Privacy Overview: How to Opt-Out of Being Public

March 2011

Introduction

With identity theft crimes increasing every year, it is important to know how to protect your privacy and personal information from identity thieves. Many identity thieves source information from public records and databases. It is this publicly-accessible information that experienced identity thieves use to open fraudulent accounts, which later damage the credit of their unknowing victims. There are a number ways to remove yourself from certain public records and databases in order to protect your privacy and reduce your chances of falling victim to identity theft. Not all these actions are convenient, but after weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each, you may decide the reduction in risk is worth it.

Changing Your Legal Address to a Post Office Box

There are numerous public databases that include your legal address. If your legal address is your street address, you have a higher chance of becoming a victim of identity theft, as many types of accounts require a street address. When you get a P.O. Box, you can have your legal address changed to your post office box. This doesn’t mean you would cease using your street address. Simply, by using your legal address on many official forms, you are keeping your street address out of public records, making it harder for identity thieves discover it.

Removing Your Name From Telephone Books

Telephone books are a common public database, containing names, phone numbers, and addresses. Identity thieves sometimes take advantage of phone book listings to learn a person’s phone number and address. You can call your phone company and request an unlisted number to protect your privacy. Once your phone number becomes unlisted, it will not be in subsequently printed phone books or in the online database. Of course, the disadvantage of having an unlisted number is that it makes you more difficult to reach via phone for those who do not already have your number.

Using a Different Name for Your Business

A DBA is a great way to protect your privacy from public database identity theft. DBA stands for “Doing Business As” and is a license created to protect personal information when starting a business. A DBA is issued by your local county clerk. The DBA license allows you to create a fake business name and use it on a variety of public records rather than using your actual name. You can also use your P.O. Box as the address for your DBA, which again keeps your street address from appearing on certain public records.

Removing Your Name From Non-Governmental Databases

There are a number of databases owned by companies that broker personal information about millions of Americans on the Internet. Most of these databases allow at least a partial opt-out, but many allow you to completely remove your name and all information. A full list of these databases, along with opt-out procedures, is maintained by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Removing Your Name From the Voter Registration Database

If you are registered to vote, a public database exists with your name, address, and political party in it. Unless you give up your right to vote, there is no way that you can be completely removed from the registered voters’ database. You can, though, register to vote using a P.O. Box as your address to keep identity thieves from learning your street address. If you are more concerned with privacy protection than with voting, you can give up your right to vote and be completely removed from the database.

The FTC’s “Do Not Track” Privacy Program

“Do Not Track” is a privacy program that has been proposed by the FTC to protect people’s privacy while they are online. It will be used to help Internet users avoid having their browsing history tracked. Marketers will sometimes pay third party services to track large numbers of users and their online browsing history in order to deliver “targeted” ads to these users. Many users do not wish to have their browsing history tracked by anyone, which is why the FTC has introduced this privacy program. In the near future, it very well may be possible to add yourself to a “Do Not Track” list, which would be very similar to the “Do Not Call” registry given to telemarketers.

Resources

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
US Post Office Box Service
UPS Mailbox and Postal Services