WASHINGTON -- Identity theft affected more than 13 million people in 2016 alone. Now, getting a hold of personal information online is easier than before.
Websites like truepeoplesearch.com, an online search engine that allows users to “find anyone for free right now,” are popping up all over the internet.
Dr. Amelia Estwick, program manager at the National Cybersecurity Institute, says computer software using sophisticated pattern algorithms skim the internet every day with one purpose, gathering your personal information and making it available for all to see.
"Sometimes you look at these websites and you're surprised at how accurate some of that information is,” commented Dr. Estwick.
She says things like marriage records have always been a matter of public record.
“It (these websites) looks at your address and any public information and some information you might have fed it,” said Estwick.
Some data users voluntarily give up on social media. When you combine that with the public information, everything about you is a keystroke away.
Dr. Estwick says sites like these are not always bad and can be used for good, like finding loved ones and long lost relatives.
But of course they can also be used for nefarious reasons too.
With websites like truepeoplesearch.com a user can easily remove personal information by simply clicking on the words “privacy” and requesting a removal.
For people looking to prevent their private info from ending up on sites like this Dr. Estwick offers the following advice.
“If folks are concerned, there are ways they can anonymize themselves on the internet. There are various tools that you can find to make sure that when you are on the internet you are behind a little bit of a wall,” she said.
But what about ways to protect sensitive information in on sites like Facebook and Instagram?
"If you're concerned, you may not need five email accounts. You may not need every social media account. Be wise and understand the privacy policies for those websites as well. There are probably ways you can opt out of actually having your information shared,” offered Estwick.
These are simple steps that could lead to peace and mind and keep personal information safe online.