ZabaSearch Continues To Bedevil Privacy Seekers
By Martin H. Bosworth
November 14, 2006
• ZabaSearch Continues To Bedevil Privacy Seekers
• ZabaSearch: People Finder or Privacy Invader?
• ZabaSearch Makes Defamation Easy
• Consumer Complaints about Zabasearch
A year after we last reported on it, the "free" information search/background check known as ZabaSearch is continuing to bedevil consumers who are shocked at the company's ability to pool together data on their lives and share it with the world.
The Los Angeles-based company bills itself as a search service that combines publicly-available information on individuals and enables a free search of its contents.
ZabaSearch has partnered with fellow data brokers Intelius to provide more detailed background checks for a fee.
Like Google and ChoicePoint, the owners of ZabaSearch claim no responsibility for the accuracy of the information they collect -- they just package and resell it.
That's little comfort to George L., a Chicago police officer and ConsumerAffairs.Com reader. He found his personal information available on ZabaSearch while investigating repeated instances of harassment from an offender he'd arrested in his neighborhood.
"I began to search, and found this ZabaSearch Web site ... that produced my home address, home telephone number, (which has never been listed), and family members associated to my name," he said.
George was particularly incensed because he goes out of his way to keep his personal information private, including signing up for the Do-Not-Call list and "opting out" of receiving unsolicited mail.
"I'm a public servant who has successfully arrested and had the state prosecute hundreds of felony cases," George said. "I feel as if my security is in jeopardy each and every day that this and other similar sites are able to provide my information."
Unfortunately for George, the privacy laws in the United States don't prevent private companies from collecting and reselling publicly available information on individuals. Although the 1974 Privacy Act restricts the government from creating and collecting databases on Americans, there are no such restrictions in the private sector.
The biggest complaint our readers have about ZabaSearch is the difficulty in removing your information from their listings. To do so requires you to send a detailed physical letter containing the following information to the company:
1. E-mail address
2. Full name including middle initial
3. Address of the record you wish to create, edit or delete
4. Phone number you wish to have removed
5. Year of birth.
Even after taking the dangerous step of giving more personal information to a company not exactly known for its scrupulous handling of data, many ConsumerAffairs.Com readers have found themselves still listed in the ZabaSearch directory.
"My information is available on zabasearch.com. I emailed them asking them to remove it, but nothing happened. It seems all I've done is give them my email address to add to their information about me," said Lois of Philadelphia.
What You Can Do
The best option for protecting yourself from shady data brokers like ZabaSearch is to be aggressive in ensuring your public information is up-to-date, and that any data you want kept private is taken "off the books."
The following tips work equally well for preventing identity theft and for staying out of a data broker's records:
• Lock down your Social Security number. Don't give out your SSN to anyone other than federal or state government agencies. If any private business or third party asks for your Social Security number as an identifier, insist that they use a randomly generated number instead.
Don't carry your Social Security card on you at any time. Memorize your number and put the card somewhere secure.
• Opt out. The best way to prevent the sharing of your information with third parties is to prevent credit agencies from reselling your identifying information. To opt out from receiving unsolicited credit offers, visit the official Web site https://www.optoutprescreen.com/?rf=t
or call 1-888-567-8688.
To prevent or stem the tide of junk mail in your inbox, contact the Direct Marketing Association's Consumer Assistance department and inform them that you want to be removed from their lists.
Note that your financial institutions may give out your data without your permission, unless you specifically contact them to opt out as well.
• Cover your tracks. Consider using multiple e-mail addresses for different forms of communication -- one for business, one for personal affairs, and one for mailing lists. Set up a P.O. Box and have your mail directed there rather than your home address.
Have your home phone number delisted from public address services, and make sure to contact the National Do-Not-Call registry to prevent telemarketers from calling your landline and cellphone.
• Check your records. Check your credit reports regularly for any incorrect information, such as misspelled names, wrong addresses, or other people's data mixed in with yours.
Stay on top of every public document that has your information on it, such as property deeds and marriage certificates, and contact all the responsible agencies to correct any inaccuracies you find.