In previous articles, I talk about creating pseudonyms online to keep your real information out of non-official databases. When you’re developing your pseudonyms, sometimes any made up address is good enough. I mean, does that company really need my home address just to allow me to download their white paper? They absolutely do not. Today, let’s talk about some privacy tips for shopping online.
For those times when any address will do, use (what I call) the “Law and Order” method. Watch enough of the TV show “Law and Order” and you’ve undoubtedly seen an episode where the “perp’s” address on file is a vacant lot, abandoned building, or in the middle of the East River.
Do that. I mean, who are you going to get in trouble with? The company offering the white paper? What are they going to do, go to the police and complain that you didn’t give them your home address in order to be able to read their branded, aggrandizing, promotional PDF? Yeah. Sure. Find that statute on the books for me.
You can also use non-familiar public addresses such as a public library, post office, public park, the Washington monument, or some obscure roadside attraction in Iowa. Or just make one up. Google Maps makes it easy to find the location and address of every place on the planet, in turn making it easy to give out a real address that is located anywhere.
When you need a physical address
There are times when you must use a real address. Shopping online and other mail won’t get to you if you tell Amazon that you live in the middle of the Ohio River. Also, official profiles such as work, insurance, the DMV and so on require accurate, truthful information, and in many cases it’s illegal to do otherwise.
Unfortunately every option here isn’t free, and it sucks that we sometimes have to pay for privacy, but in this instance addresses have never been private.
You’ve probably heard me repeat that almost every data breach includes addresses. Of course, that would be the addresses they have on file for you.
As for your mail and packages, there’s also another problem. Theft. According to C+R Research 44% of Americans have some kind of package delivered weekly. 36% of Americans have had a package stolen at least once. 56% know someone who has had a package stolen. 54% of those surveyed said they have some type of worry or fear about buying a product online that will be delivered to their home due to the potential of it being stolen. There is a better way.
We know how to protect ourselves when purchasing online, so how do we get our stuff without giving our real address away or risking package theft?
Get a P.O. Box
The time tested solution is a Post Office box. A PO box allows you to send and receive mail from its address rather than your home address. A letter sized PO box will run you around $99 (more or less) a year at either your local post office location, or any number of UPS stores who offer PO boxes. You don’t necessarily need to get a large box for packages as most will still hold them for you as long as you don’t make it a habit of leaving them there for long periods of time.
Pro: Some states will even allow you to use your P.O. Box as the address on your driver’s license.
Con: Many financial services, insurance, or other accounts won’t let you use a P.O. Box as your address. The workaround for this may be to find a mailbox place where the box addresses are listed as “suites” instead of “P.O. Box”. Another trick get around this restriction by using the address of the post office, and then your box number as if it’s an apartment or unit in the building. T’s not 100%, but it works more times than not.
To find the closet UPS store that offers PO boxes: https://www.theupsstore.com/mailboxes
To find the closet U.S. Postal Service location who offers PO boxes: https://www.usps.com/manage/po-boxes.htm
There are also many independent mailbox type stores all over the world.
Amazon Locker Delivery
If you shop from Amazon, you don’t have to give them your address to receive your packages. Amazon locker delivery has thousands of locations across the country and around the world that allow you to pick up your package from one of their lock boxes. They can also be used for returns as well.
They’re usually located inside or outside a major store or community area, and are self-service. To use delivery lockers instead of your address, you simply choose the option at checkout, and pick the location of your choice. When your package has been delivered you’ll get a code delivered by text/SMS message, go to your locker location, and get your stuff.
For extra a privacy (or anonymity) Amazon also sells and accepts gift cards. You’ll likely find them in the store at the same kiosk as all the other gift cards. Get yourself a gift card (pay with cash), make your order from a device that’s not yours, on an internet network that is not your home, choose lockbox delivery at check out… I’m sure you see where I’m headed here.
Some restrictions do apply, such as size and weight of the package, and you can find them here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201910770
To check if there’s an Amazon locker near you: Amazon Locker Hub
UPS store locations and lockers
UPS also has delivery lockers, and you can request that your UPS deliveries be taken to a UPS store location closest to you. This is not a privacy option since to my knowledge there is no way to request this at check out, you have call and intercept the package when it’s first being processed and request it be directed to one of the locations. But I thought it important to mention if package theft has been an issue for you.
This may come as a surprise, but people didn’t always have mail boxes on their homes, and the post office doesn’t go door to door in every town. The U.S. Postal Service has long offered General Delivery services that lets anyone with ID have mail addressed to their local post office for pickup. The service is typically for anyone without a permanent address, or who needs a temporary mailing address, but it’s open to all.
I’ve used this service years ago when I’d moved to another city. All I had to do was go to my local post office, tell them I was interested in General Delivery for a short time, show them my ID, and that was it. I think I used it for 6 months, checking in every 90 days to let them know I still needed the service. It was actually pretty awesome since the Post Office was in walking distance at the time. God Bless the U.S. Postal Service. More info about signing up for general delivery here: https://faq.usps.com/s/article/What-is-General-Delivery
Simply use someone else’s address
This is more of an option for shopping online and any other non-official deliveries. Most e-commerce sites will let you send your order anywhere, or have a gift option that you can choose which will prompt you to put in the address of where you want the “gift sent”. It’s cheap, it’s crass, but you know what? It works. You still get your stuff without having to give up your home address.
I never use my home address unless I absolutely have to. Even when dealing with companies who currently have great track records for keeping company data secure, nothing is foolproof or un-hackable. Once the information has been stolen, you can’t get it back.