect his privacy if he was “merely” working on a resume or a spreadsheet? Yes! If unscrupulous eyes catch your return address on your screen, too much of your information would suddenly be in the wrong hands, and usable for unfavorable behaviors.
Not just on planes, but using a computer or phone in any public space, someone could be watching for you to enter personal and private information and use if for their own gains. If your back is to a clear window, someone could be outside looking in from the parking lot with a pair of binoculars. Identity thieves also frequently stalk public phones watching for people to use their credit cards.
You may not be able to avoid every attempt to gain your personal information. Conducting business online or making telephone transactions, we are at risk of identity theft too frequently. But there are steps we can take to protect ourselves more diligently.
- Check your surroundings to minimize the chance of prying eyes!
- Make sure the online sites you order from are using secure servers (you’ll see https at the beginning of the web address instead of just http).
- Get a privacy mesh that slips over your computer’s monitor to impede viewing from all side angles, while remaining legible from straight ahead.
- Keep your anti-virus tools, spam filters and your operating system up to date. Frequent updates are provided to minimize online threats from malicious software and attachments.
- Avoid using wireless phones when conducting transactions at home. The frequencies used between handset and base can be monitored from outside your home.
Protecting yourself from prying eyes is not rocket science. A little caution and awareness can go a long way to preventing identity theft, and keeping your personal information private. For more information on ID Theft, Privacy, & Security go to: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/menus/consumer/data.shtm
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