In an era of booming social networks, it’s easier to find lost friends and colleagues than it ever was before.
The private world of yesterday is now an online world. Everyone with a search engine has an open access to social networks, government databases, and public records.
If you’re looking for a long-lost friend, or maybe want to do a background check on someone, consider the following free resources to find people on the internet.
Crawl the Internet
The internet is essentially a giant database, overflowing with data points about individuals. Today, it’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t commented on a blog entry, made a post in an online forum, or registered at Facebook or Flickr.
Create a new profile anywhere and reveal an additional data point about you. These are captured by others when they need to find you.
There are many websites that search standard social networks like Facebook or Twitter. But Pipl is one resource that conducts a deep web search for the name on “non-typical sites”. The search results from Pipl are impressive.
I did a deep search on myself. The search pulled my own data from profiles at LinkedIn, Facebook, and others like job search websites and Google.
I was impressed by Pipl’s efforts to dig for street addresses, phone numbers and even family members, scraped from miscellaneous web pages.
It was a little creepy seeing my actual phone number and street address showing up, but again, I’ve never really made much of an effort to hide those things online.
Probably the most powerful tool to find someone who may have only posted to the internet a long time ago is Google Groups. Google Groups has incorporated over 800 million Usenet messages into its database, an impressive 20 years’ worth of internet conversations dating back to 1981.
I found many old articles I’d written years ago that I’d totally forgotten about. Great walk down memory lane!
TruePeopleSearch.com appears like one of those many websites that promise “background” information on a person. Then, you discover they only provide a basic phone number and state, and promise “full listings” when you sign up for a background check subscription. That’s not the case here.
Just searching for my name and my state of residence (people searches are far more accurate if you at least know what state the person lives in), turned up a surprisingly in-depth listing of my previous address and a listing of all my past phone numbers (going back about 10 years).
What was very surreal about the results was that at the very bottom there was even a section labeled “Possible Associates”. The site somehow obtained the names of past college roommates, writing associates, and more (probably scraped from public Facebook information).
Like TruePeopleSearch, FindPeopleSearch.com generates basic background check “teaser” information. Still, that information can be extremely helpful when you’re trying to learn more about a person. What this website brings to the game is that it offers more extensive information than others.
It provides a map with the likely location of that person (as well as the number of record listings found), and then inside that box, you can scroll down to see more information.
What surprised me was that at the bottom of my results box, it literally listed every single aunt, uncle, niece and nephew in my entire extended family. It was very impressive.
5. Peek You
While most people search engines scour public information and not much else, PeekYou.com goes the extra mile to dig into popular sites like Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram and more.
Again, it’s much more effective when you include the general location (state) where the person lives. But, it is optional.
Sometimes tracking someone down requires a little bit more creativity than just typing the person’s name into a search engine. Another approach is to rummage through the popular high school reunion website known as Classmates.com.
You will need to have some idea of the most likely high school the person attended. By drilling down all the way to the appropriate high school, you’ll find a listing of people who’ve registered on the site with the same high school on record.
There are a surprising number of people who’ve registered on the site over the years, and there’s a very good possibility that the person you’re looking for has registered too. Once you find their name, you can click on it and send them an email (but you do have to register for free with the website first).
Another unique avenue you can head down when you’re trying to find people on the internet is to take advantage of genealogy tools. One of the best websites that genealogy hobbyists use to link together family connections of living relatives is FamilyTreeNow.com.
This site helps you identify branches of a family tree by providing you with a list of family members and likely associates of anyone, if you have their name and the town and state they live in (or have lived in the past).
The birthday and age results on this site are much more accurate than most, as are the immediate and extended family listings.
One of the most surprising things I noticed about the results is that the address listings were insanely thorough. When I searched for my name I discovered that this website has an accurate record of every single address I’ve had going all the way back to my first internship at Princeton, over 20 years ago. And that was an address I had for less than three months!
The reason this tool is so effective is because if you can identify specific addresses where someone has lived in the past, you can then visit that area, interview residents, and potentially learn more about the person you’re trying to track down than you ever imagined possible — possibly including where they live today!
Want to track someone down and you only have a photo of them? Use a reverse image search tool like TinEye.com. This site will turn the entire internet inside out for that same picture and it’ll show you if it was uploaded anywhere else.
The site uses an innovative image recognition technology that can match images based on the one you upload to the site. It’s an impressive technology and it worked the first time I tried it, immediately identifying that I had uploaded that same picture to MakeUseOf. And, it even recognized the picture when only part of the image matched the original. Very impressive stuff.
By the way, you can also do this on Google Image Search by clicking on the camera icon (search by image).
It should go without saying that one of the simplest ways to find and old lost friend or relative is just to search for their name in the Facebook search field.
Over the past few years, this is the way I’ve found people I hadn’t heard from for many years. It’s amazing who turns up when you search for a name in Facebook.
It may seem silly, but Google is actually a very effective tool to track someone down online. Give it a try and you may be surprised, but keep the following tips in mind.
- Enclose the person’s full name in quotes (like “Ryan Dube”). Google will return only search results with the person’s full name.
- Include more information that you already know about the person (like “Ryan Dube” MakeUseOf writer). Your search results will be even more precise.
- When you know the person is involved in a certain organization, try only searching that site (like “site:RedCross.org “Ryan Dube”). If the person is listed as a staff or contact on the site, you’ll discover their details
These tips work well — give them a try!
In fact, Google search results for people work so well now (providing results from many different social networks), that many of the people search sites that existed years ago have shut down. Who needs those when Google already does it best?
Online (Paid) Public Records Search
If you’re conducting a full background check on someone, then you’re probably interested in a lot more than their online activities. You’re probably looking for any of the following information:
- Residences over the last few years
- Criminal record check
- Driving record
- Birthday and birth location (for citizenship verification)
- Child predator check
When a person has a criminal record or any court ruling, it’s amazing how much information you can find about them online. All you need is a name and birth date of the person you’re looking for. Though, the location where that person lives would make the search go even more smoothly.
Zaba Search is one of the best sites for conducting free public records queries. Using Zaba Search, you can determine a person’s exact past and current addresses and phone numbers.
If you want a detailed report of all past addresses, relatives, criminal history, bankruptcies, small claims judgments and more, it’ll cost about $50 through Intelius.
USA.gov provides a huge database for all state and federal agencies. Most services where you need to pay for background details on a person come from these free state and federal agency databases. You can find the data for free by searching through this website to find those agencies and conduct the search yourself.
For example, digging through the state of Maine agencies I found where you can search through Maine criminal records.
Make it Simple
You want to find someone online quickly (and for free). The sites above will help, but you’ll need to learn a few details about the person. Start with their birthday or the state they live in. Once you have those details, the volume of information you can find online about a person is amazing, and at times shocking.
Have you ever tried to search and find people on the internet? What other free online people search tools do you know about for looking for people? Do you feel easy access to personal records is an invasion of privacy or an important public right?
Image Credit: AVN Photo Lab via Shutterstock.com