Using the Internet to Find Dirt on People

Why search for information?

Have you met someone new who interests you, and you'd like to know a bit more about them? Has someone been harassing you online, through e-mails, blogs, IMs? Are you hoping to find details on someone's past? There are dozens of reasons you might like to find "dirt" on people, and the internet is your best tool.  Knowing which websites to use and how to use them is the key, as well as thinking creatively when it comes to your searches.

There have been many instances when I've wanted to find out who someone really is when I'm online.  I go to a lot of message boards and every now and then someone will say something that I find intriguing or offensive. It seems that a lot of people like to hide behind their computers to spew hatred at anonymous strangers. I've been successful in finding their personal websites, Myspace pages, etc, and exposing them to others on the message boards, as an FYI service to other users.  I've used my detective skills to discover information about people I know personally, even those who have threatened me or friends. Once someone's internet activity is out in the open, they suddenly become much less bothersome.

Is It Legal?

You may have considered looking for information about someone online, but stopped yourself because you feared that it might be unethical or illegal. Unless you are a hacker breaking into someone's system, or you impersonate them to gain access to their information, there is nothing illegal about doing searches online. People willingly put their pictures online, as well as much personal information that is not protected by password access. I have found such embarrassing tidbits as someone's sex blog, masturbation blog, and ad on a risque personals website. All it took was entering a few key words and - bingo- there it was.

Before you begin your search, you should ask yourself if you are prepared to see whatever comes up. You may be shocked or feel betrayed. This recently happened to a friend of mine whom I helped discover that her soon-to-be ex-husband had been convicted several years earlier of domestic violence -- something he had never revealed to her. Be sure that you are ready to see just about anything, whether on a government website or data that the person him/herself has loaded onto a website. Sometimes it can be astonishing.

What You Need to Perform Successful Searches

Before you can jump online and find all this juicy information, you need to have a few pieces of information about the person, the more the better. Their real name, first and last, is essential. An e-mail address or user name (or multiples) are excellent tools. Any aliases that you know of that they use online can be searched as well. Other helpful data to know: birthdate, city/state of residence, job/profession, marital status, hobbies, interests, club affiliations. I've also had success tracking people down through their friends or family members. Can't find the person on Myspace or Twitter? If you know a friend or family member and can find them, you can often find the person you are looking for. Be creative. Any odd quirk or interest that someone has can be searched online. The more obscure it is, the more likely that when you find a person linked to it with the name of whom you're searching, it will be that person.

Where to Search

The place to begin your search is with Google. In my experience, it is the search engine that will give you the most hits. However, you should also try http://www.clusty.com, a search engine that categorizes your search results and can help you to avoid having to wade through a lot of useless hits. From Google or Clusty, you can click on links and go from there. In most instances, one hit that shows your person will lead you to several more.

To use the search engines, type the person's first and last name in quotations. This will search for that exact name. If it is a fairly common name, add another piece of information that you have, even something as innocuous as the city or state where they live. That can narrow down your search results. Be creative. Search the name with places, interests, companies. Anything to distinguish that name from all the others. You can also search the e-mail address(es) and user name(s) that you know for this person.

Other sites to search (using e-mail address, real name, or user name) include: Myspace, Twitter, Hi5, Facebook, classmates.com, friendster.com and reunion.com. Some of these sites allow less information to be seen than others, depending on the profile settings. You may have to register with an account if you do not have one. Still you may be able to see a picture or even a small amount of information that will give you clues into other searches you can perform.

If you have a full name, location, birthdate, and/or approximate age, go to www.ussearch.com or www.intelius.com. These are "people-finding" websites that will give you a little bit of information for free, and require you to pay for more. Without paying you will be able to see current and previous cities of residence and possible relatives, sometimes a business that they are associated with. You may discover that the person lived somewhere that you never knew about. If you find relatives' names, you can search them on Google, etc. to see if there are any connections to the person you wish to track down.

Most states have a website database of judicial court cases that have been completed. You should be able to search with a first and last name. Do a Google search for the state name and terms like "judicial", "court," "docket," "repository" or any other term you can think of that may lead you to the database. The information you can find here will range from traffic tickets to child molestation convictions. In some cases, the records will be sealed, but you will know that the person was involved in some legal case at that time.

Other sites to search are photo storage sites such as flickr.com or photobucket.com. Some albums are closed to non-friends, but some are not. Search a person's name on www.linkedin.com to see if he/she has a professional networking profile. Also search www.stumbleupon.com by name or location. This site will give you insight as to a person's internet browsing habits. Blog sites such as livejournal.com or blogger.com may yield someone's blog, which can lead to all sorts of interesting discoveries.

If the person is using a domain you don't recognize (not Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, Msn, etc) you can search that domain at www.whois.com. I found in one search that the domain belonged to the person I was searching and it gave a name, address and telephone number where the domain was registered.

Search sites like www.ebay.com, www.amazon.com with e-mail addresses or user names, and you may find additional user names (eBay), and wish lists (Amazon) that can give you information on what interests the person has.

It should be obvious to you now that the avenues for search are like a spider web. You begin with one person and a little information, and the more you find, the more possibilities for more searches you have. Creative pairing of names, places, interests, and e-mail addresses while searching is the best way to ferret out more information.


How to Use the Information You Find

Do NOT use what you've discovered to harass or stalk the person in question. If it were to become a police matter, your computer could be seized and your internet searches used to prosecute you. 

The information you find can be used to protect yourself, make you more cautious, or to advise someone when dealing with the person in question.  My philosophy is, if people put information about themselves on the internet, I feel no guilt when I find it. Perhaps it will embarrass them. Perhaps they should have thought of that before they did it.  Frankly, most of the information I find I never discuss with anyone. It's in the back of my mind when I deal with the person, giving me an edge in my interactions with them. Why do I need to know? Is it prurient? Perhaps.  But I also believe the more you know about someone, the better armed you are to deal with them.

Good luck, and happy hunting!

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