I was conducting an annual review of my credit reports on AnnualCreditReport.com on Monday. I save the summary from each of the three credit agencies as a PDF file on my hard disk. I noticed that one of the credit reports left my SSN intact in the report. Since I don't want my SSN visible sitting around to be exploited, I had an idea: to run a search on my PC for my SSN.
I was using Windows XP Pro. I entered my SSN in the 'Search Desktop' box on my toolbar and clicked on 'Search Desktop'. I was surprised at what it found.
I used the same procedure for my birthdate, with two formats (i.e., 1/1/1911 and January 1, 1911) and found more interesting results.
Bottom Line: Search for your SSN and birthdate in all files on your computer.
If your PC gets hacked or stolen, SSNs and birthdates inadvertently left on documents on your hard drive can be used to steal your identity. If you travel with a portable, you are especially vulnerable to theft.
As more people use smart phones and PDAs for personal information storage, the same concerns would apply.
If anyone knows how to easily remove a small block of data from PDF files, please leave a comment.