Public Records

Public records. They are available online and anyone can access them.

What is a public record?

A public record is any document that is made or received in connection with the public business of any state agency. They are created by the federal and local government. That means that voting information, government salaries, court documents, police records, criminal records, photographs, and yes, even email, may all be considered to be a public record.

Even media articles are public information. If a story is written about you in a newspaper, magazine, online department story, or even a social media profile, it’s public. Other examples of public records include, property tax accessor files, motor vehicle records, and business licenses. And in most cases all are unremovable. These sites are not obligated in any way to take down your information. So, whether you are looking for your own public records or records for a family member, it’s likely searchable on the web.

There are two ways public records are accessible online:

  1. Some agencies post information on their government websites, thereby making it freely available.
  2. Some government agencies and courts sell their public files to commercial data compilers and information brokers. They in turn make them available on a fee basis, either by means of the web or special networks.

What can be done to prevent making public records that contain personal information available online?

Unfortunately, not much. The public policy reasons for making public records available promote accountability. Limit what you post online and regularly search for yourself online to see what you can find. If you find your information listed, there are businesses that can assist you with online removal, but if they claim that they can remove “public records,” it’s not likely true.

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The Fourth Amendment

Search and Seizure

The Fourth Amendment was written to protect people from unreasonable intrusion by the government in the form of law enforcement officers into their homes, business, vehicles, or other property. This includes law enforcement officers stopping people walking on the street or driving their cars and being arrested, or searching their homes or businesses.

What is Protected by the Fourth Amendment?
The Fourth Amendment, which covers search and seizure offers protections under criminal law to:

• A police officer’s physical arrest or “seizure” of a citizen via a stop or arrest.
• Law enforcement searches of items and places to which a citizen has a reasonable expectation of privacy, including their person, purses, wallets, clothes, house, hotel room, apartment, vehicle, place of business, and many others.

There are a number of times when the Fourth Amendment can be used to provide constitutional protection to an individual, including:

• When a person is stopped by an officer for questioning while walking down the street.
• When a person is pulled over for a minor traffic violation and the officer decides to inspect the contents of the trunk.
• When a person is placed under arrest
• When a law enforcement officer enters a person’s home or place of business and places them under arrest.
• When a law enforcement officer confiscates a person’s personal property or vehicle and places it under their control.

Is it ever okay for a police officer to violate a citizen’s rights?

Of course not. A police officer must have:
• A valid search warrant issued by a judge
• A valid arrest warrant issued by the courts or
• Believe he or she has “probable cause” based on the possibility the individual has committed a crime.

If the above conditions are not met, it is highly likely that the law enforcement officer will be found to have violated the citizen’s rights. Should this happen, the odds are good that any evidence that is collected at this time will be deemed by the courts to be inadmissible in a court. This might be great for the person who has been accused of a crime and may even be enough to have the case dismissed. However, it can be a major disaster for the officer and the law enforcement agency who has worked hard to bring the case to court in hopes of a conviction that might keep a true criminal off the streets.

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Do you know how to spot a spoof social media account?

Be careful which social media accounts you follow, because the person on the other end may not be who you think they are! Imposters are getting more and more savvy, and creating knock off pages claiming to be legit brands, influencers, or maybe even one of your friends. But, once you click, they get your personal information and even connect with your followers.

We’ve all been tempted. You see an offer for a discount or a giveaway. They appear to come from brands that we are familiar with, such as Nike, Gap, Adidas, Sephora, Ulta, Amazon, and more. But these accounts are fake – and so are the giveaways.

Imposters are spoofing accounts and claiming to be a business or in many cases, an individual that you know. The imposter then contacts a person, says they won a contest, and that in order to get the prize, they needed to go to a web page and input certain information. Experts say that’s the scam! Crooks take pictures from the real page (because its easy to copy and paste a logo), and then they create a site that looks almost identical.

Actions you can take to stay safe online and avoid being ripped off!

  • Pay attention to the URL. If it looks foggy or has an extra letter or symbol added to it, it’s likely an imposter page claiming to be the real thing.
  • Before accepting a friend request or responding to a direct message, compare connections. Who are their friends?
  • Check to see that you’re not already to connected to someone who starts following you (or wants to follow you).
  • Looks at posts from the friend request. Are they recent?
  • If it’s a popular brand or a celebrity, look for a blue checkmark. That means that they have been certified by the social media site.
  • If you spot a fake account, report it to the site immediately.
  • If you do fall victim to a social media scam, contact your bank immediately and try to stop payment or freeze the account.
  • Report it to the FBI. If you act quickly, there is a good chance you can get your money back.

