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The Spokeo.com Scam

By Jeaneane Payne

Spokeo.com, owned by Spokeo, Inc. which is located in Pasadena, CA, appears to violate the privacy of over 300 million individuals by providing sensitive data online.

Spokeo gleans publicly available information from phone books, social networks, marketing surveys, real estate listings, business websites, and other public sources. Spokeo indexes third-party data in ways similar to Google or Bing. While Spokeo does not publish directory listings for children under 18, they do publish listings without permission from individuals over the age of 18.

For example, Spokeo's CEO Harrison Tang, an entrepreneur in his late 20's, profile shows that his office address is 199 S Los Robles Ave., Pasadena, CA; phone number is 626-396-9499; income is $812k. For most individuals, their residence address is revealed, names of family members, social profiles, and estimated income.

It is speculated that one of Spokeo's core businesses is the collection of e-mail addresses as well as pushing sales of fee-based privacy services.

Spokeo's web site indicates "Spokeo cares about data privacy. We have partnered with ReputationDefender, a leading privacy protection agency, to help you control and remove your information on hundreds of other people search sites." ReputationDefender, Inc. is located in Redwood City, CA.

For $2.95 per month, Spokeo claims you can gain complete access to a person's private information, including income, photos, profiles, family, lifestyle, and wealth data. You will have access to over 300 million profiles of individuals. However, it has been reported that information obtained through this method is often inaccurate and incomplete.

You may request removal of your information using the following steps:

1. Go to www.spokeo.com
2. In the search box, type in your name
3. A page showing your name and address will appear. Click once on one of the boxes which contains your name and address. It will highlight.
4. In the center of the page, it will show a box with links to your private information.
5. At the top of your browser (Internet Explorer, Safari, etc.), you will see the web site URL (http:www.spokeo.com/search?q=). Highlight that URL, then click Command and "c" to copy it.
6. At the bottom of the page, click on "Privacy". That will take you to a page that says "To remove a listing from Spokeo, please enter the URL of the profile and your e-mail address (for verification purposes)."

Paste the URL (Command and "v") into the URL field.

7. The form will ask for your email address and require that you type in the Code to the right. You might need to repeat the Code process because you will keep getting error messages saying you typed in the wrong code, even though you are sure you typed in the correct code. This is to try to discourage you from completing the form.

8. You will then receive an email asking you to click on a link to complete the process. Once you have completed this step, your entry is deleted from the database.

When searching for my own name, I discovered that Spokeo had 8 listings for me, most of them duplicates. You will need to follow the above procedure to remove each entry. They post duplicate entries to discourage you from taking the time to make sure all entries have been removed.

I was able to remove 6 entries initially. Spokeo.com limits the number of removals you can request in one day; therefore, you might need to visit the site again the following day to remove additional entries.

When requesting removal, you might want to use an e-mail address that you plan to delete in the near future. On the other hand, if Spokeo does not reveal much information about you, you might just want to bypass removal request.

Removing your Spokeo listing from public searches does not remove your information from the third-party data sources. Your information will still be shown on other people search sites, and you will need to contact those third-party sites one-by-one. Even if you block your Spokeo listing, your personal information will still be available through the underlying sources used by Spokeo. Those third-party records will still exist and will still be publicly accessible. The same information by Spokeo will still be available to others, either working on their own or using information aggregators similar to Spokeo.

I would recommend visiting www.spokeo.com every three months to make sure they haven't re-enlisted you in their scheme with sensitive information. I also would not trust joining their program for $2.95 per month. How certain can you be that your credit card information would not be violated or that you would not be overcharged every month.

If you request removal, they have your email address(es) to sell to third parties. On the other hand, you're doomed if you do and doomed if you don't. You can be assured that whatever their intentions, they are not for your benefit.

Published January 10, 2011

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