Protecting Your Identity & Privacy in the Digital Age

[Michele Hanisee]

When considering privacy protection the most important piece of information that can be relayed is: DO NOT WAIT until there is a credible threat to take measures to protect yourself and your family!

In the digital age, personal online information is seemingly endless. Nevertheless, there are multiple ways to proactively protect yourself and your family within the following areas of vulnerability:

  • Public Records
  • USPS
  • Internet Data Vendors
  • Private Businesses / Direct Marketers
  • Social Media

Property Records

The same county that pays your salary will sell your residence address to anyone willing to pay for it. Real estate records are public records and cannot be made confidential. You have one of two options, either don’t own real estate or buy the property under the name of a blind, inter vivos revocable trust.

It is optimal to put your property in the trust when you make the initial purchase. Buying property in your own name and then transferring it to the trust after-the-fact is ineffective as it is obvious in the property records that the property is still owned by you.

The main hurdles to this type of property holding is that many banks will not approve a mortgage if the person assuming the loan does not hold title to the property, and even if you do get a loan, you may not be able to refinance and keep it in the name of the trust. Moreover, due to these difficulties you may end up paying a higher mortgage rate.

Nevertheless, if you are able to place your property in a trust, it’s important to remember not to name the trust after yourself. The “Your Name Trust” doesn’t hide your identity. In fact, avoid using your family name at all and don’t make either yourself or a family member who shares your last name the primary executor as the name of the primary executor vests as part of the title to the property. That said, bank rules change constantly. The bottom line is, when purchasing real property, talk to your bank about your options and then consult an attorney to form the trust to comport with what the bank needs.

Assuming you are successful in purchasing your residence under a blind trust, all it does is prevent someone from getting your address from the registrar recorder. It does not inhibit data vendors who find your address through other means and sell it on the internet.

Marriage Records

If you were married in California and have identifying information on your marriage license, you should consider applying for a confidential license. In order to obtain such a license, you must be living with your spouse at the time you apply and must sign an affidavit on the license attesting to those facts and, as mentioned, you must be married in California.  You must also file the license in the county where it was purchased.

Persons other than the married couple requesting copies of a confidential marriage license may only do so by presenting a court order to the County Clerk in the county where the license is registered.

Department of Motor Vehicles

Under California law, certain occupations, (police officers, DA’s Judges, etc.) allow for confidential of DMV information. Designated persons, their spouses and children may request home address confidentiality on any DMV record for any vehicle, driver license or identification card reflecting the qualified person’s name. The qualified requester must submit a properly completed Request for Confidentiality of Home Address (INV 32) through their employer to the DMV. The INV 32 must contain the driver license number and each vehicle, vessel, or OHV (newly purchased or transferred to) license plate that contains the qualified person’s name as the registered or legal owner. An INV 32 is required every time a qualified person’s name is added to or deleted from a registration record.  To obtain an INV 32, please contact: LADA, Human Resources

Still, none of this keeps your information confidential from people who work at the DMV so use your work address for your vehicle registration and driver’s license.

Confidential Voter Registration

Voter registration information is largely overlooked public record.  However, pursuant to Elections Code 2166.7, public safety officers are eligible for confidentiality in such records. Here are some tips to help you make the switch.

First, you can’t get the form online; you will have to call in. Second, due to voter fraud regulations, you can’t use your office address and will have to use your home or an alternative address. Finally, it’s important to remember that any person granted confidentiality shall be considered an absentee voter.

In theory, the registration lasts 2 years before you need to renew, but, in practice, the L.A. Registrar / Recorder County Clerk leaves you on indefinitely.

USPS

Remarkably, when you move and forward your mail, the postal service gives away your new address and sells your new address to data vendors. Whenever you fill out a change of address form with the United States Postal Service, the USPS adds your new details into a database of 160 million previous address changes over the past four years. The USPS has deals with data brokers to sell this data to anyone who pays, provided they have your old address.

There is no opt-out option on the USPS web site to avoid having your data sold to data vendors.  Your best option is not to forward your mail but to contact each company, magazine, etc. on your own, individually.

Finally, one of the simplest ways of preventing data vendors from obtaining your home address is to use a P.O.Box.

Internet Data Vendors and Govt. Code 6254.21

Govt. Code 6254.21 prohibits a person, business, or association from publicly posting display on the Internet the home address or telephone number of any elected or appointed official if that official has, either directly or through an agent, made a written demand to not disclose his or her home address or telephone number. A written demand must be complied with within 48 hours of delivery, it applies to that internet web site, subsidiary site, or any other internet web site maintained by the recipient of the written demand, and it prohibits the transfer of the information to any other person, business, or association through any other medium.

A written demand is effective for four years, regardless of whether or not the official’s term has expired prior to the end of the four-year period. Your ADDA is now able to make this demand on behalf of members.  If you wish to have the ADDA act as your agent, please fill out the Internet Privacy and Indemnity Agreement here.

Direct Marketing

You know when you order something from Restoration Hardware and almost immediately after you receive catalogs from a number of other companies that you’ve never purchased from? That is due to direct marketing. Vendors sell your private information. However, you’re not without recourse. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) compiles lists of consumers who prefer not to receive direct-mail solicitations for other products and services. DMA members, including Experian, use the DMA list to remove names from their own mailing lists.  You can register online at: www.dmachoice.org. Or, you can write to: DMA Mail Preference Service, PO  Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512.  You will be removed from DMA-member lists for five years.

You also can have your name removed from telemarketing lists by adding your name to the National Do Not Call Registry. To register your name, visit www.donotcall.gov or call 1 888 382 1222.

The Internet and Social Media

The consequences of this informational medium seem obvious but it’s an area in which you need to talk to both your immediate and your extended family. Ways to stay safer: don’t put information about your valuables on the internet; don’t put information about your vacation on the internet until you are back home; and disable geotagging features that tell people where a photo was taken. Be aware of what your extended family is posting on their social media.  Do they identify you as their relative? Does they provide information about you that you would prefer to keep private?

Basic Home Security

Discuss with your immediate family about how to handle someone calling them or showing up at their door inquiring about you. Additionally, home precautions you should consider include: alarm systems, motion sensor lights, security cameras, locked back yard, dead bolts, guns, car alarms.

Michele Hanisee is Vice President of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys. She can be contacted at mhanisee@laadda.com. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys.