Everyone has skeletons in the closet. Whether it’s Facebook photos of underage drinking in college or the complete criminal record of your sister’s new boyfriend, the internet is a treasure trove of background information. And while there are many fee-based services, it’s possible to learn quite a bit about someone from public records or through content found on online social networks.
While your initial impulse might be to run a check on somebody else, perhaps you should scan your own background first. The information you find could be preventing you from landing a good job, or even buying a car or home. You’ll be able to check your credit report and insurance information for inaccuracies. You’ll also see what potential landlords, employers, or anyone else can find out about you if they decide to do a little detective work of their own.
Either way, here’s how to run a comprehensive background check with dropping a dime.
Using search engines
The first place you should start is a web search. Google and Bing can easily pull up a ton of information, assuming you know your target’s name or any relevant information pertaining to him or her. The results can function as a starting point from which to branch out.
Isolate search terms by putting the name in quotation marks in the search query. Searching “John Smith” will yield the first and last name in that particular order and filter out any results that don’t match your exact specifications. Keep in mind that searching for a person’s name will bring up results for anyone with that name, so use additional terms to limit your results, such as a city of residence, a job, or any education info you know. The more specific the search terms, the more relevant your search will be.
Using social networks
Social networks offer an entirely different breed of data. While search engines may find information someone else published online about your target, social networks provide content that is controlled and voluntarily shared by the user. They may not always offer the most concrete information, but they can provide insight on your target nonetheless. Here are the basic places to start.
The social networking giant is your best bet when it comes to digging up dirt. If a given profile is public, you can search it by name and affiliated email address, and further home in using your target’s location, education, and workplace. If a Facebook profile is set to private, however, it will not appear in search results. Varying levels of privacy for different Facebook features means that some information may be public while some will be hidden.
If you’re frustrated by Facebook’s search interface, you can also use Google to search within Facebook’s web domain. Typing “site:Facebook.com ‘John Smith’“ will pull up content from John Smith across Facebook, even from private profiles if they’ve posted to a public Facebook group.
Boasting around 450 million users and counting, LinkedIn is a fantastic source for professional networking and background checks, assuming users provide accurate information about themselves. In terms of a background check, this will only help you learn about your target’s work history — it won’t provide much in the way of personal information since that’s rarely how people use LinkedIn.
The website is not quite as refined as some of the other social networking sites when it comes to revealing background information, but it’s potentially useful all the same. You can search by username or tweets, but the site lacks the more in-depth filtering mechanisms that make Facebook a standout. Twitter is also generally more useful for discovering your target’s personal tastes and interests as opposed to the basics, such as his or her contact information. Again, using the domain search option in Google as we previously suggested for Facebook could help you to uncover some useful information.
Discovering contact information
Profile pictures — especially those in which someone holds their camera up to a mirror and snaps a picture — may abound, but they likely aren’t what you’re looking for. Sometimes a simple phone number or street address is a more helpful data point. These websites are definitely worth a look, even if they do sometimes have a price tag associate with them.
We’re not going to lie, this service can get a little creepy. It can dig up what streets you’ve lived on for most of your life, the high school you attended, your job, your social media accounts, and quite a bit more, all for free. The site also presents a Google-like list of links to articles or pages that might relate to you, along with pictures of you from other sites that you didn’t even realize were on the internet.
This one does a pretty good job collecting data from a wide range of sources, including your social media, government census, and mailing lists. You can find out what street someone lives on, how much their house is worth, and their gender, for free. If you’re willing to shell out some dough, you can even get their marital status, family tree, education, occupation, and a host of other info. In our testing, Spokeo was pretty good at finding the right people.
When it comes to contact information, the official White Pages website is hit-or-miss. The site gives you the option to search listed people by name, address, or phone number, but the information is often out-of-date or requires a minimal fee to view through an associated website like Spokeo. You also can’t view financial background, work history, and the like without paying a fee. Regardless, it can’t hurt to check as some information is accurate and free.
Similar to WhitePages, ZabaSearch offers a fairly good index of people, and recently made its premium offering “free” as long as you log in with your Facebook account. Premium services also include an option for both reverse phone and Social Security lookups. ZabaSearch might be a good alternative if WhitePages doesn’t have the person you’re looking for.
Using criminal databases
Criminal background searches are often some of the most revealing and most warranted. You may not care about the financial background of a middle-school janitor, but you probably do care about his criminal background. The same goes for that babysitter you just hired for the weekends and that electrician working in your home. Thankfully, CriminalSearches allows you to perform criminal background checks online.
The service may cost you a bit of money to view the results, but it’s easy to navigate and allows you to look up criminal offenders by name, location, age, birthdate, and an assortment of other metrics. It’s also fairly extensive, outlining everything from violent crimes and sex-related offensives to behavioral issues and minor traffic violations.
Using public records
Needless to say, the internet has made access to public records a lot easier. While some information is still kept confidential for one reason or another, there are many organizations and government websites that compile and make public records readily available.
Searchsystems.net serves as an impressive and reliable starting point if you’re looking for background information in the realm of national or international public records. With access to more than 36,000 public records databases, the site allows you to search for different types of public information, such as birth and campaign finance records, before directing you to the appropriate website that contains the records. The site is free and easy to use, but merely serves as a gateway to other public records sites.
NETROnline.com is more difficult to navigate than SearchSystems, but provides a bit more control when it comes to obtaining public records. The site serves as a direct portal to official county and state record databases and even carries out criminal background checks for a small fee.
Viewing financial history
We all know your credit can make or break your financial desires. Most credit report websites offer reports for a small fee, or even free depending on your situation.
Innovis is one of the more trustworthy credit report sites. And it offers one free credit report per year, if you meet certain requirements. Otherwise, the cost to view the report varies between $3 and $11.50 depending on where you live.
You are legally entitled to receive one free credit report every 12 months from each of the large, nationwide consumer reporting companies, including Equifax and TransUnion. Some people are even entitled to more, if they qualify under state law.
Looking up web domains or IP addresses
It’s easier than you might think to figure out who owns a domain because the bulk domain registration data is publicly available — you guessed it — online. Whether you’re trying to purchase a domain name from someone else or simply trying to satisfy your own curiosity, there is a website to make your job easier.
Domaintools Whois (as well as every major registrar) allows you to type in a domain name or IP address in the search bar and find out who owns that domain. What’s nice about this service is that in the search results for any particular domain, Domaintools will also help you figure out what other domains a particular person or organization might be associated with. Keep in mind that some domain information is private — after all, some hosting companies offer this service to their customers — so you may not be able to see all domain facets, and might be presented with contact info for a third-party intermediary.