Armed with online access and a credit card, I discovered that I’ve been married twice in Texas and accumulated 31 criminal records nationwide and one federal criminal record. The trouble is, I’ve never done any of those things — those are different Jeremy Simons.
That information was revealed courtesy of a personal background report. As a reporter who covers the credit industry, and having recently downloaded a copy of my credit report, I decided to see what other consumer information is easily accessible. Using myself as the test subject, I ordered a complete background check on my own name (first name, middle initial and last name) plus nationwide and federal criminal checks at a cost of $69.90 through Bellevue, Wash.-based information company Intelius.
Aside from those marriage and criminal records (“Positive or false matches within a criminal search may not provide confirmation of a criminal background,” the report explains) for people with similar versions of my name, my background check didn’t reveal anything surprising. In addition to my current address, the Intelius background report listed two correct previous addresses, along with average area home prices and income, as well as the number of registered sex offenders in the area. (It did, however, leave out information on several other apartments I’ve occupied.) The report also accurately noted that I haven’t been involved in any civil judgments, including tax lien filings or small claims.
Looking over my own report resulted in more questions than answers, though. So I contacted Intelius to learn more:
Where does Intelius’ data come from? The company explained that it gets its data from both public records, such as courts
records and property information, and publicly available information,
such as social networking websites and domain name registrations.
Who buys background reports? According to the company’s website, Intelius products “help people find other people, verify the identities of individuals they encounter, manage risk and ensure personal safety.” In other words, says spokeswoman Melissa Korb, its background reports could be used by journalists, private investigators, and old or new boyfriends or girlfriends. “The uses range from professional to ‘I want to know more about this person before I spend a weekend with them,'” Korb tells me. Additionally, consumers who perform a background check on themselves can head off potential problems. “When you’re going to a job interview, you can say you share the name with somebody who has a criminal record,” for example, she says.
Although Intelius can speculate, it says it doesn’t track exactly who accesses its background reports. Korb acknowledges that even though debt collectors typically use the information in credit reports to track down delinquent borrowers, they could turn to the data in Intelius background reports.
Can I get my data removed from background reports? Intelius says you can opt out of being listed in its public records databases. “If you have a reason and are vulnerable, we are happy to comply with that,” Korb says. To get your data removed, Intelius requires consumers to fax a photocopy of their driver’s license to (425) 974-6194. The company recommends that faxes include the consumer’s full name, date of birth, phone number and any addresses they wish to have removed.
Still, Intelius notes that taking this step won’t make your personal data entirely unavailable. To opt out more completely, the company says consumers should visit the World Privacy Forum and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse websites. “Intelius just reflects what publicly available sources are saying,” Korb says. “By opting out of Intelius, you’re not opting out of the world — it’s still out there.”
See related: Looking to disappear? Deleting your credit history is far from easy, How to make sure your credit score is a FICO score