From identity theft to pushy marketers to plain old nosy Nellies, everyone has his or her own reason for wanting to keep their personal information private.
Anyone can access your information online, including your phone number, your address and your license plate number. Some websites require a fee to provide a full background report on anyone, including criminal records, lawsuits to which you might have been a party, your social media accounts, even the names, addresses and phone numbers of your relatives and friends.
Other sites offer information for free. While you consider much of the data private, all of it is public information. The companies are gathering and sharing it legally.
How are these sites getting your information?
Public government offices like the clerks at county courthouses, the Department of Motor Vehicles and appraisal districts sell the data in bulk in weekly or monthly data dumps. There is nothing you can do about that.
Anyone can walk into those government offices and request the information (minus the DMV) one individual or case at a time. But now there are other sources for information about you that go beyond public records, including the yellow pages, the white pages, marketing forms, sweepstakes entries, social networking profiles, personal sites, voter registration records and more. The websites are simply aggregating all the information that can be found about you in one place.
How to remove information from most popular people search sites
While they are not legally required to remove your records when you request it, most of these sites will. Here is a list of nine people search sites and how to get your information removed:
Spokeo is a people search engine that organizes white pages listings, public records and social network information into simple profiles to help you find and learn about people. When I typed in my name and state, Spokeo instantly revealed my average age, income and marital status and the cities and states where I've lived for the last 20 years. Getting more specific information will cost you at least $4.95 a month for a 6-month Spokeo membership. You can fill out an "Opt out" form to ask Spokeo to remove your records from its database.
This website says its people search reports can include phone numbers, address history, age and date of birth, relatives and more. When you type in a name, Intelius reveals just enough information (like relatives' names and cities and states where the subject has lived) for you to confirm that this is the person for whom you're looking. Comprehensive reports will cost you between $3.95 and $49.95, depending on the amount of information you want.You can opt out online. If you choose to opt out by mail, you have to send a copy of a government-issued ID with any photo or ID number crossed out (examples: driver's license, U.S. passport, U.S. military ID card, state-issued ID card, employee ID card from a state agency or
a notarized identity verification form, along with your name, date of birth and address with your opt out request to:
P.O. Box 4145
Bellevue, WA 98009-4145
This website is free. By typing in a name and city where someone lives or used to live, you will get all known phone numbers, email addresses, current and former physical addresses and relatives of the subject.
If you find your information and you want True People Search to remove it, click on https://www.truepeoplesearch.com/privacy. Then click "For record removal requests, click here," and
follow the simple steps. You will have to go through this link and check the boxes that say "I am not a robot."
Only when you go through these steps will you see "Remove Record" at the bottom of your information.
This site is also free. We told you about it in January. Anyone can search by your name and see your current and previous addresses where you've lived, your birth month and year and all your known relatives.
Family Tree Now does have a simple opt-out page where you can request that the site remove your information. No one from the site replied when we tried to contact it, but the site says it can take up to 48 hours to process your request.
Zabasearch indexes information that is already available online for anyone to find. Many searches, like reverse phone lookups and people searches for addresses, are free. For more detailed information, Zabasearch links you to sites that might charge more for the data like Intelius, mentioned above. Zabasearch is a search engine, meaning that it produces or hosts no content of its own, but simply indexes what it finds on the internet. The site does give you a way to remove your record, but it is more complicated than most sites. You have to make your request by fax.
This site provide detailed information that costs you anywhere between $1.95 and $19.95, depending on the level of detail you are requesting. You can easily opt out.
Instant Checkmate scours public records as well as social media accounts. It claims its reports might include criminal records, address history, phone numbers, court records, mugshots, contact information and records of sex offenses and speeding tickets.
You'll pay $34.78 for one month of unlimited searches or just the one you want.
You can opt out by mail or online.
Pipl is a people search engine that scours the Invisible Web for information. You'll get more than just the usual search engine results for whatever name you might be searching for. Pipl searches across social networking services, search engines, databases, etc., to find tidbits you might not usually find on a rudimentary search using a more generalized search engine.
Instead of removing your information from Pipl searches, the site tells users to find their information on its website, and then ask the source website to remove the information. If you remove your information from the original source site, Pipl will not list it.
This site offers public records and other information it finds about you online and from marketing companies for a fee. It was $22.86 for a one-month membership of unlimited reports when we checked.
You can opt out here.
Other ways to keep personal information private
There are other ways in which you can stop your personal information from getting to these sites and others in such a public format.
Don't fill out everything on your social media profile.
Each of the sites admits that it is scrouring social media sites to obtain accessible information about you. Don't make it any easier for them than it already is to find out where you went to school and where you work. Leave parts of your profile blank. Your friends already have this information. And if someone is not a friend or relative, why do they need it?
Turn on private browsing on your personal computer.
If you don't want anyone with physical access to your computer to see where you're hanging out online, you should enable "private browsing," a setting available in each major web browser. It deletes cookies, temporary internet files and browsing history after you close the window. Enabling private browsing protects you from snoopers that actually have your computer, like a child or worse- a thief.
Every company that advertises online is interested in knowing what sites you visit, what you buy, with whom you are friends on social networks, what you like and more. By gathering information about your online activities, they can serve you targeted ads that are more likely to entice you to buy something. One way to prevent companies from seeing your shopping habits online is with a web-based proxy server. There is a charge for most of these; but when you surf the internet through one, your internet service provider won't see what site you're really visiting, and the site you're visiting won't see your real IP address. The catch is that proxy sites can often load pages slowly.
Don't give our your zip code when making credit card purchases.
Stores will often ask for your ZIP code when you're checking out with a credit card. Don't give it to them unless you want to donate your details to their marketing database. By matching your name, taken from your credit card, with your ZIP code, companies can more easily mine more information, including your address, phone ZIP number and email address. The exception here is when you use your credit card to pay at the pump. Stations use your ZIP for security reasons to make sure a thief is not filling up on your dime.
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