Online footprints are manageable, but not erasable

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How hard would it be to track down a complete stranger with little more information than name or a photo? It's easier than many people think. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) How hard would it be to track down a complete stranger with little more information than name or a photo? It's easier than many people think. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Experts recommend using a P.O. Box as your home address, to get your mail and other government documents. This will make it more difficult for people to learn where you live. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Experts recommend using a P.O. Box as your home address, to get your mail and other government documents. This will make it more difficult for people to learn where you live. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

If you ask people in downtown Phoenix, they will likely tell you that there is a ton of information about them available online. What they are not likely to know is how to reduce the amount of information available.

"There's a whole lot out there," said Cheyenne Geis, who is an Arizona State University student.

"You can find out a lot of stuff without trying very hard," said John Barsuhn, who is visiting the Valley from Michigan.

"I don't think a lot of times you realize how much you put out there. I know I have a lot of stuff out there," said Brittany Bowyer.

Home addresses, financial information, court records and more are all available at the stroke of a computer key. From social media to government websites to data aggregators, it is easy to track down complete strangers and to find out personal, financial and business information about them.

"You're never going to be able to take all of your information off of the internet," said Ken Colburn, who is the president of Data Doctors Computer Services.

But Colburn says there are some steps everyone can take to increase their privacy and reduce their online footprints.

Colburn recommends using a P.O. Box as your home address, to get your mail and other government documents. This will make it more difficult for people to learn where you live.

[SEPCIAL SECTION: Power of 2: Empowering you to be safe]

Removing your birthday from your Facebook account will make it tougher for data thieves to steal your identity.

Clicking the "opt out" option on data aggregator websites will also reduce the amount of information that is easily accessible to people or companies that want details about you.

"The good news is most of them do have an option for you to go in and then opt out. Say, 'I don't want my information in your database.' The bad news is you have to do it one company at a time," said Colburn.

You can find a list of the data aggregators here.

Colburn recently wrote a column about the issue. You can access it here.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards , two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. Last fall, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle, in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is a graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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