Most people would be shocked at the amount of information that is easily attainable about them online. If you go to Google and enter your name, a lot of stuff will come up that you weren't aware of was out there. According to the Freedom of Information Act., public records are available to anyone who requests them.
Before the 1900s and government entities started posting public records online, it was much harder for someone to steal your identity. To get a copy of your birth, death, or marriage certificate, someone would have to visit a courthouse or local county clerk's office and pay a fee. Now, public records are easily accessible within seconds and a few keystrokes.
Additionally, online companies have started collecting and warehousing public records along with social media feeds and other information making it easier to do a full background check on someone and put the pieces together easily. These services provide a one-stop-shopping mall for identity thieves.
What are Considered Public Records?
Typical public records include, but are not limited to:
- Home addresses & phone numbers
- Land deeds and other asset ownership information
- Voter registration records
- Divorce records
- Court records
- Marriage licenses.
- Old wills
- Probate cases
- Mortgages and home sale data
- Government surveys
- Civil circuit files
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Driver license information, accident history, and other DMV records
- Criminal records
Reasons to Want to Remove Your Public Records
The above list is just a small sampling of the extensive amount of information someone can find out about you online.
Some reasons you might want to remove your public records are:
- Identity theft
- Scam targeting
- Targeted marketing
The more strangers know about you, the more vulnerable you are to scams, hackers, and thieves.
Steps to Remove Your Public Records
Some states provide laws that protect individuals who have been the victims of stalking or domestic violence. Additionally, if you have a juvenile criminal record or your information may affect public safety, in any of these cases, your entire public records file may be sealed. If none of those apply to you, you can still contact government sources to have some information redacted or removed.
1. Remove Your Name from Google
The first place to start is to find out what is out there about you. Google your first and last name to see what comes up. Also, try combinations with your name + employer or + city where you live. Try as many combinations as you can think of until you exhaust every corner of the internet.
Make a list of where your information comes up and identify the sources. These may include private websites, news sites, video hosting services, social media, government websites, or data warehouse portals. Contact each of the sources and request that your information, pictures, etc. be removed.
2. Get P.O. Box & New Phone Number
Go to the post office and rent a P.O. Box. You can use this in place of your home address on most official forms. Except for a few, like a voter registration form, you can use your new P.O. Box as your home address. That will help keep some fraudsters at bay.
At the same time, you might also consider taking out a new phone line to use the number just for filling out forms. You can keep your old one for real phone calls with employers, family, and friends but use the new one for public records documentation.
3. Visit Your County Clerk's Office
Your next step is to visit your local county clerk's office. Bring your ID to verify your identity. Once you are there, ask if you can review all the public records that pertain to you.
Also, ask what information on each record can be removed, redacted, or hidden. Ask which of the documents you can change your address on and use the new P.O. Box you set up. At the very least, have them remove your social security number, phone number, and email address from any forms where it is allowable. If you can, use your initials instead of your name. Little changes like that could thwart criminals and prevent identity theft.
While you are there, be sure to ask about the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) database and how to remove/change your information on there as well. It contains information on property ownership and financing, so you will definitely want to alter those records if you can. You may have to contact your state .gov website for that.
4. Call or Visit Your DMV
Don't forget about the division of motor vehicles! They have a ton of information on you in their public records. Ask if you can use your new P.O. Box for your address and see what other details can be removed.
Along with the DMV, visit other local county registries where your information may be publicly accessible. Some examples are the public library, unemployment office, parks, and recreation office, the public pool, etc. Anywhere that you can, change or remove your information.
Other Ways to Remove Your Information from the Internet
Along with attacking your public records, you will also want to tighten up your privacy and security settings on all your devices so that no new information leaks out. Some additional tips are:
- Delete all your online/internet accounts, and this includes social media, shopping logins, subscriptions, other website accounts (possibly email as well).
- Contact data brokers and ask that your information be removed. You can usually fill out an opt-out form to get that job done.
- Contact Google to request the removal of anything that exposes your sensitive data (social security number, home address, kids' names, etc.) to the world.
- Be patient and keep in mind, none of this will take place overnight and it could take a matter of weeks or months to contact every source.
If you are trying to "bury" information posted online about you, wage a content campaign and post a ton of new information about you along with pictures that will push the old, undesirable information down low on Google search pages where no one will ever see it.