What did we do before Google? In an instant, you can get the stats you need for a work presentation, pull up a quick recipe for dinner, or find movie reviews for your evening out. But if the wrong person does a search on you and finds the wrong stuff online, it can also instantly damage your identity and your life. Prospective employers, landlords, and lenders use online searches to vet applicants, and identity thieves also use search engines to troll for useful information. So you need to Google yourself first, and manage your online identity.
If you use social media, you already know you have an online profile, but you may not know what other people in your network are posting or sharing about you. Even if you don’t frequent Facebook or the Twitter-verse, you are listed in public records. You are probably mentioned in newspaper articles such as graduations, weddings or in family obituaries (possibly including maiden name information). And you may appear in photos or comments posted by other people. There are also people search sites that aggregate information from public sources and offer information about you to anyone, for a price. (And they’re not always accurate in the information they gather, especially if you have a common name.)
To protect yourself from misinformation or TMI (too much information), you should do regular online searches on yourself. Google is the most popular search engine, so begin there. Search on your first and last name, and it’s also a good idea to search on your address. If you are female and changed your name when you married, search on your maiden name too. (And, guys, if you and your spouse chose a hyphenated last name, you should search on your “maiden name,” as well.) Search for images as well as text hits. Here’s what you’re looking for: anything that will embarrass you, damage your reputation, is untrue or suspicious, or that could be stolen and used for fraud.
If your search turns up something about you that you don’t want out there, you have some options:
- If it’s information on one of your social media pages, you can remove it or change that site’s privacy profile so the information won’t turn up on a public search engine.
- If it’s something a friend posted about you, ask them to remove it. (“Yes, it was a great party, Suzie, but I don’t want prospective employers seeing that photo.”)
- If it’s something posted by an individual you don’t know, contact them via their web page and ask to have it removed. If the information is copyrighted, such as a picture of you or a copy of a blog that you write, you can reference the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Sometimes just mentioning a legal reference is enough.
- If it’s on one of the people search sites such as Spokeo, Intelius.com, White Pages, or PeopleFinders.com, you need to go to their home page and fill out a form to request that the information be removed.
- If you need help negotiating with a website, you can contact WiredSafety.org for advice from their volunteers.
- Google’s support page also has good information on managing your online presence, including how to make the good stuff show up at the top of a search.
When you’ve finished Googling yourself, don’t forget to do a search on your kids, or any other family member that you care for. An online search could also turn up evidence of someone else using your identity, so if you find police reports, property purchases, or anything else under your name that’s not you, contact MyIDCare right away. We’ll help get you and your identity back in sync!