A practical guide to reclaiming your personal information.
Just how much information is available online about you and your loved ones? The answer might shock you. Search your name on spokeo.com and you’ll likely see your cell phone number, address history and the names of your family members. It’s all a criminal needs to attempt to steal your credit or pull off an imposter scam, such as pretending to be a relative in need of cash.
Involving public records, the lengthy terms you signed for apps or services and the largely unregulated realm of data brokers, the multibillion-dollar industry of acquiring and selling private information online is as complex and shady as it gets.
Case in point: Data brokers can track and sell your race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, income level, how you vote, your purchases, what you search online, and where your kids and grandkids go to school. They also advertise mental health data on millions of Americans, which means criminals could buy data on seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia to steal away their life savings.
Why wait for stronger consumer protections to become law? In many cases, you can contact sites directly to request removal of your private information. While that can be time-consuming, it’s likely worth it. Here are some sites to help protect sensitive personal data and resources to help you exercise your rights.
Yael Grauer of Consumer Reports has created a comprehensive guide. Search “how to delete your information from people-search sites” on Google to find it. “Extreme Privacy,” a book by former FBI cybercrime investigator Michael Bazzell, is also recommended among privacy experts.
If there’s been a breach of your sensitive information, take swift action. Change your passwords on affected accounts, then notify financial institutions. You can also contact credit bureaus and have them put a fraud alert on your name. Talk to your advisor about these and other steps to mitigating breach impacts.
Even if you consented to your data being collected, you have a legal right to protect your information. As more states enact consumer privacy laws and more members of Congress call for action, there is hope for stronger consumer safeguards on the horizon.
Sources: Roll Call; Norton; Business Insider; CNBC; Consumer Reports