By Jennifer Burns
Ever wonder what happened to that best friend from grade school? You may have seen these “find who you’re looking for” or “find your lost love” advertisements popping up on your home page or your Facebook feed.
People finder sites are designed, as the name claims, to help people find other people. The problem with them is that they frequently provide you or others with information considered “private.” Often it’s not the information you want to yell to the world on your Facebook, Twitter or, sigh, MySpace pages.
The other night I was blabbing to my best friend about these creepy sites and she asked me to find all the dirt on her I could, just for laughs. So, I started with a basic search for her name, and it wasn’t anything too bad. In fact, I realized she is wildly successful! She showed up in search results as an accomplished doctor, a photographer, a writer, an actress, and also a lawyer.
I Typed in Her Name…
All jokes aside, I continued on with my search. I typed in her name and one site came back with “too many results, please provide more information.” For the sake of her privacy, I tried another site and didn’t add any more information than her name and state.
You wouldn’t believe the amount of info that came up (and for free!).
One search came back with her name, her parent’s name’s—even her brother’s name—and her most recent locations by city. (I was shocked!) But that was just the teaser, I clicked on “that’s the one” to find the pricing options for more details.
The Biggest Surprise
The biggest surprise was that for a small fee of $1.95—yes, less than the cost of a latte, my friends—I could pay for access to her most recent home addresses, phone numbers, and any other contact information available. And apparently, for a bit larger fee of $40.00 USD, I could discover all of her previous and current residences. (Yes, residences, as in plural). Now public information like loans and liens weren’t surprising to me, but DOB, personal phone numbers, and much more, were.
I called her to share my findings and she was, understandably, creeped out. Because of her relatively low-key presence on the Internet, she didn’t think I would be able to find that much information on her. Now, there are many ways you can try to get your information removed from these sites; however because of the massive amount of information on the web (and the fact that these companies are making money off of you) it may be virtually impossible to remove yourself.
There are some ways to avoid these companies from getting more information on you:
- Don’t pay to see what information they have on you. I say this because payment requires a credit card and billing information. Once they have that, they have confirmed your address, and now they also have your financial information.
- Add your numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry. While this won’t prevent your “super fans,” “researchers,” or just plain stalkers, from attempting to reach you, it may prevent you from getting on more lists in the future. (Note: This is an option for US residents and it can take up to 31 days to go into effect; though, the silence from telemarketers and other for-profit companies will be worth it.)
- Think twice about saying your name on your voice mail Personally, I don’t say my name on my voice mail. I prefer to let the lovely operator lady speak for me and say, “The number 6742138 is not available…” This may be a personal preference but your family and friends have your real phone number, right?
- If you do get harassing calls or fear someone is using your personal information to stalk you online, you can report it here. Your phone company will block harassing callers for free or for a small fine if they are not excessive (this may depend on your carrier).
- It’s all a catch-22. If they really want your information, they have to provide their information first. I’m assuming you are very careful about what you share online, so in order to access more information on you, they would have to identify themselves first.
Okay—I know you want to go find yourself (especially after reading this), but just make sure you don’t share too much in the process. Hey, you never know, that super-fan-researching-detective may really be your long lost love; but hopefully they can just find you on Facebook like everybody else.