It's easy to forget old accounts you signed up for, including everything from photo hosting sites to budgeting apps.
But even if you stopped using a service years ago, experts say it's important to find and remove it. Otherwise, the remaining data poses a risk to your digital privacy and security.
"It's very important to understand what's on the internet about ourselves, including the things we've left behind in the past," said Micah Hoffman, owner of My OSINT Training, a company that offers cybersecurity research courses.
“If there is a data breach or other system compromise, attackers can steal usernames, passwords and email addresses and reuse those credentials to break into other accounts,” he explains.
More about data protection
CR's Privacy and Security Guide
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30 Second Privacy Solutions: Easy ways to protect your data
Take the seven-day privacy challenge
Once you give an app or website permission to access your calendar, contacts, or even your bank account, it can stay that way for years to come, whether you're still using the service or not. You may be sending a steady stream of personal information to online companies that you have forgotten about.
Experts like Hoffman use advanced tools and techniques to help clients dig up old accounts and other digital breadcrumbs.
"But you don't necessarily have to hire someone like me," says Hoffman. Much of the work you can do yourself.
I have been a heavy internet user for a long time. And while I like to think my security practices are above average, I've followed the steps below and found more than six dozen forgotten personal accounts over a span of nearly two decades.
Most of these were accounts I opened once and never used again, while others were platforms I used for years before giving up. Some of my old accounts suffered a privacy breach after I stopped using them, and many of the others exposed information about me that could be used for identity theft or other nefarious purposes.
You can start by simply browsing through the lists of popular apps and services to refresh your memory. Called a servicejust delete.mekeeps a list and Consumer Reports provides instructions on how to do itHow to delete social platforms quickly.
However, the targeted approach described below can be faster and more effective.
Find your username
Enter your desired usernameGoogleis a great way to find old accounts. Also try old usernames - you may have entered beatlesfan84 for a better username, but your forum posts under that name may still be public.
Then search for your name and email addresses (old and new). And don't forget to enclose your search term in quotes when searching for multi-word keywords, such as your name.
When you're done with Google, repeat the process with other search engines like Bing and DuckDuckGo.
"Each indexes different pages at different times and caches different content," says Hoffman, so results may vary.
Search for old emails
Searching for old notifications from websites, apps, and services is a good way to track down forgotten accounts.
“First, focus on the emails companies send you first when you sign up,” says Bobby Richter, former chief of privacy and security testing at Consumer Reports, who now works with App Census, a digital privacy company. "Search your inbox for variations of phrases like 'welcome to', 'new account', 'password' or 'verify email address'."
Also search for your preferred usernames. If you've used multiple email addresses over the years, log in and check their inboxes as well.
Browse your saved logins
When your browser saves your usernames and passwords, it creates an easily accessible log of the websites you have accounts on.
To view your saved logins in Chrome, click the three dots in the top right corner and open > Settings > Passwords.
In Firefox, open the top right menu > Settings > AutoFill > Password Manager.
In Safari, at the top of the screen, click the Safari tab > Preferences > Passwords.
In Internet Explorer, open the top right menu > Settings > Show advanced settings > Manage passwords.
The instructions above are for a computer, but the steps are similar for a phone. If you have multiple devices or old computers, check their browsers as well. consumers who usePassword managershould check those apps too.
Check your Google and Facebook accounts
Many services allow you to log in with Facebook or Google credentials. Both platforms track every time you've done this, and that data is easy to find - a handy way to find your Words With Friends account if the app didn't make it when you last bought a new phone.
To find this list on Facebook using a computer browser, click your profile picture in the top right corner to open Menu > Settings & privacy > Settings > Apps & websites. Be sure to check out all three tabs (Active, Expired, and Deleted) for a complete list.
For Google, go to any Google page (e.g. Search or Gmail) > click the grid icon in the top right corner > Account > Security > Sign in with Google.
You can revoke apps' access to your Google and Facebook profiles, but your account will not be deleted. First, sign up directly with these services and take action to remove them for good.
On other social media platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter, you can also log in to other services with your account. Please check yourPrivacy settingsfor details.
Try username, privacy, and security pages
Some tools designed for other purposes can also help you find old accounts.
Hoffman has developed a tool that you can find atwatsmijnnaam.appHere you can enter a username and see where it was used to create an account.
There are other options like checkusernames.com, knowem.com, and namecheck.com. You can also search for your username here, and they use a slightly different approach to finding them. These websites are primarily designed to help business people reserve brand and product names, but they can also be helpful in finding an account. If your usual username is not available on a particular service, it may indicate that you have an account there.
Hoffman points out that the results aren't always accurate, but says the services are still valuable tools in your account search toolbox.
Then go toHaveIbeenPwned, a website that can let you know if your email address has been associated with a data breach. If so, the culprit could be a service you forgot about. Be sure to check your old or alternate email addresses as well.
Finally, try entering your name, username and email addresses in apeople search engine. These websites search social media sites, public records and other sources of information and aggregate the data into reports about individuals.
Privacy experts have raised some concerns about these services, but in this case, you can use them to your advantage. Some search engines require payment, but some offer free options. These can alert you to forgotten social media accounts.
Avoid search and delete services
Some companies promise to find and delete accounts for you. Usually, you need to allow these apps to access your email account by entering your username and password so that they can search your messages, find and delete accounts.
It may sound like a great way to save time, but experts say there are privacy issues to consider.
"I would be hesitant to give anyone access to your email because your inbox is incredibly sensitive," says CR's Richter.
In addition to the content of your messages, many services use email to verify your identity and perform two-factor authentication.
There are also other reasons to stay away from it. For consultants like Hoffman, a big part of the job is educating clients about privacy and security. He advises against outsourcing the process to a company that does not work closely with you, so that you have a clear understanding of the steps being taken.
“They want to know what sites you removed from so you can better understand what information you provided in the first place and make sure the job gets done right,” says Hoffman.
Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of logins and passwords? On the "consumer 101On the TV show, Consumer Reports expert Bree Fowler explains to host Jack Rico how to find and delete old online accounts.