Searching for You

Published On: May 05 2014 06:32:50 AM CDT   Updated On: May 05 2014 08:05:02 AM CDT

Finding information about someone has never been easier, thanks to Google. But, have you ever been tempted to pay for one of those "people search" websites to see what you can really find out about someone?

FactFinder 12 wanted to find out, so we paid for subscriptions to two of those services, Spokeo and Intelius. We then set up at the Wichita Public Library to see what we could learn about some volunteers.

The websites found relatives, jobs, email and home addresses, home values, age, race and education level. There was even a section for court records. Our volunteers all had clean backgrounds.

Volunteer Johnye Vanhekken entered her name and says much of the information the systems returned was correct.

We asked if it scared her that that information is so readily available.

"Just anyone can get a hold of it. Well, kind of. Yes," Vanhekken said. "Because I don't want them messing around. It's kind of frightening that people have access to all of this stuff."

We have access to it, because it's all public information. It's all information you could find on your own by going down to the county courthouse, looking through the property assessor's website, or browsing through other records.

But, people search websites save you the legwork. They have special software that searches public databases for you.

Private Investigator Bruce Reesman uses public records and search engines for his research. He says the information you pay for is all free, but the sites know how to get to that information.

"Most of those sites we looked at, right next to where it says it wants your credit card, it says get the dirt," Reesman said. "Click the button and give them your credit card number, and they'll give you everything they've found on you."

I had Reesman enter my name. He found old addresses and past employers, but nothing alarming.

Even if I did feel uncomfortable about the information, John Jones who is the Instructional Design and Technology Manager at WSU says there's not much I could to to stop it.

"That requires in this day and age an incredible drastic, cutting yourself off from all technologies," Jones said.

But, he adds there's really no need to worry about your public information falling into the hands of identity thieves.

Companies track you, too.

Jones says from the company's point of view, that's about doing good business.

"It's not necessarily really sinister," Jones said.

Our volunteers start to understand that as they pour over their public information, some of which is wrong.

David Donovan says email addresses returned by the system were wrong, and so was his age.

One of our volunteers couldn't even find himself. He moved to the US five years ago.

But, sooner or later, a public record is bound to surface for most people and your search results are open for anyone to see.

Reesman says don't underestimate the power of free search engines like Google or social media sites like Twitter or Facebook. You can find a lot of information about someone just using those free services.

Here's a website for consumers on how to keep your personal information safe online.