In today’s Internet world of booming social networks, it’s easier to find lost friends and colleagues than it ever was before. In fact, the private world of yesterday is now an online world with open access to social networks, government databases, and public records. If you’re looking for a long lost relative or friend, consider the following free resources to trace people online.
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. The Internet is filled with opportunities to create a profile, and every single profile provides the Internet with additional data points about you that people can use to find you when they need to.
There are many websites that search standard social networks like MySpace or Facebook, butPiple is one resource that conducts a “deep web” dig for the name you’re looking for on “non-typical sites.” The search results from Piple are pretty impressive. You can read about how to use Piple at this article by Karl. Conducting a deep search for myself, I found that the results covered data pulled from profiles at MySpace, Facebook, and countless other sites like article directories and blogs. I was especially impressed by Piple’s efforts to dig for email addresses and content within miscellaneous web pages.
Another powerful search is Google’s Blog Search which will find anyone who has published to a blog on the Internet. The results on this search turned up my published articles at MakeUseOf, those at my three blogs, and even articles that I wrote for clients and had completely forgotten about.
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 year’s worth of Internet conversations dating back to 1981.
By far, one of the best search engine crawlers for finding people through searching all types of Internet content is 123people. I found that this website was able to find more accurate hits when I searched for myself than most other identity search engines.
Just a straight search without location found dozens of weblinks blogs, social network profiles and documents, most of which were an accurate hit. Needless to say, I’d recommend 123people to anyone looking to find if anyone they know has any content whatsoever published on the Internet about them.
Searching Social Networks
Social networks are very hard to avoid on the Internet. It’s impossible not to get sucked into a forum discussion, a Facebook group game, or connecting with industry leaders on LinkedIn. Because of this, the odds are very good that the person you’re looking for has registered and created a profile in at least one of those networks.
YoName is one free website that searches through a list of over thirty popular and obscure social networks including Imeem, LinkedIn, FaceBook, MySpace, Yahoo 360, Flickr, and Zorpia. We’ve examined it before at MakeUseOf. The results are displayed in tabular format so you can select which social network search to focus on. I found that YoName could only find a few of my online profiles.
Spokeo is a powerful social network tool that searches through a huge list of social networks and websites. It discovers things that aren’t very easy to find, like hidden Facebook profiles, posts or comments to YouTube, blogs or comments on Blogger, accounts on Flickr, Twitter, WebShots and more. The results are comprehensive and include results from over 40 major websites.
The only drawback is that to sign up you have to provide Spokeo with your email address and password so that it can actually access your email account and extract your contacts.
Jobs and Companies
If you know where someone works, but you don’t have their contact information, then tracing them by company or industry is your best option. There are several tools available that can help.
Jobster is a large database of job listings where you can find people not only by name, but within a certain industry or specific company. You can sift through the huge database of folks who’ve added their profile to Jobster in hopes of landing employment.
Another great industry search site is ZoomInfo, which is focused on company details. If you have a profile on the internet that lists your affiliation with a company, the odds are good that you’re in the ZoomInfo database. I even found myself listed in the database as co-owner of RealityUncovered, which is true, but it was only part of a few online profiles – meaning ZoonInfo can crawl profiles for company affiliations. Very impressive.
Online Public Records Search
Of course, if you’re conducting a full background check on someone, then you’ll want to find the following information:
- Residences over the last few years
- Criminal record check
- Driving record
- Birthday and birth location (for citizenship verification)
- Child predator check
If a person has a criminal record or any court ruling, it’s amazing how much information you can find about it online. If you know a name and birthdate of the person you’re looking for, that’s all you really need – although the location information 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, bakrupcies, small claims judgments and more, it’ll cost about $50 through Intelius. You can also conduct a phone number search, which is nice if you receive a prank phonecall from someone you don’t know. It will give you the latitude and longitude of the location, but for specific details you need to purchase an Intelius reverse lookup.
Google Government search sets the bar high with the ability to search through government news reports and even government websites. By searching names, you’ll often discover someone involved in government research, grants, or non-profit activities.
If you suspect the person you’re looking for is in prison, then search the state or federalinmate locator directories. Just pick a state, or search through the federal system.
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 conducting the search yourself. For example, digging through the state of Maine agencies I found where you can search through Maine criminal records.
Criminal Searches is one of the first truly free search websites that allow you to call up the criminal records of anyone based on name, location, birthday or age range. To test it, I searched for the record of a person in California who I know, from previous research, has a criminal record there. Sure enough, Criminal searches found it.
The results also offer the source of information (court office) where you can send for a copy of the entire case records (for a fee). Is this easy online access freedom of information or invasion of privacy? Should your criminal records be on public display on the Internet? Or is it more important for the public to know who the former criminals are and where they live? Either way, Criminal Searches is leading the way in making this information both public and very convenient.