Anyone can use the Internet to locate personal information about an individual.  For example, a home residence, family members, phone number, vehicles, voting records, signatures, education, donation history and other details that should not be public, can be located on the Internet.  This article discusses the importance of keeping personal information off the Internet and additionally provides insight into removing this information, relative to the business person.

 

Why should a business person care?

Business identity theft - Based on http://businessidtheft.org/ “Identity theft is no longer only a consumer crime. Thieves have learned that businesses and their executives have identities that they can steal, and unsuspecting businesses can be very easy targets. To criminals, business identity theft means the potential for even more easy money and goods.”

Targeted subjects - Many professions become a target for personal information, such as attorneys, judges, public officials.   Attorneys have received threats from parolees or the losing side of a court case.

Celebrities, Executives and the Wealthy – They are common targets of extortion, scams, theft, stalking and physical violence.  Malicious groups target these individuals. Paparazzi and journalists focus on executives.  Rights groups show up at executives' home addresses protesting.  Disgruntled or terminated employees have also been known to target an executive and his family for retaliation.  

 

Additional reasons why a business person would care.

Terminated employees or vendors can access personal information on the Internet and create a smear and stalking campaign against executives and their families. For example, one president noted an ex-employee was stalking him and got his home number from the Internet and was calling him in the middle of the night.

Based on an article from https://www.adl.org/ “Members of a radical animal rights group have been convicted of conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act and interstate stalking by federal jury in Trenton, New Jersey. They also convicted the group itself.  Prosecutors showed how the groups campaign involved posting personal information on the Internet about its employees and about employees of firms that do business with the company. The information posted on the Internet included phone numbers, home addresses, and in some cases, information on where employees’ children attended school. Many of those targeted have had their homes vandalized and received threats against them or their families, testimony revealed.  One female employee received an e-mail threatening to “cut open her seven-year-old son and fill him with poison.”

Based on https://www.lifewire.com/, doxing is the practice of searching, sharing, and publicizing the personal information of people on the Web on a website, forum, or other publicly accessible venue.  Along with names, address, and phone numbers, doxing attempts can also reveal network details such as email information, for example.  It is important to note that contact information is already online and publicly available. Doxing simply brings all this information from across different sources into one place, therefore making it available and accessible to anyone.

Doxing includes, but is not limited to, releasing a private citizen’s personally identifying information online, releasing previously unknown information of a private citizen online and releasing information of a private citizen online that could be damaging to not only their reputation, but to those of their personal and/or professional associates.   This include full names, home addresses, work addresses, phone numbers (both personal and professional), images, relatives, usernames, everything they’ve posted online (even things that were once thought private), etc.

 

Perform an Internet Self-Assessment

Identify the personal information present on the Internet based on three phases.  If you own a home and property, more personal details exist online, than if you rent the home.  Assess the social media accounts of the family and extended family.  The more social media profiles, the more information on the Internet. The more political donations, the greater the possibility is of a personal address being compromised.  

The phases are as follows:

1.   Search for personal information with a standard Google search.
2.   Focus on deep web searches which include public internet websites.  
3.   Review all directories including personal, telephone number and addresses are available.
4.   Review social media sites of family and extended family should be reviewed.

 

After the Assessment

Removal of the information can happen.  Prepare yourself.  This is time consuming and frustrating.  It takes weeks and months and possibly years to become invisible on the Internet.  Remain vigilant.  Most of all, to achieve your goal and remain invisible, stop providing compromising information.  

 

Attain a Level of Privacy and Security

When asked to give out telephone number, email address and home address, have alternate information prepared that does not compromise the real information.  

In addition to this, further suggestions noted below may prove beneficial:

  • Never use a real email address.  Rather, create an anonymous email address.  
  • Only provide information to known services.
  • Refrain from using online coupons. Avoid filling out a warranty card.  As a result your information is not available for possible sale. 
  • Contact the sender of advertisements received in the mail and ask to have your name removed from the mailing list.
  • Open a post office box as a mailing address. Send package deliveries to a work address or post office box address.
  • Shut down social media accounts.  

 

The Information May Reappear

Once opted out of the sites, the information may reappear.  Additionally, it is possible that people have already requested reports on the individuals. A good chance still exists that the information that appears when someone searches a name can still be available to those who have looked it up before (as it will be cached or retained electronically, or not removed from Google search results).

 

Recommendations for the Future

  • Monitor the entire Internet daily for any new information that may surface by creating an automated alert system.
  • Review the public record databases monthly for any new ones and to ensure the information is still not present or been added back onto the website.
  • Perform background checks on new employees and all employees on a yearly basis.
  • Also perform vendor due diligence checks.

 

If you have any questions regarding the protection of personable identifiable information (PII) or due diligence matters please feel free to reach out to Jim Mottola, Director of Forensic Investigations and Litigation Services, Sobel & Co. LLC at 973.994.9494.