Having spent 14-plus years in the private investigations industry opened my eyes to the amount of personal data out there about any American, and how it is readily available to private individuals. I’ve done it myself. Type in a name, get a social security number, date of birth, address, phone numbers, even cell phone numbers. Type in an address, get the names of everyone who’s ever lived at that address, their social security numbers, their landline and cell phone numbers, their dates of birth. Type in a name and address, get every vehicle ever registered to that person at that address. Type in a social security number, and find out the names of every relative of that person, every address they’ve lived at, every car they’ve owned, every professional license ever held, their email addresses, if they have a concealed weapons permit, and so on and so forth. You think I’m kidding? You’d be wrong. Welcome to the world of information brokers!
Yes, that title is correct: “information brokers.” These are agencies who buy and sell your personal data to law enforcement agencies, private investigation agencies, insurance companies, attorneys, and more who are investigating you for any number of reasons, whether they are legitimate or not. You might be asking yourself right now: “but what about the 4th Amendment?!” Nope, no warrant is required here, folks. Just point, click, and pay a small fee. Anybody with an account can buy all of your personal information, and I do mean almost every bit of it, for about 7 bucks.
So just who are these information brokers? Here’s a list of the main ones that I have personally dealt with and used previously:
Accurint located at www.accurint.com
IRB LLC located at www.irbsearch.com
LexisNexis located at www.lexisnexis.com
Tracers Information Specialist located at www.tracersinfo.com
And if you think this isn’t that bad, there is another agency, Universal Communications Company, located at www.uccweb.com. If you think you’re safe on your home address because you use a PO Box, or a private mail box to get all of your mail, then you’d be wrong. These guys can still get your physical address on file with the Post Office, or the private mail box provider. They can also track down where you’ve had utilities in your name, track you down from even a disconnected cellphone or landline phone number, and even find out where you have bank accounts at!
There are more, but these are the major players for the most part. And no warrant or subpoena is no problem as long as they have an account and pay a small fee for each search request. Some fees for single searches are as little as .25 cents.
To be honest, there are some restrictions, although they can easily be gotten around. For example, most, but not all, search requests must comply with FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) standards, and also the DPPA (Driver’s Privacy Protection Act) standards. But it’s not hard to get around these. On the search screen, it lists these “standards”. My client (who could be literally anyone, an individual, a private agency, a government agency, literally anyone) says they need to know x, y, and z, which I will say complies with that rule. Then you just create a reason based on your client’s request regarding how it’s compliant with the FCRA or DPPA, click the box confirming it’s compliant, and boom, your search goes through and the information you requested is returned in less than a second. Regardless if your client’s need for that information is even legit, or meets these standards, is irrelevant to the database these people are accessing. They can claim it meets the standards very easily, even when it may not.
What about compliance audits? Yes, those exist, but they are a joke. Say I’m a national firm; I’m probably going to do about a hundred of these searches per day at the very least. Based on a 30-day month, that’s 3,000 searches per month, and you might, if at all, get audited quarterly. They audit you by asking about 3 searches that you’ve done out of now what equates to 9,000 searches in a 3 month period. I know, because I’ve been a part of these “audits” as well. That equates to .0003% of every search the agency has done. Not much of an audit, is it?
There are some useful tips I can provide you to remain more discreet:
- Use a private mail box, but put your physical address on file with them as a close friend or relative’s address instead of your own.
- “Burn phones,” as you’ve probably heard them called in movies or on TV, are actually just pre-paid cell phones. You can get go these kind of phones at Walmart, and buy minutes there without having to give your name, address, or open an account. This means that you can at least have some secure private communication. Cops and Private Investigators use these all the time. Just make sure to pay with cash!
- Online, use a random dummy email address, and when Google or Yahoo asks for your personal information to open the email account up, lie about your info! They do not check this stuff out, just lie. Give them fake information.
- While cruising the internet, I suggest you use a Tor browser to do this with. This way your online footprint isn’t recorded, sold, or stored anywhere. You can download this software at torproject.org. These are the same private servers our own government and law enforcement use to conceal their activities online as well, also referred to as “the Deep Web”. It’s also free!
The bottom line is your personal information is for sale any and every day of the week to your local law enforcement agencies, and to your average private individual who claims to have a need to know this information even though they may not need it at all. Go off the grid as much as possible.
* Shane Foster has worked his entire career in military law enforcement, corrections, and as a private investigator. He has a unique perspective into how law enforcement operates from within its ranks, our judicial system, as well as our privacy laws and how every day our individual freedoms and liberties are gradually taken away from us and our individual rights abused on a regular basis.