You Might Want to Keep Your Receipt: Discovering Personal Information Online

Your Life
Ah…that dreadful time of year where you have to buy all of your expensive textbooks for classes. At the end of the year, you end up either stuck with them or selling them for prices that are much less than what you spent on them. However, there are those, such as myself, who take a wiser approach by renting their books from reliable websites like Chegg or College Book Renter and returning them when classes are over. This is not only a cheaper method, but it is also a way to not end up with a pesky stack of books at the end of the semester. However, there is always a few risks with this procedure, such as not getting the books on time, damaging them to the point where they cant be returned, having to re-rent them if their due date is before the semester ends, or worst of all, accidentally leaving personal information inside the book when you return it.

When I arrived back at my apartment, I sat down, cracked open my newly rented textbook, and began studying. A few pages later, a folded piece of paper fell out into my lap. I nosily opened it and realized that it was a receipt containing the name and address of the previous renter. I disregarded this revealing item and continued reading. As I read, my concentration was continuously being broken by thoughts of the receipt. Leaving a bookmark in a book is one thing, but leaving something private such as a full name and address?! Who KNOWS what could’ve happened if it had ended up in the wrong hands! I suddenly remembered one of my class assignments last semester was to Google the student sitting next to me to discover how much could be found about them online.  I looked at the receipt in the trash and thought, “I wonder how much I could learn about this person if I happened to be a threat to them…”  I put down the book, snatched the receipt out of the trashcan and opened Google.

It was now time to pretend to be a professional stalker, if such occupation exists. The experiment began with me typing in their full name. Within a flash of a second, dozens of websites that contained her name popped up! Her Facebook, Twitter, Youtube channel, and even her university blog that included her back story was now in front of me. This may not seem like anything significant, but I’d now discovered a new piece of information, her consistent username. If I were a genuine stalker (which I’m not!) I would utilize this username to find out every website she was active on. This was already getting scary because I’d found a good amount of information about her without even typing in where she lived yet. I hesitantly typed in her address, being afraid to see the results. In an instant, her home flashed on the screen, but that wasn’t all. Occupations, military records, past schools,  parents’ names and occupations, pets, sexual orientation, churches, family obituaries… I now felt extremely sorry for her–more so than when I first discovered her receipt–because she made this too easy for anyone to discover. I quickly shredded the piece of paper and tossed the scraps back into the trash.

I thought about sending her a message on Facebook telling her about the issue, but then I DEFINITELY would’ve seemed like a creeper. I just hope she doesn’t make this mistake again, or things could get dangerous for her. Just goes to show that sometimes all it takes is just knowing the first 2 numbers of a combination to open the locker.