Suppose a new guy moves into your neighborhood. Let’s call him Bobby Smith. Before his moving van is even unpacked, Bobby introduces himself. He’s friendly and good-humored, and he says you should come over for a barbecue sometime.
But there’s something off about him. So you decide to find out more about him—his career, his past, anything suspicious. But short of hiring a private investigator, what can you find out?
A lot, actually. You’d be amazed how much public information is tangled up in the web. No matter how hard we might try to disguise our past, much of our lives has been digitized and archived, just waiting to be discovered.
This is a double-edged sword, of course. If you want to find information on other people, that process has never been more streamlined. But you might be just as easy to investigate.
It’s a great idea to look yourself up and erase what you don’t want readily accessible. Click here to learn how to remove your personal information from the most popular people search sites.
So what can you learn about someone? Here’s how you can get the dirt on Bobby, for free.
Start with Google
Google is the easiest place to begin your search. Just enter the person’s full name in quotation marks, in this case, “Bobby Smith.” There are plenty of Bobby Smiths out there, so you’ll want to narrow your search using other information, such as what city he lives in. If he just moved to your neighborhood from Cincinnati, you’ll want to include that city instead of your own.
If Bobby likes to make friends, a bunch of different social media sites may pop up: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and scores of others. Many people make their social media profiles invisible to non-friends. To see details, you may have to send him a connection request.
Remember, though, many people don’t use their real names online. If you find Bobby’s online alias, (Smirk Bob, perhaps), you may find that Bobby uses the same screen name for his other social media accounts.
Finally, run a Google image search to locate pictures of Bobby. You might find out that Bobby is a champion swimmer. You might also find out that he was arrested for a DUI.
A one-stop shop for information
Afterward, try PeekYou. Instead of locking in on keywords, PeekYou looks for links that are likely associated with the people you’re looking for online.
When it finds information, PeekYou indexes all the links in one place for easy browsing. You can quickly see an overview of just about anyone. You can also search by categories, such as Interests, Work, School, City, Phone, and Email. You’ll be surprised by what you find.
Check out your neighbors
So what happens if Bobby doesn’t introduce himself, and you have no idea what his name is. All you have to do is enter your address, and this site will pull up a map of your block. You can click on houses to see publically available information about the people living around you.
Instead of rooting through his mailbox, which is illegal, click here for an online phone book that uses modern social-networking technology.
Find out where photos were taken
If you’ve never heard of The Beat, prepare to be amazed. As you may know, lots of digital photos are embedded with “meta-data,” including where the photo was taken. The Beat combines those “geotags” with Google Street View, so you can see what publically posted photos were shot in your neighborhood.
The internet doesn’t get more vivid than this: an album of images taken on your block by people you may never have met. Adding to the anxiety are the privacy issues that The Beat raises. So be careful about the photos you post, especially if you’ve used geotags to indicate where those shots were snapped.
Check the sex offender registry
The bottom line is this: You want to make sure Bobby isn’t a threat, and one of the most frightening threats is a convicted sex offender. With the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website, all you have to do is enter a ZIP code and run a search to see a list of convicted offenders in your area.
You see a picture of the person and their home and work addresses. In some cases, you’ll also see a risk level. Click here to check if a sex offender lives in your area.
If all goes well, you’ll find that Bobby is an upstanding citizen with a clean record and a lot of worthy friends. But it never hurts to double-check.
One word of warning: always take the information with a grain of salt. People search sites can accidentally combine separate people in one profile. If there’s another Bobby Smith from Cincinnati, the system might confuse the two, making you believe your neighbor is actually someone else.
Want to hear more about online research techniques? Be sure to listen or download my podcasts, or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.