Mobility is something we take for granted. Cars are cheap and readily available, and you can get a discounted flight halfway across the continent for less than the cost of a good meal. That means we have a lot of freedom to pursue our dreams (or at least employment), but it also means we often have friends and loved ones scattered across the country. It’s no surprise, then, that knowing how to track someone down when we need to get in touch has become a significant life skill.
So how should you go about it?
Understanding Your People-Search Options
On television, private detectives always seem to “know a guy” at the police department who can run a plate for them or otherwise tap into privileged information. That’s not an available option for most of us in real life, and it would be highly unethical or illegal (depending on the information) if it were.
In the real world, professional investigators often have paid access to privately held, for-profit databases, which is a business expense for them. If you want to track someone down as a private citizen, your options are more limited, but they can still be surprisingly effective.
There are essentially three avenues you can pursue:
- Searching the internet and social media;
- Searching publicly-available records; or
- Using specialized people-search tools like Spokeo.
Let’s take a look at how these three choices work, and how they can complement each other.
How to Track Someone Down Online
If you’re looking for someone online, your first thought was likely to type their name into a regular search engine, like Google or Bing. Sometimes that works, but unless you have some other information to put with it — not just “Joe Blow,” but “Joe Blow structural engineer Milwaukee” — you’re likely to get thousands of inconclusive results. If you have that added information, great! If not, social media might be a better option.
Start by hitting the major platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn) and searching for your person’s name. Try variations and alternative spellings as well, just in case. If you know what the person looks like, and they have an identifiable profile photo, that will help a lot. Otherwise, you’ll need to look at the other information they make publicly available.
Some people list things like a hometown, an employer, or their former school on their profile. Those can help you make a positive ID, if they’re there. If not, look at the list of each person’s “friends” or those they follow and those who follow them. You’ll often be able to identify someone through their known interests (Star Wars, birdwatching) or by someone who’s a shared friend. At that point, you may have enough information to reach out and make contact.
Using Public Records to Find Someone
If you’re looking not just to find someone, but to learn something specific about them — whether they’re married, whether they own a home, whether they’re still alive — you may find that public records are more helpful.
Records of birth and death, property ownership and the issuance of marriage licenses are kept at the county clerk’s office in most jurisdictions. The National Association of Counties maintains an interactive “county explorer” on its database, where you can click on a map to find the county you’re looking for.
Clicking on a county shows quick facts for that county, including contact information. From there, you can call, write, or (usually) click through to the county’s website. Many county sites allow for online searches or search requests, as well. However you make your inquiry, be patient: County clerks’ offices tend to be busy places and don’t always have a lot of staff, so it may take them a while to respond.
Use People Search Tools to Bring it All Together
Most of us have had the experience of setting out on a new project — bread-baking, photography, a modest home improvement — only to discover that we needed better tools to get the job done. When it comes to searching for people, that means (logically enough) turning to powerful people-search tools like those offered by Spokeo.
Spokeo’s tools can turbocharge your efforts in two ways. One is simply the time and effort that it saves: Instead of laboriously searching social media sites or public records offices, you can search a name, an address, a phone number or an email address and get those results neatly compiled on a single page.
The other is that it fills in the blanks. A Spokeo search might turn up two or three additional emails associated with a given person, for example, which in turn could lead you to their profiles on additional social media platforms or dating sites. If you didn’t know how to find where someone lives, other than “somewhere in central Illinois,” Spokeo results can help you nail down the correct town or county in just moments.
Finishing the Job
Whether you use specialized people-search strategies to fill in the blanks or as your primary tool, you’ll probably have to follow through with a few additional steps before you’re done. One might be to work your way back through the same searches, leveraging the additional information you’ve already found, to nail down as many details as possible.
You’ll also have to decide what to do with the information you’ve found, and that depends on your reasons for looking. If your goal was to reconnect, you can choose whether to do so by mail, phone, email or social media, depending on your personal preference.
If you were checking to see if someone you’re currently communicating with is really who (and what) they claim to be, your decision will hinge on what you learned. If the person checks out, that’s great news! If not, you might opt to break off communication with them or even — if they’ve turned out to be scammers — file a report with law enforcement.
Either way, Spokeo provides you with the tools you need to reliably find the people you’re looking for, through public information that’s ethically obtained and aggregated.