« Racy Egg Rolling Salt Shaker | Home | SPIbelt »

July 5, 2010

Google — What lies beneath


Eric A. Taub's March 25, 2010 New York Times story explored avenues to pursue when a simple Google search for someone doesn't get results.

Excerpts follow.


In the Internet era, finding a long-lost friend is relatively easy. But what happens when you want to find someone who flies under the digital radar, a low-key individual who leaves few traces to his or her existence on the Web?

Once only high-priced private investigators had the time and resources necessary to find those kinds of people, but if you understand the best strategies to substitute mouse clicks for shoe leather, the Internet makes the task fast, simple and often no-cost.

“First, ask yourself what you know about someone,” said David Sarokin, a federal government worker who, in his spare time, has extensively studied the best ways to find people online. (Many of his tips can be found on the eHow.com Web site.)

Enter the person’s name in Google or another search engine, and use quotes to surround the first and last name; that way, the entire name is searched. If the person is in a phone book, often the phone entry will pop up as the first Google listing.

The task is easier if you’re looking for someone with a unique name; trying to find the Joe Smith with whom you attended high school 40 years ago is likely to be much more difficult than locating a first-grade pal named Joop Van Heineken.

Conversely, said Jim Adler, the chief privacy officer for Intelius, an online data firm, “If your name is Tom Cruise, you’ll be unfindable on the Web — unless you’re the famous Tom Cruise.”

Search not just on names, but last-known places the person has lived. Do you know your friend’s profession? Enter names of professional journals for which he or she may have written. If you have an idea of a possible workplace, or a spouse’s name, search for those as well.

In addition to standard search engines, try affinity and social networking sites where your friend may have registered, like Classmates.com, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn.

Jigsaw.com claims a database of 20 million business contacts worldwide, with addresses, titles, phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Two basic searches are included when registering, and more contact information is available on a pay-per-use or subscription basis. One contact costs $5, while subscriptions range in price from $25 a month to $1,000 a year.

If the person you’re looking for is politically active, the Federal Election Commission's Web site (fec.gov) lists the addresses, ZIP codes and occasionally even the occupations of those who have given $250 or more to a national campaign.

Criminalsearches.com lists criminal and traffic violation charges for no fee. While the amount of information you receive free is limited, the date of the court action could indicate that the person is still alive. You could also try a sex offenders database that many states have online. In addition to the offense, photographs and home addresses of the individual are often listed.

Many of the search tips are only operative if you know an individual’s last name. Women who change their last names upon marriage can easily fall under the radar. (If you want to be found by long-lost friends, add your last name to your social network listing.)

Mr. Sarokin also recommends perusing wedding notices on the Web sites of major newspapers. Not only will you get a geographical hint but, if you’re looking for a woman, you’ll be able to see what her married name might be.

Many Web sites offer limited personal information free, like confirmation of an individual’s name, age, location and family members. To encourage you to pay, you’re enticed with the prospect of juicier information for a one-time or subscription fee.

Is it worth it to pay for personal information? “The pay sites are mostly unnecessary,” said Mr. Sarokin. “A lot of them are bogus and unreliable.”

But even those that are legitimate, like Intelius.com and PeopleFinders.com, may disappoint. To get the most out of them, read their promises carefully. Private online databases typically don’t generate their own information, but rather aggregate public databases, combining home-purchase information, salary, marriages and divorces, traffic violations, relatives’ names and liens, judgments and bankruptcies.

Many say that they guarantee certain information, but that promise often adds qualifiers like “information included when available.”

The best sites use various algorithms to sort through data, eliminating errors and duplications. But mistakes are inevitable.

If you can’t find any current information about an individual there may be a simple reason: he or she may be dead.

To find out if that’s the case, several sites including Rootsweb.com and Tributes.com offer free access to the Social Security Death Index, a listing of more than 85 million deaths in the United States. Legacy.com also adds a database of published obituaries from hundreds of American newspapers.

If you want to shield yourself from prying eyes, many sites let you remove information; click on their “privacy” links to find out how.

But if this information resides on public or commercial databases, it’s likely to pop up on other Web sites. The best way to stay unfound is to keep your name out of public records, as movie stars do.

July 5, 2010 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Google — What lies beneath:


The comments to this entry are closed.