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A private eye does an online search of us

In 20 short minutes, he puts together an extensive dossier on a Monitor editor, including his social security number, hobbies, and sartorial habits.

By Staff writer / August 31, 2009

Carl Wiens

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Most people have done a quick Google search of themselves or someone else online. But how much can be found in public records if you know more about how and where to look?

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The Monitor asked Steven Rambam, a licensed private investigator based in Brooklyn, N.Y., to profile a volunteer test subject, one of the Monitor’s editors. We wanted information that could have been found by anyone for free. We told Mr. Rambam only the town the editor lived in.

Rambam, who was traveling, used his laptop and a cellphone connection to do his search. He spent about 20 minutes in all checking online sources through a program he developed called GorrillaTrace, a compilation of databases he offers free of charge only to other licensed investigators or law enforcement officers. According to GorillaTrace.com, the site “accesses 18 of the top Internet search engines and combines their reports,” along with several e-mail address searches, a telephone trace, image searches, and other “investigative” scans.

“I mean everything, frankly, that would be considered a window into your soul is now consensually put up on any one of a dozen different systems,” Rambam says. “ Your salary history, your finances, everywhere you’ve ever worked. And so on.” When he does an in-depth search, he says, “I have an incredibly accurate picture of who you are and what you believe in – where you go, what you consider fun, and so forth.” The information comes from websites, blogs, My- Space, Facebook, Friendster, Monster, LinkedIn, Plaxo, and other sources.

With just the click of a few keys, Rambam created a dossier on the editor that was so large the Monitor’s e-mail program rejected it. But a seven-page summary that did arrive offered up a trove of facts. They included his age, home phone number, Social Security number, a picture of his house (and what he paid for it), his wife’s name and age, and previous addresses.

The editor and his wife had made no political contributions over $250. But there was evidence that they had a hobby of selling antiques. The editor also apparently doesn’t like to wear long underwear, even in winter.

Enough said.

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Full story: How we're losing our privacy online