Sunday, August 23, 2009

How Big Is Your Footprint?

Our electronically interconnected world can make it easy for people to find you. People you may have wanted to leave behind.

Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace are the services people most often think of when it comes to social networking sites. However, there are many hundreds if not thousands of these types of sites. Many geared toward specific professions, hobbies, and sexual interests. Even your old high school and college may have a site specifically geared toward reuniting you, the wayward alumus, with the rest of your class. There are communities in Yahoo and other places that allow people of similar interests to mingle.

They can also be used to find you.

Agencies of the branches of government will always have a way to locate you, so hiding from them is always going to be problematic. Even people who go underground and completely off the grid can find themselves once again on the radar depending on who happens to come across them, or what circumstances befall them.

Those of us who have been preppers for some time may have had love interests, or "friends" in the past who were aware of our activities. They may have been supportive, or they may not have been. There's a chance your activities may have been the reason for the dissolution of the relationship.

There's even the off chance that guy or girl you went out with a few times became aware of what you were doing. Things just didn't click for you two, but I'll bet he or she will remember what you have squirreled away when his or her stomach is getting way too cozy with their spine.

We're watching our economy contract at a serious rate. Some would call it a collapse, and I wouldn't argue the point. Depending on just how far down the road this all goes could cause some of the people best left in the past to seek you out.

Some of us have moved across the country, or even across national borders as our lives have changed and the years have progressed. This will make it more difficult for those who seek to re-unite with you to do so. Many of us, on the other hand, have married, had children and established homes all within a couple of hundred miles of where we grew up.

Unfortunately, information on where we are, what we're doing and our family status is available free online, or at a very minimal cost.

Sites like ZabaSearch, WhitePages, PeopleSearchLinks, YahooPeopleSearch, PeekYou, USSearch, PiPl, Intelius, and Spokeo allow you to glean a tremendous amount of information free. Even simply entering a person's name in quotes (ex. "Steven Smith") in a search engine will provide sometimes surprising results. People are even able to search for you based upon your online handle or nickname, for example "Catman".

ZabaSearch has a feature called "ZabaSphere" that will alert you if someone is searching for someone by your name. The service is free, all you have to do is sign up for it. The information provided to you is somewhat helpful in attempting to determine if you have someone looking for your trail.

Spokeo is a very nasty web crawler and will examine various social networking sites looking for you. It then reveals this information to whomever signed up for the account. If you've been engaged in things that might prove embarrassing, chances are you will be embarrassed.

You can block your records from appearing on search sites, but it is a hassle. You have to write, sometimes repeatedly, to the sites to get your information removed. Some, like ZabaSearch, charge a fee to remove your information if you choose to do it online. You will have to repeatedly keep your eye on them to make sure they do not repost the information as they update their records.

These sites all get their information from publicly available sources such as the department of motor vehicles, tax records, and criminal records. They just make it easier for people to get information that is a hassle to get. An online search of a database is much easier than going to county offices and having a search performed for a fee, or doing it yourself.

Fortunately, for me at least, I have a VERY common name. A common name allows me a certain anonymity within a crowd. I blend in with the hundreds of thousands of others in this country who share the same name and the tens of thousands who are close to me in age. I've used that to my advantage to pull disappearing acts when I've had to.

I've made sure my online footprint is very small.

If you manage to find me, you will see that my wife is my only known relative. They do not know about my child, siblings, parents or other family members. You will also notice that previous cities and towns I have lived in are not listed.

This is important because it makes it more difficult for people to figure out if you're the person they're looking for. If people can link you to specific places, and your age and birth date are correct, chances are they probably have the right person. They can pay to have a reverse phone number search, and bammo!

Your ex-girlfriend is calling and your wife is answering the phone.

Okay, so how do you get a small footprint?


Yes, lie.

I have more than twenty e-mail addresses. Only one comes back to my real name, and even then, I use my initials. Create e-mail addresses at places like Yahoo and give them false information when you sign up. Lie about your age, your gender, your name and anything else they ask.

Don't use the same e-mail address for everything. Don't use your real name when signing up for free services online. Use different nick names depending on where you are online.

Yes, I know this can get confusing. Get a USB flash drive and put the information on it. Keep it updated, and encrypt it using one of the many free encryption programs out there.

Abandon e-mail addresses regularly. Just make a new one.

Fill out and sign documents using only your first initial. Intentionally misspell your first name if you have to. I've "accidentally" mixed up the numbers in my social security number when I've been required to provide it, or made 3's look like 8's, you get the idea? Sometimes it comes back and you have to do it over again, but that's only happened to me once.

Only give them the information they have a legal right to. Don't give them the names of everyone in your household. Not everyone has a legal right to know how many kids you have and their names.

Don't get arrested. If you do get arrested, don't give them your middle name or initial.

Don't put your middle initial on your driver's license.

Use a post office box. If you can, use several. Get one in neighboring towns you travel through regularly. Abandon them when you start getting tons of crap. Just make sure you tell the important parties that your address has changed. For example, have your mortgage and tax papers go to one, have your driver's license linked to another, and credit cards to yet another.

Stay away from social networking sites. If you have to be there....lie about who you are, where you are, and why you're there.

If you're moving to a new city or town, change your name. If you're John, introduce yourself as Jack, or Giovanni or some other variation on John. Start using your middle name as your first name. If someone comes around asking for you, people won't immediately link your face and the name.

Don't use vanity plates on your vehicles. They're easy to spot and easy to remember. Check this site out that allows you to search license plates. License Plate Search.

Say, that could come in handy when you need to track down that guy who flipped you off.

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