How to Find a Lot of Personal Information about Anyone

Subtitle: How Anyone can Find a Lot of Personal Information about You

NOTE: This article is being cross-posted both here and in my new Privacy Blog as this subject seems applicable to both.

Numerous online sites have been available for years that sell personal information about you or about anyone else in the United States. However, one site seems to take this “service” to new heights: InstantCheckmate.com. The service isn’t free, but it is low-cost. The service is available to anyone with a credit card and an Internet connection.

Instant Checkmate collects and sells an amazing amount of information about U.S. residents, including criminal records, court appearances (even where the person was judged innocent or if the case was dropped), charitable contributions, sex offender databases, information you provided on social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many more), professional and business licenses, real estate transactions, and even appraisals of real estate owned, voter registration records, employment records, marriage records, birth records (including birth records of the children of the person in question), residential addresses, and more.

When I did a search on my own name, Instant Checkmate found all sorts of information about me, including my FAA-issued pilot’s license.

Question: Do you want others to know all about you?

Instant Checkmate also provides the names and addresses of sex offenders who live near the person in question. Yes, you can pay for a search on yourself to see what information Instant Checkmate has about you, and the company will then provide the names and addresses of sex offenders who live near you. Of course, sex offender information is available elsewhere (free of charge) at the U.S. Department of Justice web site at http://www.nsopw.gov as well as on a number of other web sites as well.

So where does Instant Checkmate obtain all this information? The answer is “from legal sources as all of it is collected from public records.” If you post information or a picture of your newly-born child on Facebook, that information is available to everyone, including to Instant Checkmate and other companies that collect personal information. Court records are public, as are real estate transactions, birth records, marriage records, death records, and much more.

NOTE: There may be a discussion about birth and marriage records. Some government agencies may restrict access to governmental records of births and marriages for a number of years, but anyone can still legally obtain the same information from newspaper announcements and other sources. Some states even restrict access to the states’ death records, but funeral homes usually submit the same information to newspapers and to Legacy.com and other publishers of obituaries. Anyone, including Instant Checkmate, may legally obtain the information from these publicly-available sources even without access to government records.

In short, Instant Checkmate compiles reports from millions of public records, including social media web sites, newspapers, all sorts of web sites, and also from federal, state and local governments. All of the information contained in Instant Checkmate’s reports is part of what is referred to as the “public record.”

As you might expect, obtaining a report from Instant Checkmate costs money. However, there appears to be no way of obtaining a single report for a one-time fee. Instead, Instant Checkmate requires the user to sign up for a subscription. That is, the user gets charged every month and, in return, can obtain a number of reports about different people every month. The monthly fees are:

$22.86/month provides reports about an unlimited number of people for one month.

$14.86/month provides reports about an unlimited number of people for 3 months.

$9.86/month provides reports about an unlimited number of people for 6 months.

Sound confusing? Here is the statement from the payment page on the Instant Checkmate web site:

“To get unlimited reports, select a one-month membership for $22.86, a three-month membership for $44.58 ($14.86/mo), or a six-month membership for $59.16 ($9.86/mo). Your membership will automatically renew for the same term unless you cancel before the start of the next term. Instant Checkmate will charge the recurring membership fee of $22.86, $44.58, or $59.16 (depending on the membership option you select) to the same card you use today until you cancel. To cancel, call 1-866-490-5980 24 hours a day.”

A different page on the same web site says:

“Your five day $1.00 trial lasts until [5 days from today]. If you would like to cancel before the trial ends, you may do so for any reason and you will not be charged again. Simply call 1-866-490-5980 to speak with one of our Customer Service Representatives 24 hours a day. Otherwise, your trial membership will end on [5 days from today], at which time you will be charged the standard monthly rate of $29.63. Your membership will automatically renew every 30 days thereafter until you cancel.”

I find it interesting that the pricing on the web site says a one-month subscription costs $22.86 but on a different page on the same web site states, “…at which time you will be charged the standard monthly rate of $29.63.”

So… If I sign up now, Instant Checkmate will charge my credit card every month forever and ever until I call them on the phone to cancel? Does the company make it easy for a caller to cancel? Or are they like AOL, which makes it almost impossible to cancel? I have no experience with Instant Checkmate, but I well remember the experience with AOL: being routed all over the company by transfers from one department to another, listening to music on hold for extended periods of time, and eventually being sent to voice mail from which I never received a call back.

Again, I have no experience with Instant Checkmate. However, based on my previous experiences with other companies that make it almost impossible to cancel an automatic renewal on my credit card, I am always suspicious. I gave Instant Checkmate a “virtual credit card number” that allows for a maximum charge of $30 and also expires next month. The company will not be able to renew the charge without my approval. You may or may not want to do the same.