What are imposters looking for?

They want your personal information. They want to steal your identity, your phone number, your credit cards, and any information that they can use.

Reports from the FBI say that people have lost hundreds of millions of dollars to imposter social media scams. Be vigilant, educate yourself, and protect your information.

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You’ve probably signed up for credit card alerts and bank notifications, so that you can keep tabs on your financial information. Well, now the bad guys are tapping into that technology to rip you off. They are tricking you and designing links and websites that look just like the real thing, so that you receive scary looking warnings on your phone about locked accounts and abnormal activity.

What is Smishing?

SMS Phishing, also known as Smishing, is a text messaging scam. It’s when a hacker tries to trick you into clicking a link. When you click on the link, it takes you to a website that looks legitimate. In order to gain access to your information, the site then asks you for pertinent information, such as your full name, account number, and social security number. And just like that, you’ve just given a criminal access to your bank account information and more!

What you need to know!

1. Pause before you react! Take the time to actually login to your account and see if everything is okay. Use your bank mobile app or login from your laptop or desktop computer, but DO NOT click any links.
2. Never ever, ever give out your bank account number (especially via text).
3. Don’t give out your social security number or even your zip code.
4. When in doubt, pick up the phone and call your bank or financial institution or if you really get nervous, drive there, and check it out for yourself.
5. If you do give out your information, immediately call your bank, tell them which information you gave out, and ask them to put a temporary hold on all your accounts.
6. Stolen money is required to be refunded per federal law. It might take some time to get your money back, but you WILL get it, so be persistent.

Why are we seeing an increase in texting scams?

All of us have cell phones. And since companies are looking to be more accessible for their clients, they have also opened the window for scammers to take advantage of technology. These cyber-crooks are stealing money and data, and even more scary, they can find out who you are, where you live, where you work, who your family members are, and much worse.

Stay alert, be vigilant, and pause before clicking any links.

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Stay Ahead of Trending Scams and Know the Red Flags

The most common types of scams will target you through texting, emails, phone calls, and letters in the mail. But, nowadays scammers are getting scary clever and showing up at our homes. Early morning, late at night, they don’t care. They are willing to do whatever it takes to make a buck or rip you off.

Know the red flags:

  • Did someone on the phone tell you to buy gift cards and give them the codes as a form of payment?
  • Are you being pressured to send money to someone that you don’t know?
  • Have you been asked to do a wire transfer through Zelle or a similar service?
  • Is someone threatening you by saying they will send law enforcement to get you?

These are all signs that you are being targeted by a scammer. Don’t let them win. Be smarter than they are and don’t fall victim:

  • Hang up the phone
  • Don’t click on unfamiliar links
  • Don’t give out personal information about you or your family members
  • Just DON’T

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Minimize Your Off-Duty Exposure and Avoid Being Tracked Down at Home

As we all know, law enforcement officers face daily dangers. And not just while they are working, but off duty as well. The idea of being followed, harassed, or even stalked at their personal homes, is a terrifying thought. While you wouldn’t think it happens often – sadly it does happen. And it seems to be a growing concern.

Recently, an officer in Selma, Alabama was stalked and harassed at his home by members of a cult that he had been investigating. Here are eight basic tips to help keep you and your family safe:

1. Don’t put your name on your mailbox or a nameplate on your house. It’s not necessary and it makes it easier for someone who might be looking for you to identify your house.

2. Don’t fill out warranty cards. Many people think that they have to fill out a warranty card, but its not necessary. Most products already come with a manufacturers warranty, so by filling out that card and sending it in, just gives ammunition to marketing companies who want to contact you to try and sell you more products.

3. Vary your routes to and from work. Don’t be predictable. This will help decrease the possibility that someone can calculate where you will be during your commute. Taking these varied routes can also help you more easily identify a vehicle that may be following you.

4. Stay alert! Easier said than done, but remember situational awareness when getting in and out of your car. Look around. Many officers tend to let their guard down, after work and drive home mindlessly. This can be dangerous. Remember to look in your rearview mirror and make note of the vehicles you’re seeing. Is there a particular car that always seems to be behind you? Is the guy in the car beside you noticeably looking at you? Is there a vehicle that takes every turn you do?

