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Last Updated: 10/13/2014 23:59 PST

How to do a People Search on the Web

How to do a People Search on the Web

Most of us at one time or another wished we could find more information on someone. Before the internet, the only option most people had was using a local telephone book. Those with more money and determination could pay companies which specialized in searching or background checks. Today there are many online services which make locating someone a breeze.

Why people search?

The reasons for wanting to do a people search vary. Some may be looking for an old friend. Others a missing relative. Or maybe you are curious about that former classmate you went to high school with. Some companies use people search as a means to do preliminary background checks on potential new hires or partners. And sometimes simple curiosity or the novelty factor prompts someone to do a people search.

How do they work?

People search sites are generally aggregators of data from many different sources. These include government agencies, banks or private sources. Some people search sites update their databases as often as several times a week while others only a few times a year. Look for people search sites which cast the widest net and thus have the largest database, ideally updated regularly.

Where do I start?

The most obvious place to start which is both quick and free is Google. With about 70% of the internet users turning to Google to find information, at this time Google is the undisputed king of web search. Google results can be highly accurate for the purposes of people search. The more specific information you can enter the more relevant your results. Where Google fails is if it encounters common names without any further criteria.

If Google doesn't do the trick, there are numerous web sites offering people searching services. Simple Google the term "people search" and view all the search results to get an idea of how competitive this industry has become.

The first way to find someone is to simply do a search by their names and state. The results may be so numerous as to not be much more useful than the standard White Pages. Other fields that obviously help are phone numbers and mailing addresses. However, if you're using a people searching service, it is likely you do not have possession of detailed information such as phone numbers or mailing addresses.

Some services offer searches using email addresses or, more recently popular, social networks. Tests find these services spotty at best, likely due to the high rate of churn as people change email addresses or discontinue use of certain social networks.

The bottom line is that no people search service can provide 100% accurate search results. Because the field of people search is so new, it's hard to separate reliable services from less reliable ones. The best due diligence is to do a search on the people search services themselves and see if there are any complaints against the company. A little bit of research ahead of time can potentially save you a lot of headache down the road.

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