What if you lived in a country where the government insisted that all of your personal and private information be shared with the general public – meaning everyone.
This information includes your home address, phone numbers, your age, any medical problems, your criminal background if you have any, your driving history, the names of family members, your political party affiliations, how often you vote, where you work, how much you earn, the current value of your home, financial information, and so much more.
Now, imagine that the government not only required you to share all of this personal information, but actually published it on various federal, state and local websites for all to see. Well, welcome to the United States of America, because that’s exactly what our government does.
Public records were created long ago so that the government would have accurate information on where people lived and what they did. Over the past century, the government has made this information even more accessible, particularly through the Freedom of Information Act that was passed in 1967.
It required previously unreleased information be made public upon request, so anyone could view it. Unfortunately, that includes cybercriminals whose only desire is to take all of that private information and commit fraud or one of the many types of identity theft. It puts you at peril because your private information is no longer private. That’s why it’s to your advantage to remove public records whenever possible.
An Open Door to Cybercrime
Many cybersecurity experts have called this open access to public records that contain people’s private information an open door to cybercrime. Because anyone can access this information, including cybercriminals, it can lead to the ultimate in online criminal activity – identity theft, which is costing Americans more than $56 billion per year.
Public records often include marriage and divorce records, which may contain a person’s financial information as well as their Social Security number. That’s all a cybercrook needs to unlock a person’s financial information and steal their funds.
Even if a person’s Social Security number isn’t disclosed directly, there is often enough personal data that can provide a sophisticated cybercriminal with the necessary info to acquire the person’s SSN.
It’s imperative to keep this information out of the hands of the cybercrooks, but that is not an easy task. One reason is that data brokers, also known as people-search sites, gather this private information, package it and sell it to anyone willing to pay their price. And – you guessed it – that includes cybercriminals. It’s a shame that this is happening, and it’s a bigger shame that it’s all legal.
Removing Public Records
One of the top questions that people often ask is, “can you really remove public records?” The answer is a two-part response: “yes” – if you’re talking about the public records published on people-search sites, and “probably not” if you’re talking about public records published on government sites.
So, why is information on people-search sites like Intelius, Pipl and others so problematic? First, because it’s available to anyone – including bad actors who can’t wait to get their hands on those records. But there are several other important reasons to remove your information from those sites. One of the biggest issues is it increases your risk of becoming a victim of fraud and identity theft.
Another problem is that those sites publish information filled with inaccuracies and misinformation. Your name could be mixed up with someone who has a similar name, and all of a sudden you’re associated with criminal activity. Imagine trying to get a job or a mortgage with a felony in your record – even though you’ve never done anything criminal in your life. Having this false information associated with your name can be devastating.
You could also risk becoming a victim of swatting – where a person calls the authorities with a false claim that someone’s life is in jeopardy. The police respond with a SWAT team, which may result in innocent people being shot by the police – people who hadn’t done anything wrong in the first place.
That’s why your first step is to remove all of that unauthorized personal data from those people-search sites. You can do it manually or you can hire a service to do it for you. If you choose the manual way, make sure you have visited every single data broker website – there are more than 100 of those on the internet. And keep in mind that after some time that information may reappear and you’ll have to do the same thing again.
When it comes to criminal records or financial records like bankruptcies and liens, it’s almost impossible to remove that information. For criminal records, your best bet is to ask the court to expunge or seal your record, and if you’re successful you can then have it removed from the site it appears on. With regard to liens, for example, your only option is to pay it – all of it, so it will be removed by the lienholder.
Other Tactics to Use
Finally, you can work to mask your public record by minimizing what people can see. Instead of using your home address, get a P.O. Box and change all of your services to that address. You can mask your phone number and only give it to family and trusted friends, and use a prepaid burner cell phone as your telephone number.
If you own property, transfer it to an LLC or a limited partnership, and send mail to the business address. Another tactic is to pay all of your bills online and opt out of paper bill delivery. You can also ask for a digital receipt instead of having one mailed to you. All of these steps help to shield your actual location from public view.