I. Overview Of Topic
Do you need to locate an old friend, relative, associate or lover who you
haven't seen in months or years?
People search is one of those areas where the Internet really shines. If you know
the person's name and some other identifying info about him/her, you can
probably locate him via the Internet -- for free -- pretty quickly.
And if the person is deceased, you can find that out, too.
But be careful, it's not as easy as just googling the person's name. You
have to have a bit of knowhow in online people-search. Here are a few
of the possible problems you can run into --
-Your (female) subject has gotten married and has a new name.
-Your subject has a common name -- Smith, Jones, Wilson, Mitchell, etc.
-He/she simply doesn't want to be found. Maybe the person is hiding from
creditors, for example. It's not uncommon, which is why there's a huge
skip tracing industry out there.
-The person is in the military.
-Your subject is deceased.
I'll suggest ways to deal with these complications below. However, be
aware there's never an absolute guarantee you'll find your man or woman.
It's a fact that some people just can't be found. Most can, though, with
a little informed searching.
By the way, did you know the phrase people search is one of
the most commonly searched keyword phrases entered on Google? Every day
thousands of people try to find someone, usually an old acquaintance,
school friend, military buddy, or girl/boyfriend using an Internet search
engine. Yet most never locate their subject this way. You'll only find
him/her using a search engine if the person is noteworthy in some way --
has written a book, has their name on a web site, has been in the news,
etc. Probably 19 out of 20 people can't be found just using a search
engine. You usually need other types of online tools.
Free Online People-Search Tools
OK, notwithstanding what I just said, go ahead and run a quick Google
search, maybe you'll get lucky. But even if you find someone with your
subject's name listed on Google, are you sure it's the person you're
looking for? If the name is at all common, you probably aren't. Identification can be a problem. Stop and think. What do you know about
your subject other than his/her name? Do you know the city or state the person
lives in or probably lives in (or used to live in)? That narrows your
search down a good deal right there. What about date of birth or age?
Either of those identifiers can be important if your subject has a common
name. What about a former street address? That can be extremely helpful should you
need to go to more advanced methods of search later (as I'll discuss
If you subject has a very uncommon name, or if you know his/her likely
city or even state of residence, you can try using one of the online
Two of the better ones are Addresses.com., and WhoWhere.com. Just enter whatever
information you have -- name, city, state, etc. and give it a try. If you
get a likely-looking hit, give him/her a call or send a letter explaining
your purpose and that you're not sure you've got the right person. See
what reaction you get.
But the online directories often don't work. For various reasons, your
subject isn't listed. So what do you do then? Here are some other free
online people-search tools to try:
- If you know the person's high school, try classmates.com.
- If you think it's possible he/she may be in the military, visit gisearch.com.
- Is your subject into fishing or hunting (as one-third of adult males
are)? Check to find out if he/she has a fishing or hunting license.
- Try a news search. For this you'll have to guess your subject's likely
city-of-residence, then search archives of a local newspaper in that city
or region. Just go to Newspapers.com.
- Check voters registration records. Again, you have to guess at your subject's most
likely area of residence. Many people don't realize that voters
registration records are public information, so even if they're trying to
keep a low profile they can often be found in this way.
- Do you know your subject's occupation. Possibly you can locate him/her
through his professional association or licensing board..
- Might your subject be deceased? Check the
If your online searches didn't pan out, you've got a hard case but don't
give up. Try the following telephone techniques.
+ Call the Department of Motor Vehicles in his/her likely state of
residence and ask to have a name search run while you wait. This one's a
favorite of private investigators and nearly always works, provided
his/her state-of-residence permits this type of search. (California,
among a few others, doesn't.)
+ Call his former employer and ask to be connected to the Human Resources
Department. Explain that you need to locate the person and ask if they
can tell you his/her present employer. Most employers won't provide this
information but some will. It's worth a try.
+Call the utility company (e.g., the electric company) and ask the
customer service rep if your subject is listed as one of their customers;
if so, request his address. Be open about your reasons for the request.
Addresses are public information, so the rep should comply with your
+ Call relatives and neighbors. You can locate former neighbors using a
reverse-directory website like Anywho.com. However,
read the following section for a few pointers on how to handle the call.
Finer Points of the Trade
Skip-tracing is actually a finely-honed art which has been around for many
years, in fact, decades. Traditionally, it's been done almost entirely via the telephone
by people who've made a profession out of it. Almost always, the purpose
of the skip trace has been financial - locating a skip who has disappeared
Although readers of this Guide will probably be searching for friends or
relatives, not financial deadbeats, it's worth going over a few of the
tried-and-true principles of skip tracing (e.g., people search), especially if you will need to
use the telephone in your searching. Here's what veterans of skip tracing
- When speaking to a possible source of information, always remember to
start by saying, "I wonder if you could help me." This puts the person in a
cooperative, nondefensive frame of mind.
- When placing a call to the skip's last known address, ask in a casual
tone of voice to speak to him/her -- for example, "Hi, I'd like to speak to
Bill." If the person who answers the phone says he's not there or doesn't
live there, then ask if the person knows where he lives.
- Always strive to enlist allies in your search, say the pros. Be
personable and courteous to a fault to whomever you speak. Never take an
adversarial approach. Always aim at establishing good will and
Points to Remember about People-Searching
-People searching used to be nearly impossible for the average person.
Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, you can usually find your subject in
-That said, not everybody can be found, even if you work long and hard at
-Always begin your search in the most obvious, simple way. For example, if
you know your subject lives in Scranton, just call Scranton
long-distance telephone information and ask for an area-wide search. Or
try a free online search service like, Whowhere.com.
-If that doesn't work, try to remember what you know about the person and
then use specialized searches. Did he have a hunting license? What
college did he/she go to? Etc. etc.
-Still looking? Try the telephone techniques suggested above if finding
the person is important to you.
-If you can't find your subject despite your best efforts or if you're in a
hurry, consider using a paid people-search service. Even these are not
100% effective but they do have access to many proprietary databases you
can't use and may be able to find him/her for you right away. I've listed
a couple paid services I've found to be reliable below.
That's it - our ten minutes are up! (OK, maybe twelve or thirteen if
you're a slow reader.) Below is a listing of Web resources to help you
continue your research on people search or people locating.
II. Review Section
This Section provides reviews and recommendations of Web sites and other
Intelius is one of
the largest people-search operations on the Web and probably one of the
better ones. I have used this service myself twice, both times
successfully. You input your subject's name and state, then they provide
preliminary identifying info (subject's name & city/state) for all matches
found. You then choose the name match from their list which you think is
your subject, and they provide the specific address for that match. The
cost is $7.95. Alternatively, you can buy "24 hour access" to
their people search service (unlimited searches) for $19.95. The latter
would be a good bet if you're trying to locate a whole group of people,
e.g., for a reunion.
has turned online people search and background checks into big
business. They offer a large variety of investigative products on their
website, including people search, and they're competent at what they do. Their
search form is a little unusual in requiring you to indicate the
approximate age of your subject (though this does seem reasonable
enough). They then provide a list of likely persons in the city or state
you indicated (or even nationwide). You can obtain the addresses for
everyone on the list for $9.95. Like Intelius, US Search also offers
24-hour access to their people-search service for $19.95.
III. Discussion Group