Q: Is there an easy way to get my personal information off of public listing websites?
This question was answered on May 10, 2017. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
If you’ve ever tried searching for someone on the Internet, you know how many ‘people search’ sites are available online offering information for a fee.
What’s even more shocking to so many is the type of information that can be easily found: your full name, address, previous addresses, birthdate, phone number and more.
Private or Public?
While many would perceive this type of information to be private, the reality is that so much information is easily acquired because it’s actually very public.
Most of the sites you’ll run into are data brokers that collect information from a variety of public record sources: real estate transactions, court records, voter registration databases, marriage and business licenses and the list goes on.
Combining public records with social media profiles, advertising networks and your various online shopping accounts is a huge data-mining resource for many companies in today’s digital economy.
The Bad News
When it comes to public records, there is very little you can do to remove your information.
If you’re willing to pay a visit to your county clerks office, it would allow you to review what is being made public and allow you to inquire as to what information can be removed or at least redacted from the public view.
What You Can Do
Knowing that certain records are always going to be public should get you to start thinking like a celebrity.
High-profile individuals have always had to work harder to protect sensitive personal information and you can do the same.
Using a P.O. box or better yet, a private mailbox service from companies like the UPS Store or PostNet prevents your primary home address from being shared via public records.
A P.O. box will only accept US postal mail and often can’t be used for things like voter registration, which is why having a physical address through a private mailbox service is better.
A private mailbox service can also accept the shipments from all your online purchases, further protecting your home address.
Creating a trust or a Limited Liability Company (LLC) for all of your real estate transactions is another way to mask a lot of your personal information. It’s important to not use personally identifiable names or your home address when you create these entities.
Many of the data broker websites allow you to ‘opt-out’ of their databases, but they don’t make it easy.
You’ll have to manually go to each one to make the opt-out requests, so it’s also very time consuming. One of the most comprehensive resources for finding how to opt-out is at PrivacyRights.org (https://goo.gl/41rlP2).
Keep in mind, these data brokers are constantly scraping sources, so if you move, sell your home or do anything to change your public records, it will reappear in many of these databases.
If you don’t want to try to manage this manually, there are services such as Albine’s DeleteMe (https://goo.gl/qrHNAM) that help automate the process and then monitor changes for you at the cost of $129 per year.
About the author
Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on May 10, 2017