You know the basics of online security — keep your systems and programs updated, don’t reuse passwords, don’t click links in emails and on social media and avoid visiting unfamiliar websites. It’s easy to care for the resources you use everyday, but what about forgotten apps, programs and online accounts? These may be gathering virtual dust, but can pose a risk to your online safety. You may have forgotten about them, but a hacker looks for all vulnerabilities.
The more unused accounts you have hanging around, the more avenues there are for cybercriminals to find their way to your sensitive information. Even if you have never reused any of those login credentials — and are you really sure about that? — customer data from companies large and small has been stolen, and any information you have stored with a company could be used to piece together a false identity.
Further, old attachments in your email could contain data about you and your family members that you wouldn’t want falling into the wrong hands. How many texts have I received from one of the kids asking for their social security numbers, insurance policy numbers, copies of a birth certificate and more? Delete old emails, texts and photos of documents you may have saved to your phone, along with any sensitive documents saved to your computer that don’t need to be there.
Now that you’ve removed the easy-to-see items, let’s turn to apps and online accounts. While there is no one-button-wonder for the process, it won’t take too much time and there are tools available to help hunt down the ones you don’t remember. As you move through the clean-up process, make a list of each account and a corresponding action: keep or close. You’ll end up with a personal online tracker that you can use to stay on top of your digital footprint.
Start with the ones that are easy to identify like the apps on your phone. Go into Settings, General and then Storage. Here you’ll see your apps listed by the amount of storage each occupies in your phone, but you’ll also see when you last used each one. If you find apps that you haven’t used in several months, consider canceling your account. Note that just deleting the app is not enough. You will have to login to the service and cancel your account, which is often easier to do from your computer.
Your iPhone also has a quick way to view subscriptions you have purchased using your Apple ID. Go to Settings, tap your name at the top of the screen, open iTunes & App Store, tap the Apple ID link to see a popup screen, select View Apple ID and then scroll down to Subscriptions. Here you can cancel the ones you no longer need.
For online subscriptions and other accounts, your email will be the best source to find accounts. All companies should send you a confirmation when you sign up for an account and will send a notice when a payment has been processed. Find both free and unpaid subscriptions by searching your inbox using the term “confirm account.” You should also check your bank statement for recurring charges. Not only do those $5 monthly charges add up, but those companies have your bank account number. Minimize automatic payments and you’ll reduce your risk.
A third source for finding online accounts you may have forgotten, is your browser, which keeps a list of web addresses and their passwords that you’ve given it permission to save. For Chrome users, go to Settings and then find Passwords in the Autofill section. Open to see your list. Notice the three dots at the top right of the list — click and you’ll be able to export the list as a .csv file. When you bring that file into Excel, it will convert to a spreadsheet and you’ll have a great start to your online tracker.
Now that you’ve identified as many accounts as possible, start deleting the ones that aren’t essential to you. Some companies make it easy to delete your account with one click, others take more effort and you may have to chase customer service, and still others make it impossible to remove your data even if you’ve closed the account. Still, you won’t be adding any more information!
A great tool for this tedious process comes from JustDelete.me, a table that has more than 500 websites color-coded by how difficult (or even impossible) it is to close your account. Each service name links to its sign-in page. Match the accounts listed on your tracker to those on JustDelete.me. By the time you’ve gone through the matches, you’ll be an expert and understand just what to look for if you find you have an account that’s not on the table.