When it comes to preserving your privacy online and in the real world, public records removal is crucial. Your private information from public records can be easily accessed by anyone on the Internet and if it falls into the wrong hands, it can be used against you. By erasing this data from as many sources as possible, you can rest easier knowing that you’re protected bad actors don’t have much to go off of.
But how do you delete public records or remove information from public records? We’ve created this guide where we go above and beyond other “how to remove public records from Google” resources and explore the complete privacy life cycle between you and your personally identifiable information available online. Here’s a quick overview of what we’ll cover:
Quick Overview of What We'll Cover
What are Public Records?
At the most general level, public records are any type of information that’s recorded and stored – and that people can access. It exists both physically as government archives and digitally online.
To list a few examples, the most commonly encountered types of public records include
- Birth, death, marriage and divorce records
- Property history
- Voter registration data
- Court records
- Bankruptcies, liens and judgements
- Professional licenses
- Business records (like articles of incorporation or meeting minutes)
By themselves, these are important documents for citizens. Likewise, everyone’s access to them is important as it ensures the free flow of information. However, now that people-search sites and data brokers collect and publish this data across the internet, it’s crucial to know how to keep your sensitive details safe.
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Types of Public Records
How to remove public records from the internet and if you can do it depends on the type of information published online. There are two major types: public records about people and about government actions. We’ll take a quick look at both below:
Public Records about People
These include documents concerning individuals. For instance, depending on the state, information regarding birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates can often be found by contacting the county clerk where these events took place.
This documentation also extends to real estate and property information, such as homeownership, deeds, mortgages, and property taxes. Depending on what state you’re in, corporation and LLC ownership files are considered publicly accessible. If available in your state, such information can often be found at the Secretary of State’s office.
Public Records about Government Actions
Information about government actions or policies can also be found in publicly available databases. For instance, all federal civil court records and criminal charges can be found online at PACER.gov. Likewise, state, city, and county records can also be accessed online.
Of particular note, in 1967, the Freedom of Information Act was passed, requiring all US government agencies to provide timely releases of information in response to records requests from anyone. Some types of official information cannot be released, but for most general requests, the agency is required by law to release the information.
How Public Records Appear Online
Today, public records are mostly stored and accessed via the internet simply because government agencies, courts and other offices digitize their files and save them on the web. Sometimes, those same entities sell their files to information brokers, meaning your sensitive information can also be found on non-government websites.
On one hand, now that more courts and agencies are releasing public records on websites, it’s much easier for you to access data about yourself and others. Depending on the jurisdiction, you can often locate records on a government website for free or for a low cost.
Why You Should Remove Public Records on People Search Sites
There’s a pretty clear downside to having your personal data available online. If public records are so easy for you to get your hands on, they’re easy for anyone else to get too.
So how do you erase public records and can they, in fact, be erased? If we’re referring to listings on people-search sites that are in the business of collecting information from all publicly available sources in order to sell archives of data on individuals, then yes. But when we’re talking about original records, such as those generated from government agencies, then there are very few cases where they can be removed. Before we look into those cases, let’s lay down a few of the biggest reasons why you should remove unauthorized profiles from people-search sites:
- Higher Risk for Identity Theft: Having data from your public records posted on websites makes it easier for thieves to steal your identity. By leveraging general data such as your home address, family names, date of birth, and more, it can be easier to access accounts that hold your Social Security Numbers or banking information. A recent identity theft report found that, while overall fraud rates are down since 2016, 23% more victims have to pay out of pocket for this type of identity-related fraud.
- Reputation-Damaging Information: People search sites aren’t too concerned with the accuracy of their records. In many cases, your record may be mistakenly merged with someone else’s, meaning you get false information attributed to your own name. This may involve jail time, bankruptcy charges, or any other reputation-damaging information. It’s best to delete yourself from these sites altogether.
- May Fuel Doxxing: Doxxing is a newer internet phenomenon in which unwanted personal information is publicly shared about an individual. The earlier stage in the doxxing lifecycle is fueled by breadcrumbs of data found on the internet. People search sites are a key source of this information. Removing your personal records from here can make it harder to locate more personal information about you.
