Search Yourself Online to See How Much of Your Information is Already Public
Assess the Extent of Your Personal Information Online
This is the second part of our five-part series on Preventing Identity Theft & Doxing.
To protect yourself against identity theft and doxing, first and foremost do not make it easy for criminals to obtain information about you from online sources. Hackers love people who overshare on the Internet and especially on social media because this makes the task of hacking you much easier.
In addition, there are large and ever growing databases of personal information online. This data is being passed around and continuously updated. There are all kinds of businesses and companies that you’ve never heard of, selling and trading your information. Privacy Rights Clearing House maintains a list of data brokers that is over 250 companies and growing!
You might be blown away to learn that this is a $156 billion industry which is mostly entirely invisible. From these sources, your personal information can then also find its way into ‘people search’ and ‘people finder’ websites that the general public can access!
All of this personal information online puts you at risk. Therefore, the first step in the prevention and protection process is to determine how much at risk you already are.
Follow the steps below to assess how much of your personal information may already be online.
When conducting these checks, note down or paste into a word processing document any interesting (or terrifying) results. Do this periodically; maybe twice per year.
- Conduct Google searches of your name, email addresses, usernames, nicknames, home address, phone number, social security number, passport number, driver’s license number, etc.
- searching in “double quotes” will help narrow down results
- you can also combine search terms or include other information such as your home town or where you work to help narrow down results even further
- For one or more of the searches above, set up Custom Alerts to monitor future information that shows up about you online. Setting up these alerts means you’ll receive an email whenever Google finds new information online matching the search criteria you indicated.
- these alerts are free, so set up as many as you like
- Use TinEye or Google Image Search to search for your current and past social media profile photos or other recently shared photos (this is called a “reverse image search”).
- Visit your social media profile pages in your web browser’s incognito mode to see what strangers can see. Viewing social media accounts as a stranger will inform you about how safe your privacy settings are.
- Visit your friends’ social media profile pages in the same way to see if they are “leaking” any information about you.
- Search yourself (especially posts you thought were private) using Facebook Graph Search.
- Check https://app.echosec.net/ (and select an area around where you live, work or play) to see if any of your social media posts are leaking to the general public.
- Search people finder websites such as Spokeo, US Search, Intelius, Zabasearch, DOBsearch, LexisNexis, Whitepages, BeenVerified and dozens more!
Top Tip – If a website has its own search feature but you’d prefer NOT to enter your personal information into it, sometimes you can search the site indirectly via Google using the following format: “Bill Gates” site:example.com
- Regularly request your credit reports. Use your right to request a free credit report once per year from each of the 3 major agencies.
- for further details see our post ‘Credit Reports and Data Brokers’
- If you have registered any domain names, check to ensure that your personal details don’t show up in WHOIS searches. If your name does show up in these searches, use a private domain registry service, such as those offered by Siteground Domains, as this will keep your name out of public WHOIS records.
After performing these checks and searches for your personal information online you will have very detailed and rich insights to help you appreciate the gravity of your problem (hopefully not too bad!) and assist with the remaining steps in your overall strategy for preventing identity theft and avoiding doxing.