A local sheriff’s deputy in uniform (flat-brim hat and all) calls his wife from his patrol car with an urgent task. The officer-of-the-law, who says he can’t access his computer, instructs his wife to conduct a background check on a suspicious individual using his trusted site—Publicdatacheck.com.
The subject of the surveillance? His daughter’s upcoming date.
“I need you to go to Public Data Check—it’s the website I use when I’m off work,” the deputy tells his wife. “That’s Public-Data-Check.”
@publicdatacheck Don't mess with mama! Wait for the ending! #parents #policetok #strictparents ♬ Rickroll – Chris Alan Lee
The video is one of nine TikToks labeled “Police Tips” on @publicdatacheck’s TikTok page. The scene cuts as the deputy approaches the vehicle of his daughter’s soon-to-be date, flashing red and white patrol lights.
“My wife ran your public record, and we don’t approve,” the police officer warns the unidentified young man. “So here’s what’s gonna happen, my man. You’re gonna leave.”
“Be your own detective.” “Find out everything.” “Take it from the professionals!” These are the messages Public Data Check—a for-profit website selling public data and background checks —uses cops to promote on TikTok. What do the cops get out of it? Cash.
But experts say harnessing the public authority of police officers to sell this “social surveillance” isn’t just unethical—it’s scary.
Typical background check services used by companies, landlords, and credit agencies are subject to strict legal rules under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. These rules promote accuracy, fairness, and consumer privacy, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
But no such rules apply to Publicdatacheck.com, which is not an authorized consumer reporting agency, according to its terms and conditions page. Instead, Public Data Check advertises its service for investigating neighbors, friends, potential dates, and current partners, paying popular TikTok cops to encourage this detective work.
Lilly Irani, a surveillance tech expert and associate professor at the University of California San Diego, said enticing media depictions of policing and police officers are nothing new and referenced the popularity of Cops in the ‘90s and ‘00s. But the rise of social media makes it more challenging to determine where influential messaging about police and policing is coming from, she said.
“Now, instead of having a few really powerful media producers, we have lots of people who can enter the fray as entrepreneurial media producers, producing ideas about policing that they make money off of,” Irani said. “And given they’re supposed to be public servants, that’s troubling, because they have no accountability for the ways that they represent themselves.”
Online influencers, real-life officers
In real life, he’s Deputy Sheriff Barry Glosson of Guilford County, North Carolina. In April 2021, Glosson fatally shot a 17-year-old boy who threatened him with a knife, per the Winston-Salem Journal. Eight months later, Publicdatacheck.com posted his TikTok video to its page. The Guilford County Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Officer JT Klaurens (@jtklaurens), who boasts 2.2 million TikTok followers, also created content for Public Data Check. According to emails obtained by the Daily Dot in a public records request, Public Data Check’s media team offered to pay the Emporia, Kansas cop hundreds in January 2022.
Through an influencer marketing platform called Aspire IQ, Public Data Check offered Klaurens a $350 flat payout and a free 30-day trial of its services in exchange for a 30 to 60-second TikTok video and a link promotion, according to the emails. Public Data Check called the collaboration the “PDC TikTok Influencer Project.”
Two weeks later, Klaurens posted his first ad for Public Data Check, a TikTok in which he pretends to call himself as a friend requesting a background check on another individual.
An off-duty Klaurens tells his “friend” he can’t perform a background check for him as an officer. Instead, he encourages his friend to visit Publicdatacheck.com to do a check himself. The video racked up over 340,000 views and 12,000 likes.
@jtklaurens #ad Use @Public Data Check to get access to unlimited background checks to include criminal records, financial history, etc #checkurself #publicdatacheck ♬ original sound – officerjk
The top comment, courtesy of @publicdatacheck, reads: “Before you go on online dates, meetup on Craigslist, etc check if they have any red flags! stay safe y’all!”
Public Data Check dueted the original TikTok on its own page and removed the #ad from Klaurens’ original caption.
The terms of collaboration Public Data Check sent Klaurens specified that creators would receive their total payout within a week of posting a video, according to the emails. The terms encouraged creators to show off Public Data Check’s service “in a unique way” and instructed them not to mention the site’s pricing or the free trial they received.
In a subsequent offer for an additional video, Public Data Check offered Klaurens a $50 dollar bonus (on top of his flat rate) if he turned in the new video by the end of the month, according to the emails.
Klaurens posted his most recent endorsement for Public Data Check in November 2022. He has not posted since then, at the time of this reporting. The link to Publicdatacheck.com remains in his bio.
@jtklaurens Filter out the noise and talk to real people with @publicdatacheck #ad #policetok #coptok #fyp ♬ original sound – officerjk
Innocent side hustle or infraction?
