“One of the easiest things to do is get a camera system installed for the outside of the home. Record everything that’s going on.” - Trip Elix
Are you worried your spouse may be spying on you? Sometimes, regardless what you try to do, it seems like your soon-to-be-ex spouse knows just a little bit too much information about what’s going on in your life.
In this episode we interview Trip Elix, a former hacker, published author and privacy expert. Trip will surprise you with just how much information companies have about you — and how easy it is for a spouse to track your every movement. This is a great episode that you do not want to miss!
We barely scratch the surface with Trip, so be sure to check out his myriad of resources.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Shawn: Today on the show I have Trip Elix, former hacker, published author, and privacy expert. Trip, welcome to the show.
Trip: Thank you very much.
Shawn: Trip, after speaking with you and learning about you and what you discuss, I know there’s a ton of information on almost every individual when it comes to their data. Can you just give us a sense of how much data is being collected on the average person? Also, I want to discuss who can access it.
Trip: Sure. In the question of what’s being collected, everything from credit card transactions, the information flow coming from the internet and the apps on your cell phone. It all basically gets culminated into a few different databases. There’s one big database that’s out there that’s probably second in size to the NSA database. That company is Acxiom. If your listeners are curious about any company on the internet, simply type in Acxiom and then space Facebook into google or Acxiom twitter into google or Acxiom some department of motor vehicles into google. They have relationships with pretty much everybody including our congress.
What “just for marketing” means for a lot of people when they use that little loyalty card at their local grocery store is, they believe that it’s for inventory control. Well, not really. It’s to know more about you, specifically about what your tastes are. If they sell out of fruit loops on the shelf, they know that already in their tracking system on their register. They don’t need to know which individual is buying fruit loops. So the “just for marketing” thing is really a myth. Literally anyone can buy anything about anyone else. That’s the idea of selling data, ad data carriers, one of the big companies that started the “list business”. The list business is when you get into your fruit loops lover. If somebody wants to buy a list, people that buy a particular product they can get their information and contact them, in marketing. As we know, marketing is spam, telemarketing, and junk mail. This process really started with one of the credit card companies, and it expanded. Today your information is sold in two different ways. Either you’re a member of a list, or if I have your name and date of birth, and your address, which are relatively easy for anybody to find, I can get what you bought. That’s called a portfolio. I was made aware of that from one of the people that work for the federal trade commission. Since then I’ve gone to a couple data brokers just testing to see how much it costs to buy all the information about you, and the range goes from about thirty dollars out to about sixty dollars. Literally, it cost zero if I got into that business myself, signed a couple contracts. The dataset for your personal information, everything you buy, everywhere you surf on the internet, and coming soon everything you watch on television, all are available in a little portfolio for the wholesale price of two bucks.
Shawn: So, let’s talk about that for a second. So you said that it’s clear that basically every credit card purchase they can track your web browsing habits to the shows that you watch. You mentioned something briefly. What about the information on your phone, in the apps? You said something about that, why don’t you talk about that for a second.
Trip: There are a lot of applications that we got acclimated and pushed and bullied into a process. By the way this is unique only to the United States. The rest of the world, this doesn’t apply. Mexico has privacy law, Canada has privacy laws, and all of Europe. Just the United States, we got bullied into a process through attrition, displaying a “do you agree” box. Well, the do you agree box at the beginning of the process was pretty benign. “Do you agree that your information is going to be stored on our system?” went from that to “Do you agree that your device and anything that you have on it becomes our property?” Window’s latest update to their windows drive actually changes the property right of anything you put in it to the ownership of Microsoft. So the “do you agree” thing on your cell phone, many of those applications that are out there, do copy your contact information, do copy your text messages, do copy your call pattern.
Unfortunately, our country has allowed countries to spy on us as well. Along with major corporations in the Unites States, we also have the governments of many nations trying to track us to find out who we are, who we’re related to, or who we have a relationship with in order to do the “spy game”. The problem in the United states is just compounded. There are apps that are on peoples phones right now. One of them was made famous for the flashlight from China. That was really to steal the contact information off of the phone.
Shawn: So, let me jump in for a second. It sounds like basically what I’m getting from you is that everything from the apps on your phone, your social media, your computer, your credit card, everything that you do is being tracked. A few follow ups in that regard. Why don’t you give us a little bit of your background history as to how you know this information and how you’ve gotten access to it and learned about it. I know you’re not a crazy conspiracy theorist, you’ve actually worked in this field.
Trip: Actually, a long time ago I worked as what is called a skip tracer. My job was to find the guy that didn’t make his sale and the bounty hunter couldn’t find him, or somebody that skipped out for the banking industry and didn’t make their car payments. Before the internet, the company I worked for actually had contracts with some of the same companies so that I could use it to track down where that individual was. This was before the internet. It was pretty easy then, and I realized that identity theft is going to be pretty easy for somebody like me. Today, you don’t have to have any skills to look up another person’s information, just a couple bucks.
