Tree of Fear

A web site that displays address and family information is causing alarm, but it encompasses the general public and not specifically police.

Claim: A web site allows criminals to look up the personal information of police officers.

mostly true

WHAT'S TRUE: A web site called FamilyTreeNow allows anyone to enter a person's name and retrieve whatever personal information is available from the search.

WHAT'S FALSE: The web site is not intended to specifically target police officers; it can be used by anyone to look up anyone else's information.


Origin:In early January 2017, an image circulating on Facebook cautioned "LEOs" (i.e., law enforcement officers), that a particular web site allows criminals to look up the personal information of police officers for nefarious purposes. The alert was posted on the Facebook page "Survive the Streets: A Page for Cops" with the following warning:

This is legit. We've tested it, my address was in the search, and some of my family was connected to the profile. The amount of info and the accuracy of it is terrifying. Opt out instructions below.

The web site in question, FamilyTreeNow.com, allows users to look up a person by first and last name. The site then pulls up information about the named person obtained from public records, such as age, month and year of birth, immediate family members and "associates," and past and current addresses. The searches are provided free of charge.

The site does not specifically categorize members of law enforcement, but of course any user who knew enough about a particular police officer (such as name and hometown) could potentially retrieve more information about that person.

Persons whose information appears on the web site can use the "opt out" to block their information from being displayed to users, and our tests so far indicate that that option does work. However, as we have noted about similar search services in the past, your personal information will still be available through the underlying public record sources used by FamilyTreeNow (and others). Those third-party records will still exist and will remain publicly accessible, so the same information provided by FamilyTreeNow will remain available to others, either working on their own or using information aggregators similar to FamilyTreeNow.

In short, removing your personal information from display by Internet aggregators isn't a one-time deal, but rather more like a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole: You might swat down an aggregator site or two, but more of them will inevitably pop up.

Last updated: 12 January 2017

Originally published: 10 January 2017

Featured Image: Shutterstock

Bethania Palma Markus is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who started her career as a daily newspaper reporter and has covered everything from crime to government to national politics. She has written for a variety of publications as a staffer and freelancer, including the Los Angeles News Group, the LAist, LA School Report, the OC Weekly and Raw Story. She is a huge fan of the X Files, because while she's not saying it was aliens, it was aliens.


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