NOTE: I will write in the near future about how to easily obtain a “virtual credit card number” that expires on the date that you specify and will have a maximum charge amount that you specify.

Is Instant Checkmate worth the money? I suspect the answer will vary from one person to another. The company certainly provided a lot of information for the money I paid. However, I consider the method of automatically-renewing credit card charges to be a shoddy business practice. I only do businesses with companies like that when I can use a “virtual credit card number” where I control all future charges.

I certainly am not comfortable with the fact that all my information is available to anyone who can spend $22.86. How about you?

25 Comments

Automatic renewal is great for services that we want to continue without interruption, and we would never think of describing it as a shoddy business practice in such cases. Who would want the hassle of having to renew their electricity or cable-TV every month? What you’re really saying is that the information service described is one you only want to purchase for a limited term, and so you should be careful to pay accordingly. If you only wanted one month of electric service, you’d face the same problem. The difference is not the payment method but the desire for the service.

Liked by 1 person

    “Ruthless” automatic renewal does appear in my opinion to be mostly applied by US companies. Reputable organisations (including Eastman of course) will send an EMail two weeks ahead of the renewal with opportunity to cancel. Another approach set by Find My Past for example is to allow the customer to tick or untick a setting in their account details if they really want automatic renewal without warning. Anything less than this is bad pactice.

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Stephen Comfort-Mason November 14, 2014 at 1:25 am

I wouldn’t get too excited about the CheckMate site. I went to the site and entered a name that I knew would bring up at least three “hits” in Missouri. Three hits came up all right, but in states other than Missouri. The service I use will always bring up at least three names In Missouri, one my brother, and another my father. The third is not related. I specifically limited the search to Missouri, yet all three it brought up were in Ohio and elsewhere.

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Funny you should mention this particular company. I just finished reading Inc magazine for November and they had an article in there with the company that provides their customer service, Intelicare Direct. Worth a read at just how “easy” it is to cancel.

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Again I’m surprised at you promoting such services Dick. It’s no different to others I’ve seen and the need to sign up to a subscription is a well used tactic to coerce people into a long-term commitment and hoping they will forget about it – the proof? The only way to cancel subscription is to telephone them – no email or online facility to make it easy.

Peter

Liked by 1 person

    I don’t think Dick was promoting this service, and he certainly did not give it an endorsement.

    “… I consider the method of automatically-renewing credit card charges to be a shoddy business practice.

    I certainly am not comfortable with the fact that all my information is available to anyone who can spend $22.86. How about you?”

    Like

From the sounds of it, they’re mainly (or even totally) taking information from free public sources, packaging it, and then charging for it. Any good librarian or researcher can find that information on their own. Here’s an example of a free resource that will help you get at these databases : http://www.governmentinfopro.com/publicrecordsguide.PDF
By the way, I love your newsletter!

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There is another option for those that might get caught with this. If you have paid through PayPal {always a good idea to do so) you can cancel the recurring payment online through theml.

Peter

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Top10backgroundcheck.com also ranks Instant Checkmate #1 followed by Peoplesmart, Beenverified, IDtrue, Intelius, Goodhire, Unitedstatesbackroundchecks, USpeoplerecords, Verispy and Peoplefinders.

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Much like credit bureaus need to give you a free report places like this should have to give people free access to their report. and while I dislike over regulation there should be a law that forces them tho have a correction method for information that if false. Like a credit bureau they should be held financially responsible for damage caused by false or misleading information.

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    I totally agree. Perhaps one of the incoming Congressmen or Senators should be approached about adopting this as a worthy cause. It would certainly help a newbie in establishing an “I’ll fight for the little guy” image.

    The French have evidently done better than the US for the last several years at privacy protection.

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Like you said, all of this information is already available, in many cases — like Facebook, Twitter, this very site, etc. — because you’ve chosen to make it so. All they are doing is making it easier to one-stop-shop for it instead of having everyone go through each individual record source to compile it. If someone really wanted this info on you, they would still get it anyway. I do believe that an opt-out policy should be in place due to the number of us who have, now or in the past, legitimate and legal stalking and/or domestic violence issues requiring extra privacy regarding our names and whereabouts. But for most people, this shouldn’t be a major deal.

These sites make their money from two sources: employers wanting to do background checks on the cheap side, and people looking themselves up out of curiosity/paranoia and then demanding to be taken down. Much as we all love you, Dick, I don’t think you need to worry a whole lot about anyone tracking down your FAA license for any nefarious reasons, though I do obviously want free airfare now to the next major conference. I’ll let you know when to pick me up.

