We’ve probably all done this at some point. You meet someone in person or online, like on a dating site or at work, and you’re compelled to do a little “research” to dig up potential dirt on them.
This isn’t a bad idea, especially if you’re thinking about getting into a personal or business relationship with them. It’s a good way to protect yourself; knowledge is power, after all. Tap or click here to learn about some horrifying online dating scams.
You can find out a lot about someone online. But there’s only so much info you can glean if the person you’re looking for has locked down his or her social media profiles or erased all the info collected on shady online directories.
That’s why you need to stick with sites you can trust. Don’t get sucked in by those creepy people search sites that charge you for often outdated or incorrect information. Here are three methods to find reliable info on just about anyone.
Start with free public information
If you want to dig into someone’s background, start with public records. The amount of information collected by local, state and federal governments will blow you away. And lots of it is free for the taking if you know where to look.
Your first stop should be your local county assessor’s website. These sites contain detailed information on the properties in your area, from purchase price to tax information. You can search by name or address.
The easiest way to find your county assessor’s site is a quick Google search. Just type in the county you’re looking for, along with “assessor.”
Once you get there, you can see where your person of interest lives, get details on their home or any other properties they own and much more. You can even view signed documents like the deed to their home. Yes, really.
Feeling curious? Use the search feature to see what kind of house your boss has (and how much they paid for it), check up on your exes or see how much your neighbors paid for their homes. Sure, it’s a little creepy, but it’s all public record.
Every county assessor’s site works a little differently, but here’s an overview of how to search on the Maricopa County site here in Arizona.
Click on the Go to Data Online button next to the County Assessor option, then search by name or address. Click the magnifying glass icon to search and you’ll see the address, owner, parcel number and other information. Then click on the parcel number and to get even more detailed information and access any related documents.
Related: What’s the safest way to lock your smartphone? PIN, facial recognition or fingerprint?
If you’re having trouble finding the assessor’s site in your area, head to Publicrecords.netronline.com. This directory includes official state and county websites and can help you navigate to yours easily. You can even search by ZIP code to find the correct county.
Does your business partner have a criminal record?
Going into business with someone is a big decision. If you don’t know your potential partner very well, you need to find out as much as you can. Start with the basics: Does this person have a criminal record?
Luckily, there are lots of ways to find court records online. A simple search may get you there or you can use the National Center for State Courts website to quickly access court records by state.
While court records won’t tell you everything a background check can, they can be pretty enlightening. You can find information like civil and criminal cases along with family court and probate cases.
To get started, tap or click here. Click Public Access Web Sites, then select the state the person in question lives. You’ll see a list of county links that offer court information.
Select the county you’re looking for and you will be taken to the public access page for court information. Once here, select the type of case you want information on, including civil or criminal. Be thorough and check them all.
Each site will look different, but here’s an example of the menu you might see:
If you want to see someone’s criminal court case history, select Criminal Cases from the menu on the right side of the screen. Next, select Case History and search by name or case number.
Another way to get official docs
If it’s official documents you’re looking for, there’s another way to get your hands on them. But this will cost you.
Vitalrec.com is a resource for birth certificates, death records, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, land records and more. Many of these documents contain helpful information. For example, birth certificates typically show the parents’ full names, the baby name, date of birth and county where the birth took place.
This site isn’t free to use, though. First, create an account that comes with a free 14-day trial. If you don’t cancel your subscription, you’ll be charged $9.99 per month.
No matter who you’re investigating, these sources can tell you quite a bit. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way for you to scrub your public records and keep them out of other’s hands. Search for yourself and find out what’s out there.
You can control some of the other information floating around on the web, though.
Bonus: How to lock down your info online
Many people search sites already have profiles on you, and their entire business model revolves around charging you to remove the data they’ve gathered from social media and public records. They don’t exactly make it easy to delete your info.
There are hundreds of data brokers out there, so we’ll give you instructions on removing your information from the most popular ones without needing to pay. Click or tap here to learn how to opt out of people search websites.
Intelius: Intelius is one of the biggest data brokers on the web and owns a large network of sites like Classmates, iSearch, Peoplelookup and PublicRecords. It asks for proof of identity to remove your data, so you’ll need to fill out an opt-out form and either mail or fax a copy of your ID to complete the process.
MyLife: MyLife requires you to call to verify you’re opting out. You’ll have to provide some basic personal data, but the process is straightforward. Make sure to ask the agent on the phone to remove you from Wink.com as well, since it’s another site owned by MyLife. Call 1-888-704-1900 and press 2 to opt out.
PeopleFinders: This site offers an easier way to delete information. Go to the PeopleFinders FAQ page and scroll down to Privacy. Click How do I remove information from your website? and skip down to the click here link. Tap or click here to learn more about why you need to delete your info from this site.
Whitepages: Like MyLife, Whitepages requires you to dial in to remove your information. The process is a bit more roundabout since you’ll need to locate your profile with the search bar on top of the page, then paste your profile URL in the box on this page.
Once you’re finished, check that your info has been removed from Whitepages Premium. Sometimes the listings will only remove from the basic Whitepages, so be very specific with the person on the phone.
It is a process, but it’s well worth the effort when it comes to protecting your personal data. Social media platforms like Facebook have more information on you than you could imagine, so it’s a good idea to remove yourself from those if you’re serious about privacy.
Don’t stop there. Tap or click here for eight ways to delete yourself from the internet. You’ll be glad you did!