Protect yourself from doxxing

Doxxing happens most frequently to men under 25, expert says

HOUSTON – Doxxing got its start as a form of intimidation or cyber-bullying, according to FBI cyber scientist James Morrison.

“Well, doxxing is actually short for the old term of "dropping documents," Morrison said. “They go out on the internet and find as many documents as they can about you and put them in a public space.” 

Morrison said these days it happens most frequently among men, under the age of 25, who escalate arguments started while on gaming platforms. But they aren’t the only ones who do it.

The doxxer's hope is that other people, even people you don’t know, will then pick up the information they drop on the web or social media sites and use it to harass or shame you.

[RELATED: How to avoid unknowingly sharing financial information online | Remove your information from this website if you don't want it public]

So is doxxing a crime? Not always, according to University of Houston law professor Emily Berman.

She explained that collecting already-public records, then putting them out for others to see is not, in and of itself, a crime.

Even commenting on what is in those records may be protected free speech. However, she said, it could cross the line into something criminal if you use the information to blackmail the victim or incite violence against that person.

It is also illegal to use those records for identity theft.

Protecting yourself against doxxing requires some work:

  • Google yourself to see what’s out on the web and social media.
  • Opt out of people search aggregators. BeenVerified, Spokeo, and Intelius are just a few of the big names. These sites pull together public records and sell access to that information. Be aware that some aggregation sites may have your profile under multiple versions of your name so if you use initials or a nickname, check and opt out of those, too. Read the opt-out information carefully to know what it will and will not do. Public records cannot be deleted, but you can make it harder to find most of yours in just one place.
  • Consider removing your profile picture from social media accounts. If you need one for business purposes, use one that is appropriate for your job. 
  • Tighten up your security and privacy settings on social media accounts, including setting your friends list to private so you control who has access to what you post.
  • Protect your passwords. Stop using any information that may turn up in your public records, such as street names or zip codes where you once lived, your children or other relatives' names, schools you attended, or companies you worked for as part of your passwords.