There are few places online you can properly explore today without setting up an account first. From shopping to emailing to simply writing a comment under a video or article, most netizens juggle multiple cyber accounts at oncem and that has led to the proliferation of zombie accounts.
What Are Zombie Accounts?
A zombie account is an online account that was created in the past but is no longer in use. It could be an old Reddit account you stopped using since college. It could be a past Hotmail account you abandoned after jumping ship to Gmail like everyone else. The bottom line is that these accounts which you stopped using a long time ago still exist online, and they are far from irrelevant relics of the past that no longer affect your life.
Danger Posed by Zombie Accounts
Your zombie accounts carry your personal details. If you used your old account to make purchases, the details of your financial transactions are available on the account. Even if you have not used the account to buy things, you may still have shared sensitive information when using the account at some point, like your real-world address, your passwords, and the answer to security questions that you frequently use to authenticate your accounts.
All this information can be accessed by hackers who manage to gain access to your zombie accounts with obsolete or ineffective security. Even if you are convinced your old account carries no information of importance, your account can still be used by third parties for illegal purposes, with any possible repercussions leading directly back to you.
Tracking Down Old Zombie Accounts
These are the reasons why your old accounts need to be deactivated and disabled once you stop using them. But in order to deactivate zombie accounts, first you need to find them. Some ways to track down old accounts include:
- Going by memory and making a list of every account you remember making in the past.
- Searching through your email and tracking down any account confirmation messages or similar links that were sent to your email upon activating or using an account.
- Checking your apps to see if any of them carry accounts that you created and forgot about.
- If you use password management software or store your passwords on your browser, check the logs to discover which accounts and their passwords are still stored on your device.
Shutting Down the Accounts
Once you have tracked down all of your old accounts, it is time to deactivate them. Different sites have different policies to deactivate accounts made on their platforms. Before deactivating an account, hunt for a data export option if you want to save the data on your personal device.
If you are finding the process of account deletion more complicated than expected, sites like JustDeleteMe have a list of direct links to delete your account from many popular web services. Go through the steps required to delete an account, and wait for the confirmation message that tells you the account has been scrubbed from the site.
Keep in mind that certain sites, like Gawker Media, have made it a site policy not to allow your old accounts and comments to be deleted. In such situations, the best you can do is:
- Not make an account on a site that does not allow account deletion.
- If you do make an account, avoid posting any sensitive personal information through it.
- Change your personal information on such accounts before you stop using them.
If you cannot find a straightforward way to delete an account, your next step should be to get in touch with the site administrators to see if they will provide you any help. Even then, it is usually entirely up to the website to decide whether or not they wish to delete your account. While taking legal recourse is an option, it would be a long and protracted affair since the laws regarding user privacy on the Internet are still very murky.
One way to circumvent this problem is to keep a separate email account that you use to create accounts on sites that you will only be using temporarily.
Your old accounts are your links to all your past activity on the Internet, and as such, they should not be left active and unprotected on the Internet. Make it a practice for the future to always remember to shut down your accounts on a site when you no longer use it instead of allowing it to slip your mind. That small slip is exactly what cybercriminals are waiting for you to make so they can move in and take control of your past cyber identities.
Image Credit: Deleting your Instagram Account