Skip to Content
woman searching property online
© Andrey Popov |
Tech tips

How to do a free background check online

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. So you decide to find out more about him — his career, his past, anything suspicious.

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. Tap or click here for instructions on removing 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.

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.

Check social media

There’s a good chance you’ll find Bob on social media. Check Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, for starters. And don’t forget YouTube! He might have a channel that can help you learn more about him.

Remember, though, many people don’t use their real names online. If you find Bobby’s online alias, you may find that he uses the same screen name for his other social media accounts.

People forget that LinkedIn is a social network, albeit one focused more on professional connections. Many people who shun mainstream social networks still keep an active LinkedIn profile, which will be under their real name rather than a username or handle.

RELATED: Scammers love LinkedIn – Here’s a new step to keep yourself safe on the job site

Use AI to search for more photos

Facial recognition software is everywhere, as are our photos. If you’ve ever posted a photo online to social media or any other website, there’s a good chance it’s still out there.

PimEyes uses facial recognition, artificial intelligence and machine learning to perform a reverse image search. Simply upload a photo of a person and you’ll come across more photos of them. 

This site is also useful for finding more photos of yourself, which you can request to be removed. Tap or click here for our report on PimEyes, along with instructions on removing your pics from the search index.

Check out the property

So what happens if Bobby doesn’t introduce himself, and you have no idea what his name is. Just look up his address on a county’s assessor site. Anyone can use these resources to find information on properties. These are government-run sites that use data from assessors to estimate the value of real property within a county, city, town or village.

You can find out the value of the property, its size and the owner’s name. You can even find the owner’s signature and listings of other properties they own.

Not all assessor sites provide the same information, but they make for a great starting point for anyone who wants to know more about a property and who owns it. Tap or click here for more information on these sites.

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. Start your search at

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.

Check FamilyTreeNow

Genealogy sites go beyond looking into people’s employment history, address and phone numbers. They have historical records dating back decades or even centuries to help people trace their ancestry.

You can also use FamilyTreeNow to find the same information found on most other people search sites such as current and past addresses, contact information and possible relatives.

DNA kits sound cool, in theory. You can learn about your background and find out where you came from. But do you really want to send your actual genetic information to a company?

That’s why we created Opt-Out Tuesday, our weekly series on removing yourself from people search sites. Tap or click here to delete yourself from FamilyTreeNow.

A last word on people search sites

You might be tempted to shell out some money to learn more about Bobby — or a potential work partner or romantic interest.

Always take the information you find online with a grain of salt. People search sites can accidentally combine separate people into 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.

Don’t ever pay for any people search service. Many of these sites are scammy in nature. You may think you’re paying for one report and find that you’ve been duped into paying for something you didn’t ask for. People search sites are not a bad place to start if you want to find out more info on someone, but be careful when using them.

You may also like: Stop making this privacy mistake on social media

Tech smarts in 2 minutes a day

Get my Daily Tech Update and the Digital Life Hack. Just one minute each and arm you with the tech knowledge you need to impress your boss and friends with how smart you are.