How Con Artists Get Your Personal Data

Con artists do not have to go into the dark web to buy enough information about people to open up new accounts in their names or run a multitude of scams.

The phone rings and an emotional person on the other end tells you that your grandson went out of the country with friends and got into trouble. The stranger says your grandson had a car accident and needs emergency surgery, but his health insurance will not pay because he is not in the United States. After the person sprinkles in a few more details, like where your grandson goes to college and the name and breed of your dog, you think the person must actually know your grandson.

You wire $15,000 to the number the caller gave you, so your grandson can have the life-saving surgery. Soon afterward, an uncomfortable feeling kicks in, and then you call your child, the parent of your grandchild. Your grandson is at college, not out of the country with friends, and he is in perfect health. You have been scammed out of $15,000. The scheme worked because the fraudsters had information about you and your family. To help you avoid becoming a victim, here is how con artists get your personal data.

How People Buy Your Personal Information Online Legally

Con artists do not have to go into the dark web to buy enough information about people to open up new accounts in their names or run a multitude of scams. With a quick Google search, you can find a dozen or more companies who will sell you files chock full of information about people. You do not have to prove that you have a legitimate reason to access the information.

For less than $50, you can get pages of data that can include things like:

  • Current and previous residential addresses;
  • Current and former employers;
  • Vehicle information;
  • Phone numbers;
  • The names of current and prior spouses;
  • Court records about divorces and criminal charges;
  • The names of relatives;
  • The names of other people living in the household;
  • Other details from public records; and
  • Social media accounts.

With an inexpensive monthly subscription, crooks can get reports on an unlimited number of people. For very little investment, a con artist can set up a full-time scamming business.

How the Con Works

Imagine that the scammer who conned the grandparent out of $15,000 bought a report from one of these websites. BeenVerified, Intelius, Pipl, and Truthfinder are but a few examples of “people search” websites. Armed with a people search report on the grandparent (the target), the fraudster can find out:

  • The target’s age – to estimate whether the target might have grandchildren;
  • The target’s address – to determine if the grandparent lives in an affluent neighborhood;
  • Whether the target rents or owns – a clue as to whether the person might have assets;
  • The target’s phone number – to call and run the “grandchild in an emergency” scam;
  • The relatives of the target – to concoct the details of the scam; and
  • The target’s social media accounts – to look at the grandparent’s Facebook and other accounts.

With all of this information, the scammer can scroll through the grandparent’s postings and find out additional details, like:

  • The name of a grandchild and where that person goes to college;
  • The name and type of pet the grandparent has; and
  • Any other personal details needed to pretend to know the grandchild.

At this point, the crook has all the information he needs to run the fraud and con the grandparent out of the $15,000.

What You Can Do

If you get a phone call about a friend or relative in crisis, call other people to verify your loved one’s whereabouts. Never send money or valuables to a stranger who calls you. Write down the contact information of the caller and details like the name of the hospital or police station, where your loved supposedly is in trouble.

Contact those places directly to see if your relative actually is there. However, do not send money to the caller. Ask your local law enforcement to assist you in helping your loved one.

You can opt out of the “people search” websites. You will have to contact them and ask them to remove your data from their website. There are many of these companies, and you will also have to follow up periodically, since sometimes they will reactivate your information after a few months.

This article is about the general law, and the regulations are different in every state. Talk with an elder law attorney about your state’s rules.


AARP. “Your Personal Data, Up for Grabs.” (accessed December 20, 2018)

Suggested Key Terms: how con artists steal your personal information, how easy is it for people to find my personal information

About the author

Bob Brumfield

Attorney Bob Brumfield has been practicing law since 1984 and regularly receives the “Top Lawyers in California” award as well as the “Client Distinction” and “Client Champion” awards from Martindale-Hubbell.

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