If you think back to your high school days, the name Hester Prynne probably rings a bell. She was the main character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book, “The Scarlet Letter, ” which was published back in 1850. For those of you who haven’t read the book or don’t remember the storyline, Hester was accused by her Puritan neighbors of the crime of adultery, and as punishment was forced to wear the letter “A” in public for all to see. That was a forerunner of today’s practice of making a person’s criminal public record available for all to see. It’s published in various places on the internet, but unfortunately, an individual’s criminal record isn’t the only information that’s made publically available. Today, it includes all types of personal information like your name, home address and phone numbers, email address, names of family members, marriage and divorce records, driving records, financial information, home value and mortgage information, income and employment records and so much more.

Having to wear a scarlet letter indicating that Hester was an adulteress was certainly painful for her, but publishing all of your personal information is far worse due to the potential consequences you face. Here’s why: when personal information is published for everyone to view, “everyone” includes cybercriminals who have access to the information as well. And they’re sitting at their computers and other devices just waiting for that personal info to appear, so they can do what they do best – which is commit fraud, identity theft, and other types of illegal activities. A criminal activity like identity theft ends up costing victims a lot of time dealing with the problems that are created, as well as a lot of money – to the tune of $56 billion in the past year alone. That’s why it’s so very important for you to begin removing public records as quickly as possible.

Public Records are Everywhere

Public records can be viewed in a variety of places. Federal, state, and local governments publish this information on their own websites and share it with a variety of other agencies. But that’s not the biggest problem. Now, those government agencies are selling this unauthorized, personal information to data brokers, who are also referred to as people-search sites. And that’s where the problems really begin,

Exposing your personal information on people-search sites opens the door to having that info appear on Google, and once it’s there it’s available for the world to see. Often, your financial information is published, which can include your Social Security number. And even if your SSN isn’t published directly, a savvy cybercrook can often piece together all of your available personal information that is published and will ultimately find it. That provides a direct link to all types of identity theft, which is something you absolutely don’t want to be involved in.

Another problem is that people-search sites are interested in publishing as much personal information about you that they can, which helps their Google rankings move up. The problem is that they don’t really care whether or not the information that they publish is accurate, which often actually is not. This can cause serious damage to your reputation because those sites often mix up your identity with someone else who has the same or similar name. And a search for you by a prospective employer or a banker looking to fund a mortgage could show you have a criminal record – even though you’ve never been in trouble with the law. It can have devastating repercussions.

Another problem with those people-search sites is they can subject you to doxxing – where some of your personal information is shared online. It starts on those sites and then escalates. By removing your information from all of those people-finder sites, you’ll minimize your risk of people finding additional private information about you.

Removing Your Public Records

So, can you remove your public records? The answer is – yes, and no. Some records, like the ones on people-search sites, can be deleted. Other records, published by various government agencies or financial institutions can’t be deleted. So let’s start with what you can do.

First up is to remove your unauthorized personal information from people-search sites, like Spokeo or Whitepages. There are well over 100 of these and you have to remove your information from each one – or it will still be found online. It can take quite a lot of time and effort, and you can do it manually or you can hire a service to take care of it for you. Either way, it’s worth it to remove every bit of personal info you can find.

For public records that can’t be deleted, like criminal records, your best course of action is to ask the court to expunge or seal the records. Once that happens, you can ask to have your records removed. On the financial side, if you have a lien, for example, you’ll be able to have it removed once it’s paid – in full. Otherwise, it’ll be on your record. And your financial information, like the info found on credit reports, can remain there for up to 10 years.

Masking – Another Option

Masking your location is another option to use. Get a P.O. Box and use it for all of your mail instead of your home address. Instead of giving out your phone number, purchase a prepaid burner cell phone and use that as your contact, saving your personal number for family and trusted friends. Here’s another option: if you’re renting, move at least one time. That way, the Post Office will deliver all mail not going to your P.O. Box to your last address, instead of your new one, keeping it from view. Also, pay your bills online, and request digital receipts for your payments. That will eliminate mail containing sensitive information from being sent to you.