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Unsubscribing from emails is not the same as deleting your data

We get emails from all kinds of companies and organisations all the time and usually at the bottom you will find an ‘unsubscribe’ button or link. Many of us click on that and think we have disconnected ourselves from the company that sent it. But in fact our data is still on the company system and that makes us vulnerable. Getting data erased protects us far more.

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We receive emails all the time, many of which are expected and useful uses of our data. They might be from utility companies, clothing retailers, food stores as well as from banks and financial organisations. When we order from an online retailer, we expect an order confirmation email, maybe a shipping alert and tracking information, all conveniently dropping into our inboxes.

Our personal data is the key to unlocking relationships with all manner of organisations, and we love it when we see our data working for us and helping enhance our lives.

But then we also get lots of emails from what seem to be random organisations, making us offers, asking us to click on links to win a prize, offering us a deal on some item that we have no memory of expressing any interest in. And sometimes we even notice emails that arrive and don’t seem quite right, or are clumsy phishing attempts by someone that seems to have got hold of our email address. Spam creeps in and sometimes we seem to have more spam than actually useful emails.

Usually, it’s possible to scroll to the bottom of an unsolicited email and click ‘unsubscribe’, and that will seem to be the end of it. Most organisations will remove you from their particular marketing database by clicking the ‘unsubscribe’ link - as indeed they should under GDPR legislation. But not always. Sometimes whoever sent the email just confirmed that your email address is still live, simply by your opening it. And then even more spam starts to arrive.

Remember this

Here’s the critical thing to remember: even for a respectable company, when you hit ‘unsubscribe’, it stops them sending emails but unsubscribing doesn’t remove your data from their systems. Your data sits there, getting moved between computers and databases and that’s where it becomes vulnerable.

On occasion your data can become exposed just because it got shared by someone sending it somewhere they shouldn’t have by mistake.

But almost every day, companies are hacked and data is stolen. If your personal data is still in that company’s database, then it will be stolen whether you’ve unsubscribed from emails or not. The data the hackers steal will depend on what’s there of course, but it could be your:

  • name
  • address
  • email address
  • mobile number
  • date of birth
  • sex
  • health information
  • credit card data
  • credit history
  • social and environmental information
  • purchasing habits

and so on. And of course passwords and security information that, in the hands of criminals, could cause you all sorts of problems.

Once it’s stolen, your data can be exploited by scammers, even if you unsubscribed from emails. It can lead to phishing attempts on you to break into your finances or wholesale identity theft.

Beware of that fun online quiz

It may all seem like harmless fun, but quizzes and surveys delivered through social media can be little collectors of information that scammers use to build up a profile of you alongside data they stole from somewhere else. They will take a tiny bit of information here, a little snippet about you there, and hey presto! They start to build a profile of you that may include:

  • your mother’s maiden name
  • the name of your first pet
  • favourite team
  • favourite food
  • favourite colour

and so on. Often these things are the sources of passwords.

Scammers will build your profile until they have enough information to begin to intrude into your identity and even steal it. People that use the same password on multiple websites are particularly vulnerable to information that can be found on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on.

This is how they often appear: A fun quiz pops up on your Facebook feed or another social media platform. “Let’s test your IQ”, or ask how well you know a friend, just answer a few simple questions. Or perhaps it’s a short personality test to see how close a match you are to a famous fictional character. These quizzes appear to have no meaning, just a bit of fun but their real, and maybe more sinister, purpose is to collect information.

Of course, not every online quiz is a scammer trying to fish for information. But some are, so be careful.

Be more certain

Companies and data brokers sell data between them, leading to one individual consumer having their data stored by hundreds, and often thousands, of companies which the individual has never even heard of.

A more certain way to protect your personal data than simply unsubscribing is to make sure that a company has totally erased it.

Rightly Protect is a service designed to help you identify who has your data, even companies you may not have heard of, and get it completely erased from any that you think shouldn’t have it. It’s quick and it’s free.