Unused site accounts can come back to haunt you
How many old, abandoned accounts do you have? If you are like most of us, there are plenty of sites you have signed into, and for one reason or another are no longer interested in. Why not just forget about them, and let them gather dust on some arcane digital shelf?
Because that’s not how the Internet works. Those abandoned accounts are not fading away over time until they are illegible like a crumbling manuscript in a forgotten cellar. If hackers breach the site, then your data is as easy to access as the credit card in a lost wallet.
This article explains how old accounts can hurt you and offers suggestions to locate and delete them.
After reading this article you may want to think twice before creating that new account.
The following information can help you with old, unused accounts:
Why should I delete abandoned accounts?
If a site is breached, all its data can be accessed by hackers, including your old account. In this case, your password will no longer protect it.
If you have reused the same password elsewhere, your hacked data can be used to get into your active accounts.
Your old accounts may also contain personal information, which may enable hackers to impersonate you.
Aren’t these risks inherent in all sites (not just abandoned accounts)? Yes, but with active accounts you still need to make use of the site, so there is value to balance the risk. Why incur this risk with accounts you no longer want/need?
How can I delete my abandoned accounts?
It isn’t always easy to delete an account. Once a site has access to you (and your data, cash, support, etc.) they are often hesitant to let you go. Look around once you have logged into a typical site for a link to “delete the account”. Even if there is one, you’ll find that it’s not posted very prominently. Here are some suggestions:
- Search for the name of the site and “delete account” in your favorite search engine (DuckDuckGo, Google, etc.)
- Refer to JustDelete.me, a site which offers a convenient database with deletion steps for many websites.
- Contact the site (chat, email, web form) and request to be deleted.
I can’t delete one of my accounts.
If you can’t delete an account, don’t be too surprised. You’re one of the many golden geese, and the site doesn’t want to let you go. Yes, this should be against some law (and it is in Europe), but you do still have options.
You can log into the account and remove/overwrite your data. Here are some suggestions:
- Remove all credit card accounts. Even an expired credit card may still use the same number.
- Remove postings, pictures, calendar events… anything you have entered on the site.
- Change your address. Replace it with a fictitious one. Have fun; how about “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue”?
- Change your name. What would the name of your alter-ego be? Shannon The-Powerful? Or Eric The-Wise?
- Change your birthday and any other personal information.
The idea is to remove all your information. If the account gets hacked, then your information will not be included.
NOTE: If it allows you to change your Username, do so last, along with your password. If it locks you out while doing so, then you’ll have already removed the rest of your data.
NOTE 2: Don’t feel guilty about putting in fictitious information. If they let you just delete your account, you wouldn’t have to do this.
This sounds like it’s going to take a lot of time.
Perhaps, but do you know what takes a lot longer? Fighting identity theft. According to Experian:
“If someone steals your SSN to open a credit account in your name, for instance, it can take months to work with the creditor and credit reporting agencies to dispute it and prove it wasn’t you.
And if someone manages to use your identity to incur tax debt and commit other crimes and major violations, it could take years of work to undo the damage.”
How can I save myself this time?
Be thoughtful about signing up for new accounts. Consider that you should delete the account when you no longer need it, remember the amount of time it may take, and then decide if you really need this new account.
If you have questions about this, please let us know and we will be happy to assist you.