Has anyone else been getting call after call from “Heather,” the annoying recording who sells healthcare? Or was it auto-insurance? I’ve gotten so many calls I can’t even remember why she calls because I hang up as soon as I hear her irritatingly happy voice. But telemarketers are among the less harmless parasites harvesting your personal information off the internet. Lately there have been a rash of scammers falsely posing as kidnappers or loved ones in distress, fishing for credit card and bank information.
It’s frightening how easy it is to find people’s personal information online. Everything from you phone number to your children’s names and your home address may be vulnerable to advertisers and criminals.
While some websites sell the information for profit, others publish it publicly for free. Either way, what’s important is your information is available to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Despite most people feeling that this is an invasion of privacy, it’s 100% legal for them to pedal your data.
Other sites offer information for free. While you consider much of the data private, all of it is legally public information. The companies are gathering and sharing it legally.
The Government Is Selling Your Personal Information To Telemarketers
Yep. You read that right. The Department of Motor Vehicles and your property appraisal districts sell the data in bulk and / or publish it online and at their offices as public records.
According to the Montgomery County Appraisal District website, “The data that is being presented on this website is public record and available under laws governing the public’s right to access public information. We cannot selectively remove or withhold this information.”
Which is interesting because Harris County sure can. But, you know, details.
But anyway, most of the websites selling and otherwise distributing your personal information are simply aggregating information they got straight from Big Brother.
How to remove information from most popular people search sites
Thankfully, unlike Montgomery County, many of these information aggregators will remove your info upon request. They don’t legally have to, but most will acquiesce. Here’s a list of 10 websites and links where you can opt-out of having your information broadcast to spammers, stalkers, and internet creepers.
Yes, they’re still around. In addition to their famous booster seats, they also have an online directory. In order to remove your info, you must first find it in their database. Then copy and paste the link to your listing here.
Spokeo collects information from phone books, public records, and social media to create a giant online directory. Most info is free to the public, but for a small monthly fee you can dig deeper. Thankfully there’s an opt out form where you can request Spokeo delete your info from their database.
Intelius reports are a bit more comprehensive and cost anywhere from $4 to $50. You can opt out online or by mail. However, if you choose to opt out by mail, you have to send a copy of a government-issued ID with any photo to: Intelius, P.O. Box 4145, Bellevue, WA 98009-4145.
This website is free and keeps reports on your current and past addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, employers, relatives … You can remove your information at this link.
This is another free site. KHOU reported on it in January. Anyone anywhere can search your name and see everywhere you’ve lived, your birth month, and all your known relatives. They have an opt-out page, but it can take a few days for them to follow through.
This site offers some info – like reverse phone number searches – for free. However, like Intelius, it charges based on how much information the seeker wants to know. Interestingly, Zabasearch is a search engine, meaning that it doesn’t produce or host content of its own. It simply indexes information it finds elsewhere onine. In order to remove your info, you actually have to FAX them.
This site sells information for anywhere from $2 to $20. Thankfully it’s easy to opt out.
For the sum of $35 a month, Instant Checkmate provides detailed information, even including court records, criminal history, phone numbers, photos, address history, mugshots, and even speeding tickets. Opt out by mail or online.
This is another search engine, although a pretty detailed one. In order to remove your information, you’ve got to find your info on their site, and then ask the source website where it’s pulling your info from to remove it. Once you remove your information from the original source site, Pipl will also stop listing it.
For about $23 a month, this site sells information to marketing companies and the like. Opt out here.
Here are a few more tips for keeping your information private:
- Don’t tell Facebook and other social media sites everything. They don’t need your address, or even your phone number. Your real friends should already have this information, and if they don’t, they can just ask you.
- Don’t post or publish photos in front of your house showing your street address, or in front of your car showing your license plate number.
- Don’t “check in” at school, at work, at church, etc. unless you’re OK with people knowing where you are and when. Criminals can use this information to figure out your schedule, where your kids are at what time of day, and when you’ll be out of the house.
- Turn on private browsing on your computer, particularly if you share it with someone who you don’t want observing your internet browsing history.
- Consider a web-based proxy server. While not free, this will stop online advertisers from monitoring your shopping habits, internet searches, and website browsing. It will also stop sites you visit from being able to see your real IP address. However, proxy servers cause sites to load slowly.
- Don’t include your ZIP code when making credit card purchases in stores. This will make it more difficult for marketers and companies to mine your information. One exception of course is when you pay for gas, because gas stations use your ZIP as a security measure to make sure your card isn’t stolen.
Big thanks to KHOU and Amy Davis who compiled the majority of this information in her special report, How To Scrub Your Personal Information From The Internet.