5. Don’t use your real name on paper subscriptions. Put newspaper, magazine and subscriptions that are delivered to your home under a name other than your own. Consider your spouse’s first and maiden name. You don’t want a newspaper with your name on it lying in your driveway where someone could easily pick it up and identify who lives there.

6. Secure your home. Maintain good lighting in and around your home. Secure your property with an alarm, front – rear – and side cameras, along with motion detectors at night. Don’t have any large bushes where someone could easily hide behind them lurking to attack you or a family member.

7. Be careful where you gather. If you typically hang out to talk after your shift, considering going somewhere other than the department parking lot. Consider an indoor location or a more secluded place that doesn’t draw attention to your group.

8. Shred paperwork! Seems obvious, but you really need to shred most papers that have your name, address, phone number, and other pertinent information on them. This includes billing statements and receipts. It would be too easy for a bad guy to track you down at home only be gain easy access to your trash can on the street that could hold some personal information about you.

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Is the buying and selling of others’ personal information online illegal?

The short answer – yes! At least it is in the United States. Buying and selling any kind of personal information online is illegal. But the same isn’t true for other countries. They don’t necessarily have the same laws that we do as it relates to cyber-crimes. In fact, United States regulatory agencies have no jurisdiction to prosecute fraudsters acting on websites and chat rooms located in other countries.

As of 2020, a privacy law that gives people more control over how websites track and sell their personal information has gone into effect. It’s called the California Consumer Privacy Act, and currently only applies to the state of California.

This means that companies are legally obligated to give California residents the opportunity to not only see how their online information is being tracked, but also how its being sold (name, address, purchasing history, browsing history, etc.) and most importantly how to opt-out.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, and many websites will give pushback before finally taking down information. It takes a lot of time, persistence, and patience. And of course there are is our company, Privacy for Cops, which takes the hassle out of the whole process and does it for you. More information about us can be found on our website at

In the meantime, several other states are working on similar bills, so be on the lookout for them in the near future.

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Happy Independence Day!

The Public Safety Assistance Foundation wishes you all a fun and memorable 4th of July. We will be closed on Monday, July 5, so that our staff can spend time celebrating with their families.

Stay Safe!

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Tips to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Only carry essential cards with you.
Unless you are traveling or have an appointment for something specific, you usually don’t need to show your Social Security Card or Birth Certificate, so avoid carrying them. Also avoid carrying extra credit cards. A good rule of thumb is to only carry one or two max.

Protect your Social Security Number
Only a few organizations such as motor vehicle departments, tax departments and welfare departments have the right to ask to see your social security number. In addition, employers, banks and other financial institutions, can require your SSN, but for all other instances, ask if they will accept an alternative proof of identification.

Have your checks delivered via certified mail
If you are going to have checks delivered to your house, make sure you sign for them or have them delivered during a time when you are going to be home. You can also opt to pick up your checks at the bank instead of having them sent to your home. This makes it harder for your checks to be stolen, altered and cashed by identity thieves. Lastly, keep your information private. There is absolutely no need to include your drivers license on your checks.

NEVER give out personal information over the phone
Identity thieves may call you, posing as banks or government agencies. Do not give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call. Register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry to avoid all calls from telemarketers trying to get your information over the phone. Visit

Shred as much as possible!
Shred your receipts, credit card offers, expired credit cards, bank statements, returned checks and any other sensitive information. All it takes is one thief to get into your trash can on the street to take as much information as they can.

Use a credit monitoring service
The three nationwide credit reporting agencies have set up a central website through which you can order your free annual credit report. You can also request that you only receive credit card statements through your online card account to avoid sensitive information being transmitted through the mail.

Keep a list of account numbers
Being able to quickly alert your creditors is key to prevent others from using your personal information or bank and credit cards if these items ever become stolen.

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Memorial Day 2021

Today and always, the Public Safety Assistance Foundation honors our military personnel who fought and died for this country. Whether you visited a cemetery, made your own memorial, or simply stayed home and barbequed with your family, we hope you took time to remember and reflect on why we celebrate this day. Especially after what we have all been through this past year due to COVID-19.

Be grateful. Be aware. And don’t sweat the small stuff.

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