Put Another Lock on Your Information Door

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Pretexting has nothing to do with your preparations before sending a text message to a friend, although sometimes I wish people would do that. Pretexting is the practice of pretending to be someone else in order to get private personal information about you. The most famous case of pretexting occurred a few years ago when the Hewlett-Packard Chairman hired a firm to investigate HP’s own directors. The firm used pretexting techniques to do the investigation. Essentially they pretended to be the directors to get access to their phone records. The HP scandal that ensued cost some people their reputation. Your reputation is probably not at risk but your bank account may be.

Who Pretexts and How Is Pretexting Done

A child may ask their parents the date of their anniversary because they think it might be the code to unlock the laptop computer. An identity thief might call your bank pretending to have lost their checkbook and so need the bank account information. Both of these are examples of pretexting. Popular tactics include calling you pretending to be taking a survey or pretending to be your bank or a government institution and then asking for detailed personal information. They then either sell this information or use this information and call your bank or other company pretending to be you because they now have all the public information on you and the private answers you just supplied to them as tools to get past any identification requirements.

How to Avoid Pretexting

Pretexting is illegal, just like home robbery. Even though both are illegal, we cannot rely only on the law alone to protect us from these evils. To protect from robbery we have locks on our doors. Even people who don’t use locks on their door at night still have them in case there is a threat of robbery. So we must put the lock on our information door and know when and how to use it. There are two things that, if done together, will be the most effective methods to avoid pretexting.

First, do not use passwords or password backup questions that are public or well known information, like your mother’s maiden name. You might want to use something like the name of your first pet or the first name of your best friend in fourth grade.

Second, never give out private information over the phone or internet unless you initiated the contact. Be very suspicious of anyone asking for information if you do not know them personally, and even then, make sure it is them you are talking to. Other measures include being mindful of your account statements and billing cycles as well as getting a regular updated credit report and looking for irregularities. Get a good paper shredder and shred all documents that contain personal information before you throw them away.

Third, share the importance of privacy and protecting personal information with friends, family or your hawaladar. The more privacy the people surrounding you have, the more privacy you will have. You can email them this and other articles or simply talk to them about good privacy habits.


Pretexting is a threat to anyone in any position, just ask the directors of HP. Take appropriate measures to avoid being an easy target for pretexting which can be found in the book How To Vanish.

Reprinted with permission from How to Vanish.

Bill Rounds, J.D. is a California attorney. He holds a degree in Accounting from the University of Utah and a law degree from California Western School of Law. He practices civil litigation, domestic and foreign business entity formation and transactions, criminal defense and privacy law. He is a strong advocate of personal and financial freedom and civil liberties.