Election calls, texts expose easily accessible personal information

Published: Nov. 4, 2022 at 10:28 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - Just days away from the election, you might be getting calls or texts from campaigns. But whether it’s politicians or people from your past, have you ever wondered: how did they get my information?

And some people say the problem with easily available personal information: it’s not just a nuisance, it’s nefarious.

“You simply googled me and that’s all it took,” said Tammy, a local woman.

On a recent day, Tammy got a call out of the blue from someone she hadn’t spoken to in decades.

Turns out, he had just Googled her. So, she looked herself up.

“Sure enough, there it is just site after site, after site,” she said.

She was shocked at how easy it was to find a lot about her.

“There was my current address, my mother’s address, my former mother-in-law’s address, my phone number, my email, my age,” she said.

She says she was a victim of stalking in the past and is just uneasy about being so exposed.

“It makes me very sick,” Tammy said.

Trying to remove the listings, she says, felt impossible.

“When I asked for this link, it asks for $8.99 or $12.99, there are over 300 sites,” she said.

Scott Granneman, adjunct professor at Webster University, says there’s a simple answer to the question: how did they get my info?

At some point, you gave it to them.

“Any time you interact with certain apps, websites, they are gathering information and reselling it to marketers without your knowledge,” he said.

He said there have been laws passed in Europe to protect your info from data brokers.

“In America, we have no such laws, so if a company gathers your personal information, it’s theirs, it’s not yours. So you cannot ask for it to be removed unless it’s false,” Granneman said.

And what’s worse, Granneman says, there’s not much you can do.

“It’s a waste of time to think you could scrub all the data off the internet if you’re an American,” said Granneman.

“It’s almost doubled since the pandemic began,” said Rob Shavell.

Shavell runs a company called Delete Me. It’s a subscription service that offers to help you scrub some of your data.

He said to not believe anyone who says they can get it all.

“Don’t believe them, it’s unethical and disingenuous,” he said.

Shavell said the service has to run continuously to be effective because more data is added nearly every day.

Tammy says it all feels so violating.

“I am sorry, it’s scary,” she said.

She said it’s time for laws to make her personal information hers once again.

“Something has to be done,” said Tammy.

Several bills have been proposed in Congress, but so far, there still aren’t any major protections for Americans’ private information.

There are some things you can do: use fake emails and read the fine print on privacy.

Experts say unless you just live completely off the grid and never use a phone or a credit card, your data is out there.