You probably go through a lot to make sure your personal identifying information doesn’t fall into the hands of the wrong person. Your efforts may be in vain. If you’ve ever bought a house, gotten married, gotten divorced, or had a tax lien, your Social Security number could be on the internet waiting for a smart thief to come find it.
Your Local Government is the Main Culprit
As municipal courthouses cut back on the amount of paper they store and begin to make court records more accessible, they also put your identity at risk. Many clerks simply scan court records and place them online for querying, without deleting your Social Security number, date of birth, or other sensitive information. While current laws prevent banks from publishing your personal information, there is no law against publishing your Social Security number on public records.
Free People Searches
There’s a great chance that there’s enough information out there to allow a clever identity thief to piece together a fairly accurate picture of who you are on paper. First, consider the number of free people search websites like WhitePages.com, ZabaSearch.com, and USSearch.com. These websites typically publish addresses and phone numbers. They claim to be able to provide additional information for an extra charge. If you have a common name, like John Smith, it could be hard for a thief to find your precise identity. But, the more rare your name, the easier it is for a thief to locate your information.
Search engines act as a gateway to your life by pointing thieves in the direction of websites that have your personal information. Though the information might have been innocently placed, initially, in the wrong hands, your address, phone number, and age can be costly.
Social Networking Sites
How much information have you published on MySpace or Facebook? While social networking sites encourage you to share information about yourself, it could come back to haunt you. Depending on your privacy settings, your page might be easily found via search engine. If you set your privacy to prevent non-friends from viewing it, you still have to pay attention to who’s your friend. A lot of people tend to just add anyone who makes a friend request, without realizing the risk.
While some thieves are looking for quick, easy, and free information, there are those whose ambitions would lead them to pony up the cash for a paid search like one from USATrace.com for $37.99 or Intelius for $77.
Do Your Own Search
Want to know what’s out there on you? You can do your own search at the sites listed above. Don’t forget the major search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft Live. Try some combinations of your name + your state, for example “John Smith Alabama” or your name + your occupation “John Smith Engineer.” See what you come up with. If you’re willing to pay for results, you can try out a service like ReputationDefender.com that tells you what information is available on the web.
You’d be surprised at just how much of your personal information is out there on the internet. But, if it’s any consolation, the information is very much scattered and has to be deliberated searched out, meaning, a thief would have to purposely track you down. And it’s likely that the same information could be found offline. It would just take a little more effort.