How to remove public records: a 5-step guide
There’s no denying that public records have their benefits, promoting transparency and offering a certain level of convenience. But leaving your personal information publicly available for anyone to see comes with risks. It can facilitate identity theft, to name just one (and not even the worst).
If you’ve ever visited a people search site, you may have felt wonder or horror at how easy it is to find out where someone lives, three different ways to contact them, and even how they’re likely to vote in the next elections.
While a lot of this information comes from private sources like data bought from online retailers or app developers that collect personal information from their users, a lot of it originated from public records. It spreads from there, with the help of data brokers and people search websites, putting you and your online reputation at risk.
Removing public records and cleaning up your digital footprint will help protect your privacy online. We’ll outline the general steps to accomplish this below.
In short, how can you remove public records?
- Opt out from data broker and people search sites
- Use a PO box
- Use a burner app or get a second phone number
- Remove or amend your public records through the county clerk’s office
- Remove your public records from Google
Continue reading to get a thorough breakdown of the steps to accomplish this.
How to remove info from public records
1. Opt out from data broker and people search sites
Since you likely won’t be able to remove all of your public records from government-controlled sources, it’s best to focus your attention on how that information is circulated. And almost all roads lead back to data brokers where the collection and publication of personal information is concerned.
Whether it’s political affiliations through your voter registration information or spending habits shared by your favorite e-commerce site, there are data brokers out there that have most of this information. They then either sell it in bulk to marketers and insurance companies or publish it on people search sites for anyone to easily find. This is usually when the danger comes in—as soon as that information becomes readily available.
Thankfully, depending on where you live, data privacy laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) protect your “right to be forgotten.”
To exercise this right, you’ll first have to track down which data brokers and people search sites hold your data. You can do this with a little internet sleuthing. Start off by looking up your name, phone number, or address using any popular search engine. Many of the search results you’ll find in the results will be people search sites.
- Arrests.org Opt Out
- Florida Resident Database Opt Out
- IdTrue Opt Out
- Michigan Resident Database Opt Out
- Mugshots.com Opt Out
- Ohio Resident Database Opt Out
- OfficialUSA.com Opt Out
- OpenPublicRecords Opt Out
- PublicRecords.com Opt Out
- PublicRecordsNow Opt Out
- PublicDataUSA Opt Out
- SearchPublicRecords Opt Out
- Voterrecords Opt Out
You can find our full list of data broker opt-out guides here.
2. Use a PO box
Next, you should consider getting a PO box and using it instead of your home address wherever possible. This will limit the amount of legal documentation that’s attached to your real address, giving data brokers fewer sources to scrape this public information.
Try to use your PO box in places such as:
- Department of Motor Vehicles
- Public library
- Unemployment office
- Parks and Rec offices.
3. Use a burner app or get a second phone number
You’ll want to do the same with your telephone number. Instead of using your real number for everything, invest in either a burner app or a second number for purposes such as registration.
Some burner apps we recommend include:
- Google Voice
4. Remove or amend your public records through the county clerk’s office
Once you’ve started using a PO box and a burner app or alternate phone number, it’s time to visit your local county clerk’s office.
As we mentioned before, you won’t be able to remove all the data from your public records due to FOIA limitations. However, you can request to review all of your public records and inquire which information and documents can be removed, redacted, or amended. Don’t forget to replace your address with your new PO box wherever possible.
At the very least, you should be able to remove or at least obscure your Social Security number and phone number.
While you’re there, you should also check the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) database. It contains property and financial records that may even display your Social Security number. You may even be able to check this online, before your visit, on your state’s official government website.
5. Remove your public records from Google
If you’ve followed the previous steps on our list, there shouldn’t be too much of your personal information left on Google search results. However, it’s possible there’ll be some remnants.
Following the previous steps, do a follow-up Google search on yourself. If personal information or public records still show up in the search results, you should first contact the webmaster of the page publishing the information to request its removal. If they don’t comply, fill out Google’s data removal request form to have the information de-indexed. You can do the same through the image removal form.
For more detailed instructions on how to remove your information from Google, check out our guide.
What are public records?
Public records contain non-confidential information and documents that are controlled by government agencies and institutions. These records are open to the general public and include information such as:
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Marriage certificates
- Driver’s license information
- Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings
- Criminal records
- Court records
- Voter registration information
- Property ownership
- Tax information
- Occupational licenses.
Why you should remove public records
Many internet users, especially of the younger variety, adopt the attitude that they have nothing to hide, which may very well be the case. However, having almost any of your personal information publicly available comes with certain risks.
Even anonymized, demographical data can be traced back to you with unnerving ease. According to this study, 99.98% of Americans could be identified with as few as 15 anonymized data points.
Information from your public records can also spread online with the help of data brokers and people search sites. While data brokers deal mainly with legitimate businesses and organizations (except for when they knowingly sell data to scammers), identity thieves can easily access public records on people search sites.
Data brokers and people search sites collect any publicly accessible personal information, including from commercial sources and your own social media posts. Once compiled into a detailed personal profile, cybercriminals have all the ammunition they need to target unsuspecting individuals.
They can also use pretexting, the practice of using personally identifiable information (PII) to find your public records and gain access to more sensitive information. So even seemingly innocuous information, such as a phone number, can lead to serious consequences.
These can include:
- Identity theft
- Predatory advertising
Be sure also to check out our step-by-step guide on how to remove your personal information from the internet to optimize your online privacy.
Know your rights
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is part of a federal law mandating the total or partial disclosure of all information or documents controlled by the US government, upon request. However, there are exemptions to the FOIA for protected data, such as health information.
Even though the FOIA is a federal law, each state has individual restrictions regarding what information can be shared. You can find detailed information about specific legislature through your state’s official government site.
Unfortunately, most exemptions to the FOIA protect national interests. This means you won’t necessarily be able to remove the entirety of your public record at the source—the government. That doesn’t mean it’s a futile pursuit, though.
Finding official public records isn’t easy unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. Even if you do, accessing them is usually associated with some costs. The internet does make it easier, however. Data brokers and people search sites scrape the internet for public records to compile easy-to-find, easy-to-use profiles, making your public record open for nearly anyone with basic internet access.