Suppose a new guy — let’s call him Bobby Smith — moves into your neighborhood. Even before his moving van is unpacked, Bobby introduces himself. He’s friendly and good-humored, and he says you should come over for a barbecue sometime.
But there’s something “off” about him, so you decide to find out more — his career, his past, anything suspicious. But short of hiring a private investigator, what can you find out?
A lot, actually. You’d be amazed how much public information is tangled up in the web. No matter how hard we may try to disguise our past, much of our lives has been digitized and archived, just waiting to be discovered.
This is a double-edged sword, of course. If you want to find information on others, that process has never been more streamlined. But it might be just as easy for others to investigate you.
It’s a great idea to look yourself up and erase what you don’t want to be readily accessible. Click here to learn how to remove your personal information from the most popular people-search sites.
So what can you learn about someone? Here’s how to get the dirt on Bobby, for free.
Start with Google
Google is the easiest place to begin your search. Just enter the person’s full name in quotations marks, in this case, “Bobby Smith.” There are plenty of Bobby Smiths out there, so you’ll want to narrow your search using other information, such as what city he lives in. If he just moved to your neighborhood from Cincinnati, you’ll want to include that city instead of your own.
If Bobby likes to make friends, a bunch of social media sites may pop up: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and scores of others. Many people make their social media profiles invisible to non-friends. To see Bobby’s details, you may have to send him a connection request.
Remember, though, that many people don’t use their real names online. If you find Bobby’s online alias (Smirk Bob, perhaps), you may find that Bobby uses the same screen name for his other social media accounts.
Finally, run a Google image search to locate pictures of Bobby. You might find out that he’s a champion swimmer. You might also find out that he was arrested for a DUI.
A one-stop shop for information
Next, try PeekYou. Instead of locking in on keywords, PeekYou looks for links that are likely associated with the people you’re investigating.
When it finds information, PeekYou indexes all the links in one place for easy browsing. You can quickly see an overview of just about anyone. You can also search by categories, such as interests, work, school, city, phone, and email. You’ll be surprised by what you find.
Check out your neighbors
So what happens if Bobby doesn’t introduce himself, and you have no idea what his name is? There’s a website where you can enter your address, pull up a map of your block and click on houses to see publicly available information about the people living around you.
Instead of rooting through his mailbox, which is illegal, click here for an online phone book that uses modern social-networking technology.
Find out where photos were taken
If you’ve never heard of The Beat, prepare to be amazed. As you may know, lots of digital photos are embedded with metadata, including where the photo was taken. The Beat combines those “geotags” with Google Street View, so you can see what publicly posted photos were shot in your neighborhood.
The internet doesn’t get more vivid than this: an album of images taken on your block by people you may never have met. Adding to the anxiety are the privacy issues that The Beat raises. So be careful about the photos you post, especially if you’ve used geotags to indicate where they were snapped.
Check the sex offender registry
The bottom line is this: You want to make sure Bobby isn’t a threat, and one of the most frightening threats is a convicted sex offender. With the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website, all you have to do is enter a ZIP code and run a search to see a list of convicted offenders in your area.
You see pictures of the sex offenders and their home and work addresses. In some cases, you’ll also see a risk level. Click here to check if a sex offender lives in your area.
If all goes well, you’ll find that Bobby is an upstanding citizen with a clean record and a lot of worthy friends. But it never hurts to double-check.
One word of warning: always take the information with a grain of salt. People search sites can accidentally combine separate people in one profile. If there’s another Bobby Smith from Cincinnati, the system might confuse the two, making you believe your neighbor is actually someone else.
Want to hear more about online research techniques? Be sure to listen to or download my podcasts, or click here to find them on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.
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Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.