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How much of our personal information is really out there?

Will Ujek looks at how much of our information is available online, how quickly someone can gain access to it and how you can tell if it's happening to you.

CLEVELAND — We hear about identity theft and fraud all the time. People are out there, hacking and stealing personal information to sell or just use for themselves.

So, how easy is it and how much information is actually out there?

To try and find out,I contacted a private investigator, whom I’ve never met, and gave him 24 hours to find out everything he could about me. Keith King, owner of United Research, ended our first conversation by saying, “I’ll put something together and I’ll come find you, how does that sound?” He did just that. Using just my name as a jumping off point, King found me 24 hours later, right in my own home

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To provide some context, I did know some things would be easy to find. I have several social media platforms, including a private and a public Facebook page, as well as public Twitter and Instagram accounts. On social media, I share a lot of news stories and some pictures of my daughter. However, I’ve never been to jail, never even had a speeding ticket. So I wasn’t sure how much Keith would be able to uncover.

Sitting at my dining room table, Keith brought out a binder and went through it page by page. He explained the process, searching some sites and databases without restrictions and some with limited access to law enforcement and licensed professionals. Then he walked me through all of the information that he found. He had addresses of every place I lived, cell phone numbers, social security number, email addresses, a family tree, everything right down to a picture of my car in a parking lot during a shopping trip with my daughter.

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So how would you know if someone was looking for this info on you, or worse, was using it? For answers, I took Keith’s findings to the FBI and asked agent, Vicki Anderson if this info was secure enough, or if hackers could potentially gain access.

“Anything can be hacked,” says Anderson. “We’ve come across some incredible cyber hackers out there that can get across any firewall.”

So, what can you do about it?

Number one, we’ve heard it before, think before you act or post. Experts say even if something is scrubbed, deleted or even expunged from you record, in today’s tech world, you’re only hiding it.

“If it’s out there, it can be found,” says King. “You can take down post, you can delete post, but you can bring those post back. It won’t go away.” 

“It’s still there, it’s definitely still there. Once you put it out there, it is out there forever,” says Anderson.

Experts also say, you shouldn’t just glance at bills and statements. If the date of a doctor’s appointment doesn’t match when you were there or a small charge from a gas station actually wasn’t you, someone may be using your information.

“Check your credit card statements, check your banking statements, even your explanation of benefits and your health insurance,” says Anderson. 

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“We’ve had individuals steal someone’s health insurance and use it. Once you get that first bit of information, it’s just a matter of time before they get the rest.”

King says, “I think it’s something that all of us, as a society, has to live with and manage our daily lives with. Just be mindful, be aware of what’s out there.”