How to keep yourself safe from 'privacy poachers'

- Imagine being able to find nearly anyone's personal information -- their phone number, names of family members, and their address - for free with just a couple clicks online.

It's possible, and it's legal. 

Comedian Mona Shaikh says she recently became a victim of identity theft, and now she fears her stolen personal information could land in the wrong hands.

"It is still jarring that someone has my home address. Someone has my name. Someone has my social security number," said Shaikh. 

We've all heard of sites like Spokeo and WhitePages.com that allow you to search for personal information, but new sites like FamilyTreeNow.com are now also sprouting up offering even more. 

They let users type in anyone's first and last names, state, and then they give you information about possible relatives, possible locations where you've lived and possible phone numbers. 

Shaikh found all her family members

"Under five seconds and that was really disturbing," she said.

Cyber security expert Michael Orosz says believe it or not, the records are all legal to the public.

"It's legal because it's open source. Open source by definition is information that is either free or can be legally purchased. So a lot of this information, county records of where you live, or criminal records that you can find legally, that's available and it's in cyber space. And therefore it's searchable," said Orosz.

You could potentially then take that information, plug it into other free sites and then get all sorts of information about people, like their monthly mortgage. 

FamilyTreeNow didn't respond to our request for comment but they do this warning on their site: "You will not use the services in a manner that may cause emotional or physical harm to anyone, or to 'stalk' or otherwise harass another person."

So what you can do to scrub your information off the web? Cyber security experts with the Los Angeles Police Department gave us these tips:

1) Send mail to a box rental service that lets you use a street address over a P.O. box number (since no one will believe you actually live where a P.O. box number is located)

2) Buy property through a blind trust if you can, so your name isn't linked to where you live. The downside is this is very expensive, and it also can make selling your property more challenging.

3) Give out a Google voice number instead of your actual cell phone number.

4) Opt out of information gathering websites.

Here are the opt-out pages for a few of them: 

FamilyTreeNow.com: https://www.familytreenow.com/optout

Intelius.com: https://www.intelius.com/optout.php

LexisNexis.com: https://www.lexisnexis.com/privacy/directmarketingopt-out.aspx

WhitePages.com: https://premium.whitepages.com/help#about

Spokeo.com: http://www.spokeo.com/opt_out/new

411.info: https://411.info/manage/

ZoomInfo.com: http://www.zoominfo.com/lookupEmail

PeopleSmart.com: https://www.peoplesmart.com/optout-go

BeenVerified.com: https://www.beenverified.com/f/optout/search

PeopleFinder.com: http://www.peoplefinder.com/optout.php

Experts recommend frequently checking information gathering websites to make sure your information stays off. They say for some, you also have to prove you've been a crime victim.

Keeping yourself off takes a lot of time and sometimes money to set up, but experts say they are proven to keep you safer.

Even with all of this, Orosz warns once anything exists online, it is there for good. 

"Once you're in cyber space, once you've been posted, once an image has been posted on Facebook, even if you remove it, there's a very high probability it's been already archived and used and linked somewhere else. So if someone really wants to really dig deep into the Internet, into the deep web, they'll find it," said Orosz.

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