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.

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Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter on the CBS 5 Investigates team. His reports have landed crooks behind bars and led to changes in state law.

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Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

He has exposed conmen who prey on the elderly and predators who target women and children. Morgan combines his legal training with the experience he’s earned over 20-years of news reporting in Arizona to break big stories and dig beyond the headlines. His stories about education, consumer scams and crooked politicians have gone on to make national headlines. Among his favorite investigations are the ones that take him undercover. In addition his hidden camera investigations on drug and human smuggling, Morgan infiltrated some of the most dangerous militia and vigilante groups in the southwest. Members were later charged with crimes that range from murder to child molesting. Over the years, Morgan’s work has appeared on CBS News, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, and NPR. Morgan won ten Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards, a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting, the Society of Professional Journalists’ First Amendment Award, and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. Morgan is a graduate of the University of Arizona School of Journalism, earned his Juris Doctorate at Concord Law School, teaches media law at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and is the president of the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, Inc., which advocates for open records and open government. When he’s not working, Morgan enjoys camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats, and spending time with his family at their ranch in southern Arizona.

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