Domestic violence victim speaks out against online data brokers

File photo of a keyboard. (WLUK)

Data brokers, which include people search websites, are companies that collect and share information about us from government and public records, consumer surveys and other sources. It’s perfectly legal.

But, experts say there a number of different people who search the sites that can pose significant risks.

The risk to domestic violence victims

Donna is a domestic violence victim. We’re protecting her identity. One of her addresses came up on a data broker site. She says that’s frightening.

“If you have someone who’s tried to kill youfor them to be able to just type in your name, and any known address that you’ve stayed at can pop up. It’s scary, because now they know ways to start trying to find you,” Donna told the ABC 33/40 News iTeam.

Annetta Nunn is an advocate for domestic violence victims at the YWCA Central Alabama. Her team found many victims whose addresses appeared on data broker sites.

“Well, it’s a very dangerous situation that puts victims and survivors in imminent danger,” Nunn said. “Because that information is out there on various public websites, or those that you can pay a fee and obtain information.”

The risk of identity theft

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse is a consumer group that’s been taking a close look at the data broker industry. Check out the links to just some of the websites that may have detailed information about you.

Pam Dixon is executive director of the World Privacy Forum. That’s a public interest research group focused on data privacy. She says the information stored on data broker and people search websites puts us at risk for identity theft.

“Identity building blocks are your social security number, your home address, your exact date of birth, certain demographic information like your employment history,” Dixon said. “That is an identity theft dream if you’re a criminal.”

And then there’s the issue of online security. Equifax, the big credit reporting service, was hacked. The massive breach exposed sensitive data on nearly 146 million consumers. So, if hackers could breach Equifax, what about lesser known data broker sites?

Security researcher Alex Haynes found vulnerabilities in a number of U.S. data broker websites. He wrote about it in a trade journal. He talked to us about the security risks to you.

“You can reset account passwords, you can take over someone’s identity, apply for credit cards in their name, apply for small loans in their name, and effectively start to really compromise their online identities,” Haynes said.

How you can manage your online information

So, how do you take control of your online information?

Opt out of the biggest data broker websites. Here’s a link to the World Privacy Forum that allows you to do that. (See item No. 8.)

Avoid taking online surveys, or posting home addresses or health information online.

Consider making your social media accounts private.

You also might consider subscribing to identity theft protection.

Data brokers share information with other data brokers. Opting out of the biggest sites will go a long way.

So, what’s the data industry have to say about all this?

We contacted several individual people search sites.

It’s very hard to connect with them. They haven’t responded to our questions.

Meantime, there are now two bills before Congress to regulate the industry.

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