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    —> … though I do obviously want free airfare now to the next major conference. I’ll let you know when to pick me up.

    Perhaps I should also point out that the last time I flew an airplane by myself I landed in the top of a very tall pine tree, flipped upside down, and the wreckage of my open-cockpit airplane and I fell through the tree branches about 60 or 70 feet to the ground below.

    Where should I pick you up?

    Liked by 1 person

I was doing an adoption search and was able to track down a person with the addresses and phone numbers found through their report. (Yes, he was happy that we found him).

After I was finished with their service, I called and canceled my subscription. EASY! The lady was very nice, polite and efficient in honoring my request. She even told me that I could continue to do searches until the last day that I had paid for. Thanks Instant Checkmate!!!

Liked by 1 person

I thought I would give the site a try and found that they have several up charges for receiving the reports in pdf (one time charge of 1.99) and for their premium service ($19.95 per instance) which provides additional information on the person you are searching. The pdf files do not have the google map images and other data that is presented through the browser. The premium service provides such information as Aliases, SSN issued and state, email addresses, related persons, possible associates, court cases (i.e. bankruptcy), and properties owned. The monthly membership fee only gives you basic information and hence you have to pay the $19.95 per report to get the good stuff. I found the information similar to that provided by other such services.

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It is unfortunate that Mr. Eastman lent his credibility to this site that has several hidden charges making it more costly to get less accurate data than you can get from other sites. Cancellation of the account was easy but getting a full refund was not.

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    I wasn’t going to comment until I read your words of “It is unfortunate that Mr. Eastman lent his credibility to this site…”

    I am not sure why you think I “lent credibility” to the site when my review stated:

    “Question: Do you want others to know all about you?”

    “…there appears to be no way of obtaining a single report for a one-time fee. Instead, Instant Checkmate requires the user to sign up for a subscription. That is, the user gets charged every month and, in return, can obtain a number of reports about different people every month. ”

    “If I sign up now, Instant Checkmate will charge my credit card every month forever and ever until I call them on the phone to cancel? Does the company make it easy for a caller to cancel? Or are they like AOL, which makes it almost impossible to cancel?”

    “… based on my previous experiences with other companies that make it almost impossible to cancel an automatic renewal on my credit card, I am always suspicious.”

    “I consider the method of automatically-renewing credit card charges to be a shoddy business practice.”

    From where I sit, that doesn’t sound like I offered much “credibility.”

    I will add another comment: I often write about products or services I like and sometimes I write about other products or services I don’t like as I wish to warn others about the questionable services. I hope the difference is always clear as to my opinion. I thought it was clear in this article but perhaps it was not as clear as I though. In short, I see some good things about this service but I also see a lot of drawbacks, as listed above. I will not be using their services on a regular basis because of the reasons listed in my article.

    – Dick Eastman

    Liked by 2 people

Without feeling paranoid, I really appreciate the heads-up warning from Dick Eastman as it clearly points out how easy it is to get informationto from many quite accessible places, such as Facebook, government sites, or even newspapers ( which could often be incorrect). This suggests that if one doesn’t want the world to know certain things about us, we ought not to put anything about them on the incredibly leaky internet….. or at least be aware about how easy it is for others to access it!

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Dick, Maybe in your privacy blog, you could talk about the ability (or inability) to get incorrect or outdated information about oneself removed from the databases that use “public records” as their source. I have not even been able to find out what databases are being used when my identity is being verified by asking me where certain people (who were associated with my spouse 25 years ago) live now, or if I know some one named (misspelled name of relative).

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I was checking out their website and it appears there are additional methods for cancelling if you choose not to call in.

http://www.instantcheckmatecancel.com

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I seriously question whether social security numbers for living people are legitimately available from public records and suspect the ones this company is publishing were probably obtained illegally either from credit reporting companies under false pretenses,or from hackers or identity thieves who have managed to breach data security measures at government, medical or financial offices, or from insufficiently secured employer databases.

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IMO, your article was abundantly clear that you were not ‘endorsing’ the service / site. It appears to be another example of ‘buyer beware’ – ask the questions BEFORE providing a credit card number.

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It’s not clear to me at all. The Title “How to Find a Lot of Personal Information about Anyone” is an ’emotive’ headline that sucks people in. Dick goes on to say.”Numerous online sites……sell personal information….. However, one site seems to take this “service” to new heights” If that isn’t an endorsement I don’t know what is.If Dick had any concerns about the service he should have made that in the title/subtitle. It does make me ask the question; Why write such an article?

Peter

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    If you read this article and concluded that it endorsed that site, you may want to brush up on your comprehension skills. It was pretty clear to most people that Dick is NOT a fan of that site.

    Like

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