It is no secret that protecting your personal data – name, address, DOB, SSN, etc. – is a vital part of protecting yourself and your family. Not only can this information be used to make you a victim of identity theft, but it can also be used by criminals – especially those looking to harm a law enforcement officer – to find your home address, where your spouse works and even where your kids go to school. What was once as simple as having a PO Box is now an almost matter of constantly monitoring social media, screening phone calls and even keeping on top of the latest technology and apps available.
Over the past few weeks a previously obscure website called Family Tree Now has caused concern for many law enforcement officers. According to a recent Fox News report, this seemingly harmless genealogy website may be providing criminals with the means to find not only personal information of law enforcement officers, but also their family including parents, siblings and anyone else they may have lived with in the past. Many officers, myself included, have tried and found the report to be accurate – my profile listed addresses back to childhood, my spouse and similar address information and even the name of my daughter and a college mail address. Luckily, this particular website does offer an “opt out” function which is easy to use via their homepage.
The bigger concern is not this specific website, but the larger possibility that personal information is not only out there but easily obtained, especially when it is via otherwise harmless websites you may not even know exist. Unfortunately, the possibilities are boundless and new ones pop up regularly, so identifying specific sites, accessing them and opting out is rather time consuming and often relies on word of mouth. But there are some things you can do to limit what is available.
Most of these sites obtain data via mining, or using computer programs to combs other online records for information pertaining to a specific individual. Avoid providing this information by limiting what you put out there to be harvested.
- Avoid filling out surveys or questionnaires by unknown or untreated sites.
- Make sure websites you provide personal information to are not only secure but have policies against sharing or selling that information.
- Limit the information your own social media sites provide and engage security setting to prevent viewing without permission.
- Make a habit of doing online searches of yourself and seeing what pops up for results. If there are questionable responses, research the site and attempt to have information removed if possible.
- Change passwords on a regular basis to avoid unknown monitoring of accounts if you are compromised. Of course, you should never use the same password for every account!
- Some jurisdictions have laws allowing LEOs to opt out of otherwise public information site, such as tax records or state payroll records. If you live in such a jurisdiction, take advantage of this option and opt out now.
It is almost impossible to function in modern society without leaving a digital footprint, living off the grid is usually not an option for government employees. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you can to erase or cover those tracks.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.