Many people, regardless of their age, experienced a common warning from one of their teachers in school whenever they did something the teacher didn’t like – “if you do that again it will be on your permanent record!’ We’ve all heard it, and we all laugh about it. Of course, almost everything that happened in elementary or high school will never appear anywhere. But there are many things that happen during your lifetime that will be on your “permanent record.” Unfortunately, some of those things are negative and can hurt your reputation, so you want to remove them. But what exactly is a “permanent record?”
Actually, when talking about your permanent record we’re talking about your public record – and it includes everything from your birth certificate to your death certificate – and all that happens in between. That could include a marriage or divorce record, a record of your driver’s license, business incorporation records, your home mortgage, your voting registration record, and so much more. Your public record can also include any court judgments, liens, bankruptcies, criminal records, and any government actions that were initiated against you. It would be wonderful if you could destroy all of those documents, but that’s simply not possible. But there are things you can do, so here’s what you need to know about removing public records.
Where the Information Comes From
While businesses and government agencies used to keep paper records of all of your records, they now digitize them and post them on their respective websites. However, they are now also selling all of those records to data brokers, which are also known as people-search sites. Depending on the state you live in, many public records can appear on non-government websites. And that’s where the problems begin.
When the government passed the Freedom of Information Act back in 1967, it made accessing these records a lot easier. That was good for many reasons, but it also opened the door to put public records within reach of anyone who had the desire and often the money to view them. This is especially true of people-search sites that willingly sell their records to anyone, which means even cybercriminals can get their hands on your private information.
The Problems with People-Search Sites
Many public records contain a lot of sensitive information. For example, a divorce record may contain Social Security numbers or tax information. That’s all a cybercriminal needs to commit fraud or identity theft. The people-search sites are really not interested in the trouble that showing these records can cause, they’re only interested in the money they’re making by selling it.
Cybercrooks can view your personal data like birthdate, home address and phone numbers, family member names, and more. They use this to access additional personal data until they have enough information to commit some form of fraud or one of the various types of identity theft, like medical, financial, or synthetic. It can end up costing a lot of money and a lot of time trying to sort things out.
Another huge problem is that people-search sites really don’t care about the accuracy of the data they put up for sale. So your records could include a lot of erroneous information that could damage your reputation, ruin your chances to land a dream job, and a lot more. The false information could involve criminal history or bankruptcies that you had no part in.
A more recent problem that has been driven by people-search sites is doxing – an internet-related problem where bits of personal data about an individual are shared online, and then more and more information about that individual is added. All of that is done for threatening or psychological intimidation.
One other note of caution: information on people-search sites can lead to all kinds of harassment, stalking, and other criminal activity.
Removing Your Public Records
Start by removing your data from people-search sites, like Pipl, Spokeo, or Whitepages. Check each site separately and look for removal instructions. As there are many data broker websites, the process may take a while. If you find the task too hard to complete, consider hiring a privacy protection service.
Many people ask if criminal records can be removed, and the answer is mostly “not really.” However, in many states, you can ask the court to expunge your record or seal it and if that is accomplished, you can have the records removed from the websites that they appeared on. Financial records like liens are a bigger problem, and the only way to remove them is to pay them in full.
Masking your records from view is a viable option. The less information people can see, the better. Start by getting a P.O. Box and use it as your address, so that your home address doesn’t appear on important papers. Here’s another tactic: if you rent, move at least one time. That way, any mail that’s not going to your P.O. Box will go to your last address, not your new one. Pay all of your bills online so you can avoid paper delivery of your documents. Finally, mask your phone number by using one of the prepaid cell phones that are available everywhere. Only give out your personal number to close friends and people you trust.