3. Opt Out Early and Often
By reducing the amount of junk mail you receive, you make yourself a smaller target for identity thieves and others who can mess with your reputation. (One of identity thieves' favorite tricks is to sign up for a change of address in your name, so they can re-route pre-approved credit card offers to your "new address.")
Though there's almost no way of getting your junk quotient down to zero, taking your name off marketing lists will nuke 50 to 75 percent of it. The easiest way? Sign up for ProQuo. This free service can help delete your name from more than a dozen marketing lists--including those operated by the Direct Marketing Association and massive data brokers like ChoicePoint and Acxiom.
In some cases ProQuo will remove your name for you; in other cases it directs you to the opt-out page for an organization's Web site or gives you sample letters that you must print out, sign, and mail. You can also use
4. Do Your Own Background Check
There is a treasure trove of information about you freely available to anyone who knows how to look for it. Do you own property? Are you licensed to carry a concealed weapon?
While you're at it, order your free annual report from the big three credit bureaus. This
Just be careful who you order your report from. The vast majority of sites that advertise "free credit reports" try to trick you into signing up for credit monitoring services at $10 to $15 a month. The right place to go is AnnualCreditReport.com--or, better yet, call 877/322-8228 to order it by phone.
5. Defend Your Reputation
When it comes to online reputations, people are usually their own worst enemies. Those drunken spring break photos may have been a hoot in college, but they're not so funny when you're prepping for the big job interview. (And if you think employers won't find it, think again: 77 percent of recruiters use search engines to screen prospective job candidates, according to a survey by ExecuNet.) You can delete your Flickr account or your MySpace page, but once this stuff is on the Web, you have no control over what happens to it. If you find nasty stuff floating around that's not under your control, you may have to employ the nuclear option and hire someone to take care of it for you.
Some services, like DefendMyName, can cost $1000 a month; others are bit more reasonable. For $10 a month, Reputation Defender's MyReputation service will scour the Net to find out what people are saying about you. If the service
And if the service
"Most clients never ask us to remove anything, they just use us as a professional monitoring service for their good names," he says in an e-mail. "They think of our services as the 'new credit report.'"
PC World contributing editor Dan Tynan has a terrible reputation, all of it richly deserved.