Have you ever searched for yourself online? Just type in your name and you're bound to find loads of sites with links to your name, although you may end up reading articles about other people with your name who have no connection to you whatsoever.
That's fun. But it's not very practical if you need to find information about another person.
If you type in someone's name in a search engine like Google, for example, you could find hundreds of pages about the person, for free. You'll find important information about that person. But only if you have lots of patience.
On Google and other search engines, you will probably have to weed out information about a lot of people who share the name of the person you're researching. You could spend hours just trying to make sense of it. Worse, you could end up harshly judging someone based on bits and pieces of information that may or may not be about them.
Of course, you can pay a professional to conduct a background check on someone. They'll be thorough and it'll be worth the expense, especially if you're hiring someone to work in your business or to handle money and other confidential information for you.
Fortunately, if you don't want to spend a few hundred dollars or a few thousand, you don't have to. We've scoured the Internet to find these seven FREE sites that'll help you learn a lot about the people you're entrusting to take care of your family, your home or your business.
After you search Google and other search engines, you may have enough information about the person you're researching. If not, take these additional basic steps.
Google: If you have their email address or Facebook nickname, search for it in Google. You can learn a lot about a person this way, including places they've worked and events they've attended.
Then, move your search to social media. Start with Facebook. With 1.6 billion or so members, the person you're searching for probably has a Facebook profile. His or her profile page can be very revealing, in both good and bad ways.
Just poke around and look at their photos, the people they associate with, and their comments. Those three things can give you enough information to move forward with hiring someone (or dating someone), or enough to move onto the next candidate.
Keep searching, though. Especially if you're hiring someone, you'll want to check their LinkedIn profile. If they're who they say they are, you'll see where they've worked. Plus, people they've worked with will have input.
Warning: If you don't want strangers poking around your Facebook profile, follow our step-by-step guide to protecting your privacy on Facebook.
If you want to take things up a notch, try a free people search site like PeekYou. It scours more than 60 sites ranging from social media to news sites. Instead of zeroing in on keywords like the popular search engines do, PeekYou looks for links likely to be associated with people you're looking for.
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 search for people by their full name or username, if you have that.
Almost all the free information you'll find is from public records. There's a lot of it. But, there are a couple of heads up you need to know about.
One, with a lot of people-search sites, take the information with a grain of salt. They sometimes accidentally combine separate people into one profile. You might also just be looking at the wrong person's information. It's an easy way to get someone's social media profiles. Two, if you need to do a more in-depth search about someone, like finding their arrest record, you'll have to pay a fee.
If you need to do a background check on someone, ZabaSearch's free search is a good place to start. Type in the person's name, and you'll instantly get top-line information, like an address and phone number.
But, if you need to delve in a bit more, you can do a background check starting at just $0.95. However, you may need to pay as much as $39.95 for a criminal record check, as well as judgements, liens and bankruptcies.
That information could be worth it if, for example, you own rental property. If you've rented out your place before, you know a thorough background check can be invaluable in weeding potential renters who can cause serious financial headaches down the road.
Note: If you don't want people looking you up, here's how to remove your name from many people search sites.
4. White Pages Neighbors
Do you ever wonder who your neighbors really are? In the past, finding out where they work, or if they have criminal records meant you had to do a lot of snooping. You could ask other neighbors what they know, or get really nosy and ask the new neighbors directly.
Now, it's almost too easy to find information on your next-door neighbor. And all you need is their address.
Plug it into the WhitePages site and in seconds you have their name and age. You can click a link to get their phone number. But, get this, you can also see if they have criminal records, bankruptcies or liens, and other information. Note: You do have to pay fees for some of the detailed reports. But the top-line findings are free.
Plus, you can search for other people, not just your neighbors. If you know their address, you can type it in.
5. The Beat
If you've ever poked around on photo-sharing site Instagram, no doubt you've come across some interesting images. Now you can learn more about where those photos were taken with The Beat.
The site takes public Instagram photos that have geotags and combines that data with the corresponding Google Street View location. You can see what photos were taken in your neighborhood or search by hashtag to find related posts.
Note: Just be aware that other people can do the same to you with the photos you've voluntarily published on social networking sites.
You don't want to wonder if someone you know may be a sex offender. That's a terrible thought. But it's vitally important that you make sure you know who you're dealing with if you're hiring someone to take care of your kids.
Fortunately, it's quick, easy and free to search for registered sex offenders with the U.S. Dept. of Justice's Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW).
Type in the person's name in the upper right-hand corner, where it says National Sex Offender Quick Search.
Note: If you perform a background check as an employer or landlord, or for credit, medical or insurance reasons, you can’t use just any site or service. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, if you pay a company to do a background check, you have to use a Consumer Reporting Agency. Click here for more details about this.
7. Public records
In many cases, you can actually find information about a person legally through public records. You can find this information by contacting your local government offices, searching their websites, or even using Google. Most states and counties collect information that pertains to courts, land, marriage, estates and taxes.
For this type of search, court records would be of the most interest. They can tell you someone has been in trouble with the law. You can also see if someone has filed for bankruptcy in the past, which could be an indicator of their financial background.
What's the law?
When beginning the process of a background check, it's important to keep in mind that everyone has the right to a certain level of privacy. The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau have guidelines that must be followed so that you don't get into trouble legally. Click here for more information about performing background checks the right way.