Shawn: I actually think that’s a perfect transition to some of the issues that a lot of our listeners are facing – they are getting divorced or just got through their divorce – and their previous spouse has access to all of their personal information, or at least used to. It seems pretty easy for them to potentially be stalked or actually, in some cases that I have as we speak is mysteriously the spouse still seems to know everything that’s going on in someone’s life even though they are separated and trying to get divorced. It sounds like for the average person, being an ex spouse in this case, or soon to be ex spouse, that they have pretty easy access and efficient access to your information either personally or use of an investigator.
Trip: Yes, and that’s very true. There are some things that somebody that’s going through this can do. One is, if you’ve got enough money, meaning that you can afford to go buy another computer, start there. Separate your cell phone, not meaning separate, go out and get another contract with the same carrier. Change carriers, keep the number but change to a different carrier just so that person does not have access at the carrier level. As far as the strategy that a lot of people fall into when they’re trying to be private, there’s a lot of people that just believe that, “Well I don’t put any information out there so nobody can track what I’m doing.” That’s really not the case. When I investigate or look at someone, the people that are trying to hide from the system are a lot easier to track because they have less information out there. To defeat the stalker, what I urge people to do is sign up for Facebook and if you’re not already on it, get on it. Okay, this sounds odd. Create a profile and make sure that profile is completely public, that way that stranger can look at the inside of that Facebook. You’ve got to remember; you’re posting this for that other individual. Then, find some events and start going to events, things that you never had interest in before. You don’t really have to go, just saying that you’re going to a ballet or going to a swing dance, maybe he’ll show up at the swing dance thing and you stayed at home –oh well.
Shawn: You told me a story that you’d done that in practice?
Trip: Yes. I had somebody that’s a friend now, that was more than slightly interested in what I was doing. I actually have a large social circle. I’m active in my area and I go to a lot of events. I noticed that it wasn’t just commonality. I would go to something that I put on Facebook that I was going to an event and she would show up. What I ended up doing was making my circle a little bit larger and putting that I was going to events that I had no interest in. I did that for about six months and that interest suddenly disappeared because they had no idea where I was going.
Shawn: So it sounds like you should counter intuitively, but you should put out more information, not less because it can overwhelm and confuse potential stalkers. In this case we’re speaking in the context of divorce, an ex spouse.
Trip: The other thing is telephone. I have about 800 numbers on my cell phone. A lot of those numbers, I have no idea whose they are and that’s fine, they’re in my contact list. So if somebody grabs my contact list because I put the wrong app on my phone, they’re going to find that I’ve got relationships with senators, prosecutors, a few judges, plumbers, air craft mechanics, all kinds of people. Pick the person that’s real to me. You have to know the calling pattern. You can get that information and find out who I talk to and who I email, but the low end, that is going to look at that data, is just more garbage. The more garbage you put out there the harder it is to sort through.
Shawn: What about when it comes to an email address? What should people do there?
Trip: Email addresses, if we’re in a relationship and the other person had your password –and this is the important thing about passwords. A password should not be a word, ever. If it’s the internet we never tell the truth. No real date of birth, no real features, one of these companies out there has a product that they sell which is called the security question. What they’ve done is they’ve groomed a number of utilities and other things that people use for securing their information, and they actually sell it. If I want to compromise somebody I can simply, as a criminal, pay my $29.95 and get a list of everything that person has ever used in the history of the internet, security questions.
Trip: So I can go to the bank and know that your first grade teachers name was Mrs. Smith, I know that your first car was a Datsun that was green.
Shawn: It sounds like you need to be false, and kind of change up your answers for everything that you’ve previously used.
Trip: The most powerful tool that you can buy today is a dollar notebook that you get from a junk store. What you should do with that is first put all your password in it, and leave it at home. You don’t need to carry it around with you. If you need to carry a copy around with you for important passwords, leave it in your pocket or your purse, then buy a second notebook. Writing these things down, the internet is complex and this is the thing about passwords –like I said before, no words –if you’ve ever looked for the definition of a word on the internet you can define them, all the dictionary words are out there. There are programs that will go to websites and try every word in the dictionary, and every word combined with it, over and over again if they want to try to get into an account. That’s what compromised Yahoo to begin with, it was a dictionary attack. That’s what compromised AOL, a dictionary attack.
So how do you get around that? How do you create a new password? I like to use the seeded password. What I mean by that is we take a password that we’re going to use and we basically make it into a series of letters and numbers, and I’ll give you an example. The word black, capital B, lower case L, the at symbol (@) an open parenthesis which is Shift+9, and then a lower case k and a 1. Now, that’s my seed. What I mean by that’s my seed is if I want to go Yahoo, whatever it says in the upper left, the new password for Yahoo is Y-A-H then my seed, Black-O-O. If I’m going to go to google, G-O-O, first three characters, my seed and then the last. That makes a different password for every system and you would need to know that you’re using a key in trying to hack it. Plus, if it’s over 7 or over 8 characters and it has upper case, lower case numbers and symbols, it makes it a real nightmare to try to decrypt that. There are pieces of equipment that can guess that password relatively easy but quite truthfully that’s used for other things like trying to get into your accounts office, not trying to get into your email.
