You want to know a little more about an internet date or a potential new hire at work, but you don't want to necessarily need a comprehensive background check and definitely don't want to pay for one. With a little know-how and help from the world wide web, you don't have to. Here's how to vet someone online for free without being creepy.
It's prudent to know if you're going to be meeting someone sane for a date. If you're hiring someone new or at least part of the decision at work, you may want to know a little bit about the guy or gal who will be sharing your office for the foreseeable future. Several years ago, I had a stranger situation where the doorman in my building opened my mail, invited me to his house for dinner, looked up my mobile phone number in the building directory to call me at home and more. I wanted to know who this person was, to get a better idea of how concerned I should be, and the internet helped me out. Learning about others online can be useful when you have a legitimate reason to know, but it can be pretty creepy if you're basically becoming an online stalker. Some of these tactics are pretty reasonable ways to learn some useful information about another person and some are pretty in-depth. Use them at your own discretion and only for good. Please don't go out and become another creep on the internet.
Warning: Don't Sabotage Yourself
Before you get started, it's important to understand what you're doing and the impact it's going to have. While you can find out a lot of information about a person without their consent, you'll often miss the details either because they're not available or you're not looking for them. For example, you could find out someone you're thinking of dating is a sex offender. They could be a serial rapist who took a plea bargain and got away with a lower charge or they could have been caught with their clothes off in their car by a policeman. Address history, bad credit, education, favourite movies, and all sorts of things can paint a very specific picture about a person in your head, but without context, that picture could be very skewed. If you come across any information that worries (or excites) you, ask about it. Your knee-jerk assumptions may be far from the truth.
Use People Search Engines
The internet offers several search engines dedicated to finding information about a given person. While it's not always the best way to find the information you're looking for, it's generally a good means of locating enough data that you can cross-reference to find what you want. (More on this later.) We have a couple of favourites.
Pipl is very comprehensive and doesn't require more than a name. If you provide it with additional information, it will provide you with more accurate results. What's both great and problematic about Pipl is that it attempts to profile a person like it knows them. When it's correct, it gives you a very comprehensive look at a person. If it's not, you may end up believing false information about a person. For example, Pipl believed I'm 27 (which is true) but thought I could also be 51 (which isn't). It also confused me with Shunsuke Adachi a few times, because we both employ the same username: adachis. Generally you can detect when false information pops up in these profiles, but it's important to look out for discrepancies. It's very easy to miss what you're not looking for.
123People is equally comprehensive but asks for both a name and location (although the location can be as vague as a country). It also sorts its results into separate categories, which is great if you're looking for something specific. It also provides you with a means of obtaining additional information through paid public record searches, but presumably you're trying to avoid those if you're reading this post. That said, 123People is nicely organised and can be a great starting point when you're trying to find social media accounts and other places to look for more.
When using these sites, it's very important to remember that there's a high chance of finding information that's either inaccurate or about a different person with the same/similar name. Even though I am the only Adam Max Dachis on the planet, these searches still pulled information about other people. They're great as a starting point, or when you have a means of verifying what you find, but it's best to go in with the assumption that everything you find is wrong. You absolutely want to give the target of your search the benefit of the doubt and verify anything you find before you believe it. These search engines do find accurate, good information — otherwise we wouldn't recommend them — but they're imperfect. Remember that before you search.
Cross-Reference What You Know
While people-centric search engines can be helpful, regular search engines can often provide you with the best information. This only works, of course, if you already have some information to go on and can cross-reference everything you find. For example, say you come across your target's email address and it's [email protected] (apologies if this is a real email address). You can start out by searching for the entire email address and you might find a few things, but chances are all you need is awesomeguy1017. Your target has likely used it to register accounts on other sites, and simply searching for the name can bring them up.
Once you find some success with cross-referencing, you'll have more information you can use for the same purpose. You'll also find pictures and other telling data that will help you determine whether what you find is accurate or not. You'll rarely have trouble getting search results, but cross-checking and verifying is vital. If you go on believing false or incorrect information, you're doing yourself and your target a disservice. It's important to remember that your goal is to find truth and not just anything at all.
A good way to make sure you don't miss anything important is to use multiple search engines. These days it can be easy to just fall back on Google and never look anywhere else. You'll likely find that using multiple search engines will make it easier to find additional results you would have missed. Sometimes you'll just have the top 10 organised differently and you won't discover anything new, but generally there will be a page or two that one search engine considers far more important than another. Make sure you check more than one to avoid missing something that matters.
When All Else Fails, Hit Facebook
In general, you'll want to stick to finding information that's publicly available using the methods described above. An email address or Twitter handle can lead to usernames on more niche sites and forums so you can find a lot this way. However, if you're not finding much you can often fill in a lot of the blanks with the help of Facebook. Ideally your acquaintance is someone you'll feel comfortable friending yourself and you can gain access to their profile and wall — or at least portions of it — by sending a simple request. If that's not an option, however, you can pretend to be someone else. More specifically, an attractive stranger.
First things first: this is a fairly deceptive method and kind of a creepy thing to do. For the most part, you should never hunt down information about people by tricking them. That said, there are some circumstances where protecting yourself justifies being a little creepy, so use your own judgment because you essentially become a detestable Facebook stalker.
This method is pretty simple: you just create a fake account and use it to send a friend request to the the person you're investigating. It helps to have an attractive photo, some mutual friends, and similar interests. You want to be casual when sending the request, and if it doesn't work out don't push it. This is a last-ditch effort and definitely encroaches on a person's privacy. Only do it if you have a good reason and everything else has failed. Most people live at least somewhat in public these days, and the other methods should serve you well without the need to resort to deception.
Got any other great ways to vet people online to make sure they're not nuts? Let us know in the comments.