- Increased Swatting Risk: Have you heard stories about gamers and celebrities getting “swatted”? This involves false calls to law enforcement to encourage SWAT teams to break into an unexpected person’s home. Tragically, this has led to the death of a few innocent people. Swatting requires knowing someone’s address, which is readily displayed alongside other personal information on people search sites.
- Greater Chance of Experiencing Stalking or Harassment (both on- and offline): People whose sensitive information is exposed online are less protected from physical threats posed by aggressive behavior or violence against them. A Pew Research Center study of online harassment found that 62% of Americans consider online harassment a major problem, and four in ten have personally experienced it.
Related: Online Harassment: What to Do if You’re Attacked
Cyberstalking: How to Recognize and Prevent it
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How to Remove Public Records from Google (Published by People Search Sites)
If your personal details and data from public records are listed on people-search sites, it also means you can easily find them on Google. Unfortunately, the biggest search engine “partners” with people-search sites and encourages the exposure of your unauthorized data broker profiles via its practices. Thus, by simply Googling you, anyone gets access to a multitude of search results made up by data broker listings for your name.
The good news is that you can restore your privacy and the first step here would be to know how to remove public information from the internet – both from people-search sites, and, consequently, Google that will stop displaying your unauthorized listings soon after they’re erased from data broker websites. This is possible largely because the law is on your side, and it obliges people-search engines to remove unauthorized profiles upon request.
There are two ways to do this:
- The Manual Way: This requires making a list of people-search sites that expose your private details (you can use OneRep free scan to do so), and contacting each website one by one, going to every site individually and opting out. Sometimes it’s a matter of pressing a button, but other times it requires phone calls, filling out fields with even more information about yourself, and having conversations with support teams. In short, the manual way can quickly become a hassle. The OneRep team has studied removal procedures on most people -search sites and prepared detailed instructions on opting out of 100+ sites. Just follow these instructions to remove yourself manually and make sure you revisit these sites at a later date to double check if your record has been deleted or if it hasn’t reappeared as it often happens when new data brokers spring up or old ones update their data bases. Or…
- The Automatic Way: If you don’t have time to go through the opt-out procedures, you can use OneRep’s public records removal platform. We’ll remove your information from 191 people-search sites — automatically. OneRep will also monitor the web for you every month, running scheduled privacy scans and getting rid of your newly-appeared or relisted profiles on data brokers. And we’ll keep you posted of the results both via regular email reports and in real time on your personal dashboard.
Can you Really Remove Information from Public Records?
By following either or the methods introduced above, you can remove your sensitive personal information from being displayed on people search sites. In this way, this personal information can be deleted — the law is on your side, and it obliges people search engines to remove unauthorized profiles upon request.
But what about removing original public records, such as from court or any other public institution? The answer isn’t so simple here. These records are very hard to delete unless the government provides a mechanism to clear them, and unless you have a verifiable reason to have them sealed. After all, records about arrests, bankruptcy, judgments, liens, lawsuits, and foreclosures are public for a reason — they help ensure transparency to the public.
Depending on your state, you may be able to clear criminal records via expungement, which essentially “deletes” arrests and convictions from a person’s criminal record. Another option is “sealing,” which removes a person’s criminal record from public view. Many people are using these mechanisms to increase their access to better employment, education, housing, and so on, as a growing number of states and jurisdictions are making more criminal records eligible for expungement and sealing.
Quick Tips to Minimize the Visibility of Your Public Records
While you can’t always delete or seal public records from official agencies, there are ways to take your information out of the public eye. In addition to removing public records from Google by opting out of people-search sites, you can minimize your digital footprint with these steps:
- Mask Your Home Address with a PO Box: By renting a PO box from your local post office, you can keep your home address off of important documents. In some states, it’s even legal to use your PO box as your address on your Driver’s License. Once you have your PO box, change all services to this new address.
- Pay Bills Online: To keep mail with sensitive information from being sent to you, you can opt-out of paper delivery options for your bills. Pay them digitally, and request digital receipts.
- Transfer Property to an LLC: If you own property, then you can move the property over to an LLC, incorporation, or limited partnership. Then, address the mail to that business entity.
- Move at Least Once: If you’re renting, then moving at least once will send unwanted mail (the mail that isn’t routed to your PO box) to your last address.
- Mask Your Phone Number: You can keep your real phone number private by only giving out a prepaid cell phone number to services and general acquaintances.