You’ve undoubtedly joined up for a slew of internet services that you’ve since abandoned. Most of those accounts are still active, and they most likely contain a mix of your personal information, identity information, and credit card numbers. Don’t leave tempting targets laying about for attackers to take advantage of.
Why Should You Close Those Old Accounts?
We live in a time where data breaches are all too prevalent.
What happens if a service is hacked and all of your personal information is exposed? What if a developer goes rogue and utilizes your saved credit card data, spams you, or sells their service to a firm that will?
If you reuse passwords, a password breach on one site implies attackers can gain access to your accounts on other sites. Even if you don’t reuse passwords, the personal information connected with your old, inactive account might provide attackers with answers to your security questions on other websites.
It’s a good idea to erase your personal information from services you no longer use to preserve your privacy. You can accomplish this by closing old accounts rather than leaving them inactive.
How to Locate Old Accounts?
The first step is to locate those old accounts. Here are a few pointers to help you find them:
- Examine Your Password Manager: If you use a password manager to store all of your login information, your password manager will essentially be a database of all the accounts you have open. Even if you use the built-in password manager in your browser, it may remember several of your accounts. Examine the list of stored logins for accounts that you no longer use.
- Search Your Email: If you search your email for “welcome,” “verify,” “your account,” “free trial,” and other similar terms common in the “Welcome” letters sent by many sites, you may stumble across a number of old accounts you’d forgotten about.
- Check Facebook, Google, or Twitter: Many services allow you to make an account by “signing in” with your Facebook, Google, or Twitter account. Check your list of applications connected to your account if you’ve utilized this function. Remember that you cannot just “disconnect” the connection to clear your data. This will not cause the other provider to delete your account.
- Have I Been Pwned?: This service will show you which leaks your email address has been involved in. It may bring back memories of former accounts, and it will show you which publicly accessible dumps have already contained your data.
How to Get Rid of Old Accounts?
You now have one or more accounts that you want to remove. The process of removing the account(s) should be simple, however, it isn’t always. Here are some pointers to help you figure out how to remove an account:
- Using an online search engine such as Google or DuckDuckGo, look for the name of the website or service and “delete account.”
- Check out JustDelete.me, which provides a user-friendly database of instructions for erasing a wide range of internet accounts.
- Contact the website’s support and request that the account be deleted.
In rare situations, you may attempt to sign in to an account and discover that the service erased your prior account due to inactivity—or the service may no longer exist. Unfortunately, some services do not allow you to erase previous accounts.
What if you are unable to delete an account?
If you are unable to delete an account, there are steps you may do to secure your personal information. Sign in to your account and follow these instructions:
- Remove any saved financial and payment information, such as saved credit card details, that allow anybody with account access to make transactions.
- Delete any private information you may have stored in the app. For example, if you have an old account in note-taking software, to-do app, or calendar service, you should erase all of your previous notes, tasks, and calendar events. (Before removing anything, be sure you export and download it.)
- In the account settings, delete stored personal identifying details such as your name, birth date, shipping address, and other information.
If you delete all personal information from the account, attackers will be unable to obtain such information in the event of a breach.
Attempt to Anonymize Accounts You Can’t Delete
After you’ve removed all of your other personal information from an account, try “anonymizing” it by altering the email address and other personal information to something random and meaningless.
For example, suppose you have an account called “Jack” with the email address [email protected]. You may modify the name to “Mary” and use a meaningless email address, such as one generated by an anonymous email service such as Mailinator.
Instead of an empty account associated with your name and email address, there is now just an empty account associated with a fictitious name and email address.
Consider what would happen if the website’s user database was compromised: attackers would simply obtain a bogus name, bogus email address, bogus birthdate, and so on. That’s all meaningless data.
Assuming you’ve deleted all of your other personal information, this can be virtually as effective as canceling the account. It’s sometimes all you can do.
In the future, think twice before signing up
We’ll be honest: it’s astonishing how many accounts are tough or impossible to remove once you start truly trying. If you’ve been online for a few decades, it’s extremely likely that you have hundreds of old accounts that you no longer use.
In the future, consider being more judicious about the accounts you create. In the future, before you sign up for an account, think about whether it’s really worth the bother. Do you really want to hand up your data to that service?
Even if you only sign up for half as many accounts in the future, your privacy “attack surface” will be reduced—there will be fewer sites through which your personal information may be stolen.