If you’ve ever searched online for your own name or the name of someone else, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of the results point to various people search websites like Spokeo, Intellius, and many others. Each site will typically provide a small amount of information about a person for free, offering more information for a fee.
This information can potentially include current and past addresses, phone numbers, names of relatives, email addresses, social media profiles, and more. Because each site provides slightly different information, it is possible to put together a reasonably complete profile on someone just by aggregating all the free information from each site. This is why it’s a good idea to take stock periodically of what information about you or loved ones is available on such sites and have it removed, if possible.
In some cases, these websites will provide partial information—like a partial phone number of email address—to entice you to pay for more. On at least one site, however, some of this information can be easily unmasked.
In helping a family member determine what information may be available about him/her online and how to start removing it, I noticed that the InstantCheckmate.com website is one of those people search databases that sometimes provides a partial phone number. I also noticed that instead of having some of the digits replaced by x’s or asterisks like on many other sites, the first part of numbers on Instant Checkmate seemed merely to be blurred.
Curious about how this worked, I right clicked on the phone number in Chrome and selected “Inspect element.” And voila! There was the redacted portion of the number in the HTML of the website! If you click “Unlock Phone Numbers,” the website will want you to pay. But no need, just take a quick look at the underlying code and you can get the numbers for free. Here is an example using a simple search of “John Smith.” (I’ve redacted the numbers in my screenshot, but trust me, they are really there if you really want to go find them.)
This kind of information can be used for legitimate investigative purposes or by long lost friends or family trying to get in touch. But it can also be used for any number of nefarious purposes, such as cyber stalking or facilitating identify theft.
In many cases, it is possible to have such information removed. This is the case with Instant Checkmate. If you go to the site’s opt-out page (https://www.instantcheckmate.com/opt-out) you can search for your name and location, find your entry, and then request to have it removed.
Be aware that sometimes you may have more than one entry. Be sure to scroll through them all and choose all that apply to you. Also be aware that in the case of Instant Checkmate (and many others too) you will need to enter an email address to get a confirmation link. It is a good idea to set up a new, throwaway email address just for doing these opt-outs. A Gmail address usually works best.
On some other sites, you will need to provide a phone number to receive a confirmation code. This can be a little more of a pain if you do not want to give a real phone number, which is understandable. For these cases, it may be worth investing in a cheap “burner” phone like the Tracfone flip phones you can sometimes find on sale at the grocery story for $9.99. Get a phone number and just enough minutes to receive the confirmation codes and then keep the phone for a rainy day, donate, or recycle.
Photo by hyku