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People search websites (also called people finder sites) collect people's personal information and make it available online for free or for purchase. Anyone can search these sites for a name, address or phone number and request a detailed report with a laundry list of data you might not expect to be readily accessible. These include court records, previous roommates, a child's age and even social media handles.
It's not easy to keep all this information private because some comes from public records. However, it is possible to make your personal information harder to find by removing it from people search websites.
What Are People Search Websites?
People search websites are a type of data brokerage business, meaning they collect and sell data. While other types of data brokers focus on gathering information and creating reports for marketing, identity verification or fraud detection purposes, people search sites make reports available directly to consumers.
These sites gather information from public records, social media sites and other data brokers. Depending on the site, you may be able to view this information for free, buy a report on someone or get unlimited access with a paid subscription.
There are many innocent reasons that you might want to use these sites. Perhaps you want to reconnect with an old friend or perform a background check before going on a first date. But people finder sites also make it easier for hackers and identity thieves to find and track victims.
You don't necessarily have a federal right to access or dispute the information on people search sites, but the sites are typically required to provide a way for users to opt out or request that their information be removed. If you want to keep your personal information personal, you may take steps to have it removed from these sites.
How to Remove Your Information From People Search Sites
Removing your information won't necessarily be quick or easy, and the process can vary from one site to another. Services such as Experian's personal privacy scan can handle all of this for you, but here are the general steps you can take if you want to go the DIY route.
Before you start, you may want to create a new email account that won't be used for anything else, as some sites will require you to create an account or verify an email address to submit an opt-out request. Using your main email address to submit opt-out requests may result in unwanted spam.
1. Check to See Which Sites Have Your Information
You may want to look for your information on some popular people search websites. Some of the most well-known include: BeenVerified, FamilyTreeNow, FastPeopleSearch, Instant Checkmate, Intelius, PeopleFinders, Spokeo, TruthFinder, USPhoneBook and ZabaSearch.
Rather than checking site by site, you could try using a search engine to query your name and where you live. With Google, it's helpful to use quotes—"John Doe," for example—to find an exact match.
People search sites make their money by attracting visitors, so it's in their best interest to make it known that they have your information. They may even run ads on search pages to attract more visitors.
2. Find the Opt-Out Pages
Many people search websites have a dedicated page with information on how to opt out of their database or have the website suppress your information. You may be able to find it by searching for the website's name and "opt out."
3. Submit the Opt-Out Request
Once you locate the opt-out page, follow the directions to complete and submit your request. In some cases, you may need to share a specific profile page's URL or identification number to request the opt-out, which is why finding your information on the site is an important first step.
It is important to be mindful of what information you need to share so you don't provide more personal information than what is necessary. For example, if you have to share a picture of a photo ID to submit a request, consider blacking out any information on the card that isn't requested. (Just be sure not to deface your original document in the process.)
If you found several results with your name, or a close approximation due to a typo, you may need to submit multiple requests to have each profile deleted.
4. Repeat the Process and Continue Monitoring
Once your opt-out request is submitted with one website, you'll need to move on to the next people search site and follow its opt-out instructions. You may want to repeat the search every few months as new people search websites are launched all the time. Some websites might even add your info back into their results after you've opted out if they purchase additional information or new public records associated with you pop up.
There are also paid services you can use to look up and request removals. But compare the options, costs and which people search sites they'll reach out to on your behalf.
How to Protect Your Identity Going Forward
Removing yourself from people search websites can be an ongoing process, in part because some of the underlying information might remain openly available in public records.
Experian's new personal privacy scan and removal tool offers ongoing monitoring of your personal information on over 30 popular people search websites. If you have an Experian IdentityWorks℠ Premium or Family subscription, you can have the tool automatically submit removal requests to these sites. The tool rescans every month to spot any records that have resurfaced and submits requests to have them removed.
There are also steps you can take to limit how much personal information is shared in the first place, and to protect your identity. For example, you might switch your social media accounts from public to private so companies can't collect data from your social media posts.
You could also sign up for an identity protection service that includes credit and identity monitoring. These services can alert you if there are suspicious changes in your credit reports or if your personal information suddenly appears in other databases or on the dark web. These could be early signs of identity theft, and you'll be able to react immediately to stop identity thieves before they can move forward.
If something does happen, the identity theft insurance and personal assistance services included with Experian IdentityWorks℠ can help you restore your identity and pay for some of the associated costs if you are the victim of identity theft while your subscription is active.