It’s a classic scene in the movies. The private investigator, or the hero of the story, goes to a computer, enters a name, and up pops everything about that person. The entire life history, right down to the person’s favourite breakfast cereal and current colour of underwear.
In real life however, it’s not THAT easy. Basic information such as addresses and phone numbers are easy enough to find (as a test, it only took me about 15 minutes to find the addresses and phone numbers of most of the MakeUseOf editors). But anything else is locked away behind a premium database where you have to break out the dollars to find out more.
But there are legitimate reasons why you would need to check on someone. Someone turning up claiming to be a long-lost relative when a will is being read, someone you would like to date but they like sharpening their knives too much…that sort of thing. Or maybe you’re looking for someone? Maybe you’re a landlord and the tenant has skipped out on his rent? Let loose the dogs!
So let’s find some free resources for checking these
psychopaths up-standing citizens out.
Start with Good Old Google
Let’s start with some simple options and work our way upwards. A simple Google search is often what’s only required to find out if anyone has any skeletons in the proverbial closet. We have covered Google operators before to make sure that you fire your queries quickly and easily.
Then check Google News. This obviously focuses heavily on the newspapers and magazines, so if your paramour has been up to naughty tricks in the past, the papers may have covered it. Finally, set up Google alerts, so you will be alerted to future mentions of that person. Really, if you’re looking to dig up dirt on someone, Google can be your friend.
When Google Fails, Try & Try Again
If you can’t find exactly what you are looking for on Google, then it’s time to turn to the reinforcements. There are other search engines which help in aggregating data on people at the click of a button.
PeekYou is one which attempts to locate social profiles for a person, as well as trace a person’s username on websites. It tries to charge for additional information by linking to Spokeo and enticing you with juicy details if you pay up. I recommend ignoring that.
Another one focusing on social profiles is YoName.
ZabaSearch is a bit of a double-edged sword. A US-only search engine, it gives you addresses, phone numbers, and names of relatives, and previous places where the person stayed. But if you want to get the juicy salacious details (the photos in the brown envelope proving the affair), then yes, get your wallet out.
Pipl is another avenue to explore, although I am totally unimpressed with that one. Despite my high level of activity on the web, all it could find on me was two photos. And that was after I gave it my exact location.
Ryan has also covered a few more background check websites in our Web guide for online research.
Find out If Someone Is Alive or Dead
Has somebody disappeared and you need to track them down? Maybe they are the master criminal and you are the hardened bitter cynical cop? First thing would be to check if your fugitive is still in the land of the breathing.
The first good place to check for graves is Find a Grave. As well as listing the location of famous graves, it also lists 121 million records of ordinary deceased people. You can search for a person or a cemetery, and even download an iOS app if you are out on the road in pursuit of your quarry.
If your fiendish villain was a US military veteran, you can check Arlington National Cemetery, or the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The National Archives also has military service records which can be accessed (although what the criteria are, I don’t know).
Next, there is the site Death Indexes, which covers, amongst other things, death certificates and death notices.
Finally, if your escapee is a writer, check the United States Copyright Office. See if any new copyrights have been registered in their name. Or check the US Patent Office for any recently registered trademarks.
OK, so the Dude Is Alive. What’s Next?
Here are some places you can check next.
LinkedIn is a good place to see if they have a profile. If they do, they will have their job history listed — including their current job. Geddit? Oh, you’re already in the car and speeding off….good job.
If they have a company, run it through the toll-free directory. If they moved the company elsewhere, it may have a new toll-free number.
Next, the dude could be a macho muscular shaven-headed thug with tattoos, currently a guest of the US prison system. So you can run their name through the Bureau of Prisons website and see where they are currently being held (assuming it’s not Guantanamo Bay!)
The US Government Publishing Office has selected court opinions from the US Appellate Courts, District Courts, and Bankruptcy Courts. Maybe your psycho neighbor juggling knives has been a really bad boy?
Speaking of the law, if they are a lawyer, you can put their name through FindLaw (assuming they are active).
VitalRec not only has death records, but also divorce decrees, and marriage licenses. So if the person went to Vegas, married a hooker, and then divorced them a month later, there will be a paper trail! VitalRec also has an international section.
Finally, check the newspapers. The person you are looking for, or whom you are looking into, may have been in the papers — in the crime section, or in the society section….dig through the archives with some US newspaper sources, and helpful non-US newspaper sources.
If you still can’t find the person….well then give it up. They’re probably right in front of you and you can’t even see them.
What online resources do you use to track someone down, or get information on someone? Let us know in the comments below.
Image Credit: Juggler Using Knives