Where can you find your public records information?We’ve all heard the term “public records” before, and we’ve explained how they impact your credit reports, but do you actually know what constitutes public record information? The Freedom of Information Act, signed in 1967, helped to make the U.S. government more transparent. As a consequence of this act, states created their own Freedom of Information laws, allowing citizens to make private requests for access to a plethora of information that we today refer to as “public record.” Keep reading to learn what your public record is and see how you can check this information for abuse and inaccuracies.

What is public records information?

The idea of public record information is very old, as cultures like the ancient Mesopotamians and Incans recorded sensitive information through physical media. Today, the term public record refers to a collection of documents related to individuals’ social and financial status – marriage and divorce records, property tax records, criminal records as well as court judgments, including bankruptcy filings. The specific types of records accessible within any particular jurisdiction may vary, but in general, information of this nature will be available.

Why are public records important?

Aside from being of interest to genealogy enthusiasts, history researchers as well as other scholars and academics, public record information is used to rate your credit and insurability, as well as your employability. In a lot of ways, public records are a resource many of us benefit from, though they are not, of course, without privacy concerns. The web has allowed for the proliferation of these materials in unexpected places, likely far beyond the original intent of legislators who made this information accessible to the public in a pre-Internet era. Unfortunately, with Pandora’s box already being open, there’s little consumers can do other than monitor as much of their information as they possibly can to ensure there are no obvious inaccuracies or signs of misuse of their personal information.

Where can I view my public records information?

Public record searches can be confusing and difficult to navigate because so many different types of information fall under the category. What’s more, there are tons of sources, both public and private, offering different kinds of public record information. In order to find anything, you must first know what you’re looking for and what source(s) will help you. For a quick glance at some of your public record information that exists, people search sites might provide a good starting point, though be cautious about paying upfront to see the information. If you’re looking for more specific information, your best bet is to scroll through county websites to look at the instructions for requesting records in your jurisdiction. Sites like USA.gov also have the ability to search government websites, allowing you to enter queries like “Roanoke County public records” to pull up local government pages relevant to your request. In addition to using these resources, identity theft protection services as well as credit monitoring services give you the ability to monitor online databases for changes to your public record information. These services provide you with periodic reports detailing any potential abuses of some of the public record information out there about you. If you want automatic and up-to-date awareness about the various bits of information about you floating around on the Internet, you might find either of these services a worthwhile investment.

Can I alter or lock my public records information?

During your investigation, you may find records containing inaccurate details. If you found these records online, don’t just write it off. Instead, you contact the county clerk or the issuing department for the record (e.g., your states vehicle registration department for inaccurate driver’s records). Go in person and bring the files in question with you so that you can explain and demonstrate the issue. If you see records for information that simply isn’t yours (e.g., a bankruptcy in your name), you should not only contact the relevant department to correct your records, but you should also file an identity theft report to the police so that abuse of your identity is documented. You should also take the other steps that victims of identity theft do in order to protect their identity, including getting a copy of your credit reports. Once the record or records are corrected, they might not be rectified in the numerous third-party online public record search engines. While it’s impossible to fix this, you should at least consider removing yourself from the databases that allow you to do so. You can read more about that here and here.

Continue to read our identity theft protection blog where we provide detailed information on the best ways to stay safe from modern identity theft threats.