Klaurens resigned his officer position in good standing in December 2022, according to the Emporia Police Department. The department said it was aware Klaurens produced promotional content, and it does not consider the paid ads a conflict of interest.
“He was doing this on his own personal time away from the police department,” the department told the Daily Dot. “He was not in uniform when he did the TikTok video.”
Klaurens sports off-duty clothing in his Public Data Check ads, but most of the TikToks on his profile depict him in uniform. Klaurens dons officer gear in his profile picture, and several videos on his page feature a patrol vehicle.
A police department in Opelousas, Louisiana was not aware one of its officers made a TikTok video for Public Data Check. According to the department, that behavior goes against its code of conduct.
With over 250,000 followers as @yealeahh, Officer Kaleah Dorsey of the Opelousas Police Department promoted the link to Publicdatacheck.com in her personal bio and created a dancing video in uniform for @publicdatacheck’s page.
@publicdatacheck You don't even have to be a cop to do a Public Data Check! #cop #backgroundcheck #police #doityourself @yealeahh ♬ original sound – Public Data Check
In response to a request for comment, the department said its officers are not allowed to promote products or professional services, on or off-duty.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), a non-profit professional association for police leaders, published a report in 2019 detailing standards of conduct and code of ethics for police officers. According to the report, “Officers should not be allowed to accept goods, services, or discounts of value that are not available to the general public.”
“The promotion of products or services by any personnel who are clearly identified as a law enforcement officer without the approval of the agency’s chief executive officer or their designee should be prohibited,” according to the code. “It is inappropriate for a governmental agent to do so in most roles as it can imply governmental sanctioning of and support for specific products and services.”
Officers also cannot “endorse, recommend, or facilitate the sale of commercial products or services without the approval of the agency’s chief executive officer or their designee,” according to the IACP code.
Background check outside the box
Public Data Check encouraged influencers to mention “online dating,” “meeting new parents,” and “worried about your neighbors” as talking points in their ads, according to emails obtained by the Daily Dot.
TikTok cop @officerpescado_hombre says he is not affiliated with any law enforcement agency in his bio, but several videos depict him in a police uniform and badge with a nametag reading “TROUTMAN.” Another video depicts @officerpescado_hombre backflipping in uniform in front of a Prince George’s County, MD Police patrol car.
“Public Data Check will allow you to take advantage of all the things you once thought not accessible to you as a regular civilian,” @officerpescado_hombre said in the ad. “But believe it or not, with Public Data Check, you can be just like me.”
In addition to creating a TikTok video for Public Data Check, @officerpescado_hombre plugged the site’s link in his bio. Prince George’s County Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
@publicdatacheck Take it from the professionals! The officer with the boogie knows best! #policetok #safetytips #coptalk @officerpescado_hombre ♬ original sound – Public Data Check
“What’s terrifying about this is the police are using their public position to help a company make a profit off of people who want to become like police themselves,” surveillance tech expert Irani said.
Public Data Check may not always deliver on the promise to make ordinary people “just like” officers of the law. According to a tiny disclaimer on the site, the information on their site “may not be complete, accurate, or current.”
And those inaccuracies add up: Customers who filed complaints against Public Data Check on the company’s Better Business Bureau profile claimed they received misleading pricing information, unauthorized charges, privacy violations, and inaccurate information from the site.
Public Data Check did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his ad, Lieutenant Richard Craig (@OfficerCraig), a school resource officer for Avon Community School Corporation with over 160,000 TikTok followers, said citizens should stop asking cops to investigate people. Instead, they should use Public Data Check to #checkurself.
@publicdatacheck Be your own detective. You never know what you're gonna find #policetips #coptalk #safety #protectyourself #detective @officercraig ♬ original sound – Public Data Check
“So before you go put your law enforcement friends into a corner, and you ask them to do something that’s going to jeopardize their livelihood or their careers, go to publicdatacheck.com,” Craig said. “Where you can check yourself.”
The TikTok was recorded and released during the previous police chief’s administration, according to a statement from the Avon Community School Corporation Police Department.
“Our department’s mission is to serve and protect the students and staff of our school corporation. It does not exist to promote or endorse goods or services,” according to the department.
The #checkurself hashtag, which Craig captioned the video with, features dozens of other Public Data Check videos—but not just from cops. Some of the videos are labeled as ads, and some are not. TikToker @macynicolewalker said she used Public Data Check to protect herself from potential abuse, while @aliezofficial said she used the site to figure out who her boyfriend had been texting all day. It turned out to be his mom.
“It’s not just about police,” Irani told the Daily Dot. “It’s about the idea that we solve our interpersonal relationships through kind of spying, controlling, and punishments.”