Shawn: Right, that’s high powered stuff. I think if you’re likely dealing with an ex spouse, that would probably be pretty sufficient to protect themselves or at least make it a lot harder to get access to an email address.
Trip: And don’t use the word black. A word that you make up. Individuality counts. Go out to the internet, every site needs a different password. You write these in your book, you leave the book at home. Email of course is on your cell phone and you want to access some of the social media. Write the password down in the book.
Shawn: Actually, you mentioned the home a few times. When were discussing earlier, before we started recording, you mentioned that there is a lot that you can do to protect your home, and there’s also a lot of things that can happen in terms of introducing devices and other issues that can actually lead to a compromise with some of the security you have at home. Can you talk a little bit about both?
Trip: Sure. If we’ve got somebody that we’ve been in a relationship that is controlling and has narcissistic tendencies, meaning they only care about themselves and you had become their property, there’s a few things that you can do to protect your home space. One is, if you live in a house, one of the easiest things to do is get a camera system installed for the outside of the home. Record everything that’s going on around your home. There is an instance where somebody I know did have an ex spouse that was visiting the home a lot. One of the things that we did is I actually installed a camera to record everything that happened on the street. Now the camera of course recorded a whole bunch of traffic and I’m sure that when he saw the camera while he was in his car looking at the camera, these people don’t want to be caught. So the problems around the home suddenly disappeared by doing these things and being proactive, putting security lights. The internet, a thing giving outside access to that camera system can also be a detriment because somebody on the outside can watch you. Again, strong passwords or no internet access. You really need to look at the outside of the home while you’re at work, and the sites that are out there that offer access through third parties, some of those have open access even though you’ve got passwords and there are lists of camera systems on the dark web. You just type in an open camera and if you want to be a warrior you can certainly sit and be unentertained by watching people in their living rooms and watching their yards, but I’ve seen it.
Shawn: I think that’s helpful, it sounds like it’s a double edge sword potentially and that getting a camera can certainly prevent someone from accessing, or at least deter someone from accessing your home or physical property. At the same time, even a camera system can have its vulnerabilities.
Trip: Yeah, and there are other things when you’re dealing with an ex spouse. One of the things that I’ve seen in the past is a little office supply store who sell these audio recorders for cheap. Fifty bucks for sixty-four hours of time, or forty-eight hours of time. I really don’t remember what the time thing was. If you take one of those little devices and stick it in a plush toy and give it to your kid, your kid will take it into the home of your spouse, and when the plush toy comes back you can certainly listen to everything that happened in the house. So just being aware of what the child has. The other thing that’s really important in dealing with children, especially when you’ve got an ex abusive spouse involved is monitoring the communication between the child and the ex spouse. I’m not saying discuss the things with the child but make sure that ex spouse isn’t trying to poison the child with words and act on it if you do hear that going on. I’ve seen that happen.
Shawn: I think that makes sense. I have one last question for you before we wrap up. When you’re dealing with an ex spouse, already they have in most cases all of your personal information and you can do a lot of the things you recommend to protect yourself, what do you think about these identity protection services like the life locks and the other ones that you hear advertised? Are those useful as well for people, or should you avoid those?
Trip: Kathy Brill calls LifeLock an expensive scam. Kathy Brill is the director of the federal trade commission. He used to put his social security number out on the TV commercials.
Shawn: I remember those.
Trip: Four cars, twenty thousand in cash, and a house, that’s what his social security number was used for in theft. Of course he didn’t pay for it but the people that sold the cars and the system, cost us money eventually. Theft cost us, just because the price gets shifted. You don’t pay for it, banks certainly don’t pay for it, our tax dollars pay for it. Life lock and these things, if you go out to my website tripelix.com, there is a paper that I have there called avoiding identity theft. Right at the top just put in your email address and hit send, and it will forward you a copy of my paper. Inside of it you can set freezes on the credit industry. There are four major pieces of credit in the industry itself. What I mean is, there are four entities. The three credit reporting companies and check systems. Check systems is used in the banking industry, and by signing up for a freeze in these systems, it will block other people from using your information and opening a new account. That’s the most important feature. Our credit system is screwed up and I’m working on a movement to actually fix some of the components of the credit system. It’s not ready yet but it will be done shortly.
If your listeners want to contact me, just type in Trip Elix into Google, I’m on every system. Just shoot me a message, I respond to everybody. If you’ve got a question, just ask.
Shawn: That’s excellent. We will include a link, to your website, the paper, and your social media profiles. I know that you are everywhere online and you provide such helpful information that most people don’t even realize is happening to them. Trip, thank you so much for coming on to the show today.
Trip: You bet, and it was great for you to have me on.
Thank you for listening to the Divorce and Your Money Show. Visit us at www.divorceandyourmoney.com for 1-on-1 coaching. If you enjoyed the show, please take a moment to leave a review on iTunes, as it will help other people discover this free advice.
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