Most people probably realize that there is a lot of information available about them online. Many of us have done a search for ourselves at a major search engine.  The reality is that you can find out a lot about someone pretty quickly by researching them online.  What you may not know is that most of that information is available because of something known as public records.

Local and federal government agencies and offices are required to maintain information about people, agreements, transactions, and court activity.  For example, your local Department of Motor Vehicles is required to have personal information about you to be able to issue you a driver license.  That way if you ever lose your license they can issue you a new one with the correct information.

Right now you’re probably thinking that the information that you provided to the DMV was private and should only be available to you and the DMV.  How could that information be considered public record and be available to anyone online.  Well, you would be correct.  There is information that is private and is only available to certain people under certain circumstances and there are records that are available to the general public.

One of the most common examples of public records that are available to anyone is property records.  When you buy or sell a home the information about both parties, the property, and the price are all recorded and are available to the general public.  The idea is that if the government records the transaction then it is official and making it available to the public keeps people from questioning the validity of the property’s sale history.

That’s all fine, but what happens when all those property records meet the Internet?  Suddenly you have real estate sites and mobile apps that can provide detailed information about the place you live including your name, the price you paid for you home, the prices all your neighbors paid, how big your house and property are, and if there are any loans on your property.  Again, that sounds like useful information.  Why wouldn’t people be happy to have all that information if they are shopping for a home or looking to sell their own house?  Real estate sites are great and have revolutionized the home buying experience.

Well, what happens when a public records search site decides to include your property history in their database?  Suddenly, anyone that wants to pay a nominal fee will know all the places you’ve lived, who your parents, kids, and siblings are (because they lived in the same house as you before), and your entire court history (bankruptcies, divorces, marriages, crimes you’ve committed, etc.).  And just like that you’re not so excited about public records being online.

So what can you do to keep the personal information about you in public records from being available online?  Unfortunately, there is no way that you can completely remove your information from public records.  Court, property, and other records are required to be made available to the general public by law and usually for good reasons.  The good news is that you can definitely do a lot to minimize the amount of exposure that your public records get online.  Here are some of the common sources of public records that contain information about you:

Property records

List owner’s name, street address, legal description, assessed tax value, maps, deeds, mortgages and existing liens.  Many private vendors like real estate sites also offer freely accessible online localized databases that can reveal your home’s purchase price and current market value.

DMV records

Contain vehicle owner’s name, street address, auto registration, driving history and driver’s license information.

Voter registration files

Recent publication finds that U.S. citizens’ political participation has rapidly declined solely due to privacy concerns over publicly accessible voter registration data.

Business and professional license databases

Often list data pertaining to past disciplinary sanctions, outstanding debt, and current asset ownership.

Court records

Court records are the most commonly requested source of personal information out there.  This is where bankruptcies, judgements, criminal convictions, divorces, marriages, and all sorts of other revealing events occur.

There is currently no way to remove your information from public records.  Fortunately, there are some things you can do to dramatically minimize the exposure they can get online.  The first thing to focus your efforts on is something called opting out.

Virtually every public records search, people search, and background check site has an opt out form.  This is something you fill out to request that your information be excluded from their database.  All of them are free and once you complete your online request your information is typically removed from their search service relatively quickly.

The best strategy is to target the most popular sites first.  All you have to do to find them is to search for “public records”, “people search”, “background check”, and “court records” at your favorite search engine.  The most popular sites will show up first.  Just fill out their opt out forms and you are good to go.