Disclaimer: This article was sponsored by PeopleFinders. The actual contents and opinions expressed in the article are the sole views of MakeUseOf.com.
Back in 2006 through 2008, I spent many months working with a team of researchers trying to track down the origins of a very strange online hoax. These days, the details of the hoax are not so important as are the lessons that the research project taught me. The most important lesson was that you can accomplish a whole lot of amazing things if you just have the right tools at your disposal.
Plenty of research involves actively making calls or visits that most armchair Internet “researchers” don’t bother making. It’s the practice of traditional investigative journalism that is just as effective today as it ever was years ago. Phone calls and interviews won our team countless “scoops” back then, and we busted a number of scams.
However, what I noticed gave us a particular edge is the fact that a couple of members of the team were exceptionally effective at conducting very deep Internet searches into the sort of invisible web that Saikat described in 2010 and Ann wrote about in 2011.
While there are plenty of free tools available throughout the Internet to do a lot of those searches, when it comes to locating people and identifying their background and connections to other people – a paid People Finder background search tool is really the only way to go.
Find Anyone With People Finders
Back then, one member of the team signed up for a couple months of membership at one of the online “People Search” websites similar to the 15 people search sites that I described before here at MUO. That membership allowed us to locate the real address and associates of a couple of the scammers. In this article, I’d like to review a similar U.S.-based paid people search service called PeopleFinders.
Full disclosure – this is a sponsored review, meaning PeopleFinders have paid MUO to take a look at it’s service. With that said, I should make it clear that the editor of MUO has instructed me to review the software and offer my own unbiased opinion on the service.
Reverse Phone and Email Search
My first test was an easy one. At my website, I constantly receive phone calls via Google Voice from people requesting to become a member of the Illuminati secret society (don’t ask – it’s a long story).
I never really pay much attention to those calls, but to test this software I wanted to see if the reverse phone lookup worked as expected using one of those phone numbers.
The reverse phone search in this case only was able to identify that the phone number was a landline. To get more detailed information, the service requires you to pay an additional fee. So, right off the bat I wasn’t off to a very good start. Membership here offers a number of search features, but appears to include a lot of premium features that aren’t enabled (unless you upgrade).
With that said, the people search feature itself actually does work well enough to redeem the somewhat failed phone-search feature. If you search for a person by name using the service, it will perform a similar-term search, providing names that are as close to the name you typed as possible. The search is usually much more accurate if you set the State field rather than searching the entire U.S.
The results are actually pretty decent, giving you names, a list of current and past known addresses, and any phone numbers available in various public records.
To the right of the listings, you’ll see known email addresses for each person, as well as other people in the PeopleFinder database where there are public records suggesting a relationship with the person you searched for.
This is very similar to the type of listing that allowed our research team to identify the age of a person that we were tracking. With a known relative we could use to confirm the correct listed record from the people search, we were able to identify the listed birthday of the person. Once you have a birthdate, it’s much easier to dig for things like military records or educational records using other tools out there.
One feature that I’ve always found never works very well on the free services out there is the email search. So, I was really looking forward to testing the email search feature on this web service.
Using the email address of someone that had been mass emailing me for some time, I tested the service. I knew where the person lived, but had never bothered checking into the person’s name. I thought it would be interesting to see if I could identify the person using the PeopleFinders service, by comparing the reported address with what I know.
Interestingly, the service didn’t find an exact match for that email address, but it did report known email listings with a different email service that matched the original, at least in part.
Sure enough, the listing for the person displayed the correct address in New York.
So I knew it’s the same person. Now I know the full name of the person that has been mass mailing me for over a year now with snippets of news from the Ufology community. Interesting!
Performing Background Checks
So what about those deep background checks that landlords perform on prospective tenants, or that employers perform on employees? Can you do those?
Yes and no. The free service lets you search through the database for a person by name, city and state. Those results are similar to the straight name search I mentioned above, where you can get last known addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and relatives. The full background report to get any criminal history requires that you click on the orange “Background Report” button.
What you’ll find is that there’s a fee for each full background report that you want to pull from the system. These reports are stored in your account, so you can go back any time to review them, but just keep in mind that full, deep background reports are not included in the standard membership.
I did find that the background search does offer some pretty extensive listings for “possible relatives” for a person. From experience using these services in the past, I know that these aren’t always accurate listings, but the service tries to correlate relationships by connecting people that shared similar addresses during the same time period – categorizing them as direct relatives, or even listing possible roommates or associates.
The full background report will show you pretty much everything that’s in the PeopleFinders database on the person. That includes past addresses they lived at, known email or phone numbers, date of birth, and how many public records are available.
More details on those records are listed further down in the report. If the person has a fairly clean record, you’ll see “No Record” on every line item.
I should mention that the above report was actually obtained by accident. I clicked on a purchase button that wasn’t entirely obvious – so that’s something to watch for in this service. Those orange buttons are purchase buttons – be careful to click on them only when you actually want to buy the full background report.
There’s a variety of reports you can buy at PeopleFinders as well. I find the “Social Profile Search” intriguing considering all of the Facebook privacy concerns that have been brought up here at MUO over the years!
The Sex Offender Map
One of my favorite features of the site is thankfully a free service. That’s the Sex Offender search box that you can find on the home page of your account.
It’s unfortunate that such a service is needed, but if you’re the parent of young children, it’s kind of nice to know where registered offenders are living in your general area. You can select the location where you live or where you’re visiting, and the service will show the registered street addresses of all of the sex offenders in your zip code.
When you click on any of the icons showing the location, you will see the full profile listing off to the left. This includes the person’s name, DOB, identifying details, street address and even the offense that they were convicted of.
As you can see, PeopleFinder has a lot going for it when it comes to finding information about people that you otherwise would have difficulty locating just using your standard Internet search. It may cost extra to pull up criminal records or other public records, but the service does let you locate past known addresses, birthdays, relatives and more quite easily and included as part of the standard membership.
Have you ever used a people finder service like this one? Have you tried PeopleFinders? Share your own opinions on the web service, or what services you use to accomplish this kind of research. Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Image Credits: Sherlock Via Shutterstock