If you care about protecting yourself from identity theft, you are probably wise about how you behave online and what information you share. Research shows that using public wireless networks makes you twice as likely to be an identity theft victim, while using three or more social networks increases your chances by nearly three-quarters. Even if you keep your Facebook profile private and don’t include contact information like a phone number in your “About” section, there are still plenty of ways for thieves to browse online and find personal details about you that can help them steal your identity. These include people finder websites, which aggregate public records information across federal, state and local levels to deliver searchers rich information, including:
- Arrest records and traffic violations
- Address history, phone numbers and email addresses
- Family members
- Evictions, bankruptcies, marriages and divorces
There are more than 200 types of these public records sites listed in the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse database. An identity thief can use as little information as your first and last name and a state you’ve lived in, or even a phone number, to find uncover details you never knew were publicly available. Here’s how to protect yourself:
Manually Opt Out of People Finder Sites
Unfortunately, many public records search sites simply act as search engines that pull data that is publicly available, and offer no opt-out services. While some do offer these services, you have to individually contact each one to have your information removed.
You might want to start with the most prominent ones first, by doing a Google search to find the top “public records search” sites, or “people finder” sites. Then, look for Opt Out or Contact details on each site to contact the webmaster or customer service team and remove yourself. Some sites will require that you create an account in order to remove yourself. Others will mandate that you send in identifying information such as a driver’s license copy to prove you are indeed the same person asking to be removed.
Lifewire and TopTenReviews.com offer up 2017 lists of the top people search sites, ranging from phone directories like WhitePages.com, to public records searches like BeenVerified.com. Know that even if you are successful in removing your identity from the site, it does not guarantee you won’t be added again in the future. Check out each site’s full disclaimer to learn terms and conditions, which may include frequency of database updates.
Use a Professional Service
While you can remove yourself from many people finder sites, services like ZabaSearch and Pipl will feature you with no option to remove yourself. Combing through the more than 200 sites to remove your information is time-consuming and may still result in its presence there in the future. Getting professional help can save you time and ensure you’re protected as much as possible. Paid services, such as Abine’s DeleteMe product, proactively search the web for mentions of your identity and get to work to remove them, sending you quarterly updates of your online presence status.
Having an identity theft protection service that monitors your identity around the clock provides you with the most protection. Someone who obtains enough personal identifying details about yourself, including email addresses and physical addresses, is that much closer to taking over your entire identity. Identity fraud hit more Americans in 2016 than ever before, affecting 15.4 million. Identity theft protection means you’ll always be aware of how your identity is being used so you can stay safeguarded from fraud and restore your identity if it is stolen.