Recently by Bill Rounds: To Stop Junk Mail, StopReceivingMail
Sorry David Copperfield. No matter how good a magician you are, there are some assets that you can’t make vanish, and it has nothing to do with genetics. I’m talking about assets that have your name written all over them in the public record.
It is hard to put real estate, vehicles, and other attention grabbing assets into a private safe somewhere. Even if you did, jealous ex boyfriends, business competitors, and shysters can still look you up and see what you have stashed away.
The reason why your assets can make you so vulnerable is because the law requires that certain records be made available to the public. That includes some records with very revealing information about you and your stuff. It’s a lot like forcing you to go out in public with your fly open. Many of the websites that publish personal information, like Intelius and Lexis-Nexis, get a lot of their information from these public records. To make it harder for the curious and nefarious to tap juicy assets for personal information, you have to know where you are vulnerable.
The practice guide for California attorneys practicing debt collection has a great list of places to look for personal information in public places to help their clients get a piece of assets from debtors. Those same sources, and one or two others, can be used by anyone for less legitimate purposes. There is some variation by state on who can request certain records and how to do it, but these places are a great start to see how badly you need to keep your assets hidden in plain sight.
Keep Your Assets Hidden In Plain Sight
Phone directories are the oldest trick in the book. Just about everyone, everywhere has a phone. A number can be a way to contact you even if you don’t want to be contacted. Phone numbers are also a great way to narrow down searches for other assets based on the geographic location of your area code, making the search for your other assets cheaper and easier. In some cases, your phone number can lead right to your front door.
The county assessor keeps track of the value of real estate and some personal property for tax reasons. This is a good way to find the value of any of these kinds of properties. In many cases, the assessor will have ownership information, including the address of the property and a mailing address where the tax bill is sent. If you pay any property tax, some of your information shows up in these records.
The recorder keeps records of all documents that are recorded. This includes real estate transactions, birth certificates, marriage records, death records, and a lot of other documents. Your real estate and an outline of your most important dates will show up in the county recorders office.
Court records, both civil and criminal, are public. If you (or your property) were involved in court proceedings, your information is out there for anyone to see unless you have taken steps to cover it.
Large assets transferred at death and who they are transferred to are all kept in the probate court records. If you or someone in your family has received major assets this way, the whole world can know.
Secretary of State
In most states, the Secretary of State will have a list of all of the business entities formed and who their owners, principal directors or officers, and registered agent are. If you act in any one of those capacities, your name is going to be easy to find. If you own any assets in the name of those business entities, they will easily be traced back to you.
State/County/City Permits and Licenses
Most states have a central location where alcohol permits, concealed weapons permits, building permits, and other business permits and licenses are made public record. If you have any of those kinds of permits, your information is out there for all to see.
Car ownership can be discovered through a request to the DMV. Often, when there is a car loan outstanding, the ownership information will also reveal a bank where you might have other accounts. A 2 for 1 deal.
A simple Google search can turn up a lot of things that you might have been involved in. Did you act in a play in a community theater? If they post that info in the internet, it can lead right to you. So can coaching a little league team, or anything else you might do. Even Google Street View can confirm that you live in a certain place or drive a certain car. I have successfully used Google Street View to investigate opposing parties in litigation.
You may have a website of your own. That website might have information on it that would lead a clever investigator right to your doorstep. Even if you don’t post your address on your site, the ownership information can be looked up on whois.com. If you registered under your own name and address, boom, there you are.
If you post it, they will come. Mark Zuckerberg found out the hard way how dangerous it can be to have some personal information available to the public. Facebook and other social networking sites are a gold mine for information about your assets. There are usually ways to make profiles private, but those settings have been known to change overnight with no warning, and their privacy is easy to get around. People have been known to make fake profiles of old friends of a target to connect with an otherwise private profile and get the juicy details of their life. Even if you don’t reveal any information on purpose, a loose lipped friend may let something slip, the profiles of the people in your network can reveal your location, even the pictures themselves can have GPS coordinates embedded into the code of the picture, which have been used to track people right to their living room.
Almost everyone has information in one or more of these public places. You know you do too, don’t lie. If so, your assets are hanging out for all to see. Go ahead and look yourself up in these places to get an idea of how private your assets really are. There are ways to remove almost every one of your major assets from those public records. The book How To Vanish will show you how to do everything you can legally do to remove that information. In future posts, and in a few past posts, I go over specific instructions to remove your personal information from every single one of these sources, without having to sell your assets on the street.
Reprinted with permission from How to Vanish.
Bill Rounds, J.D. is a California attorney. He holds a degree in Accounting from the University of Utah and a law degree from California Western School of Law. He practices civil litigation, domestic and foreign business entity formation and transactions, criminal defense and privacy law. He is a strong advocate of personal and financial freedom and civil liberties.