How to Find Old Online Accounts and Destroy Them

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Have stuff online you'd like to remove? Here's how to go about it, step by step.

This post comes from Christine DiGangi at partner site

I remember my first online accounts. I just wish I could find them.

When I was a teenager, there was some blogging or profile site most people in my school had, and I can’t for the life of me remember what it was (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Friendster, MySpace, Xanga or LiveJournal — I really have no idea).

I do remember my page having a black background and lime green text, and there was a little “about me” section. I remember this because my brother, who was in college at the time, saw it and told my mom it existed. I proceeded to get in trouble for using foul language — “the Sox suck!” — when expressing my Cubs fanaticism. Ah, teenage angst.

This page has to be on the Internet somewhere. So does the MySpace page I maintained until at least 2005. I can’t find them.

I asked some cybersecurity experts for some tips on how to find, and close, those old accounts.

1. Resurrect old usernames

Going to sites where you think you had an account and trying to use a “forgot username/password” function might help you scrub old accounts from the Internet, but it’s tough to remember all the places you’ve had accounts.

“We forget about these things and we don’t remember what our footprint is,” said Todd G. Shipley, president and CEO of Vere Software and a former investigator for the Reno, Nev., police department. Because people tend to use the same usernames (and passwords, unfortunately) across multiple platforms, try plugging it into search engines. “Google the username and see if it shows up someplace.”

2. Exhaust the search engines

A quick Google search isn’t likely to get you very far, especially if you have a large online presence. (For example, because my name is on everything I write, I had to go through more than a dozen pages of search results to get to some old stuff.) Try using a variety of engines, like Bing, Yahoo, Ask, DuckDuckGo and others.

“It’s time consuming, and it’s a pain…, but it’s how you do it,” said Alexis Moore, an author of books on cyberbullying and cyber self-defense. You never know what sort of information you plugged into old profiles, so Moore recommends trying everything, like old addresses and phone numbers.

Shipley said he always uses Spokeo in investigations, but you have to pay for the service. He also recommends setting up a Google Alert for your name, because sometimes obscure accounts pop up in them.

3. Contact the site administrator

If you find an old account or are certain you had one and can’t get into it, all you can do is contact the site and ask for access. That’s a tough route to take, though. Shipley said companies often aren’t helpful in accessing an account, especially if you don’t have access to the email address associated with it, so you have to be persistent. Even if you hire a consultant or a reputation management company to do the heavy lifting, they may not be successful.

I spent several hours searching for old accounts under various usernames and email addresses I had, and it wasn’t a very fruitful effort. I found a bunch of meaningless stuff — random services I signed up for once and forgot about — and an old Twitter account I never used. The search helped me delete a few old things, but I never found the elusive MySpace or that first social profile.

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