How to find anyone online

In Anonymity, Information, Internet, Privacy on April 24, 2006 at 8:31 pm

And avoid being traced yourself!

In the days before the world wide web had invaded our lives and homes, tracking people down was a difficult and costly matter. But now, we live in the 21st century: almost everyone has an online presence in one form or another. It has become relatively easy to find someone online, if you know where and how to look. The down side, of course, is that other people can track us down too…

By learning how to track people down (long lost friends, relatives, debtors…) you can also understand how not to let your personal information be discovered by others.

Let’s say we are trying to track down Jolene Bloggs (a fictional name of course!). Note down any information you have about them: full name; aliases and nicknames; last known location; schools and clubs attended; company name, etc… This information is useful when conducting your searches, as we will discover leter on.

But where do we go from here? The first and easiest port of call would be to type the name into a search engine such as Google or Altavista and see what comes up. This is easier and more effective when the person has an unusual name. Otherwise, you may come up with a list of hundreds of people from around the globe who may have no bearing on your search.

You should type the name between “comment tags” for best results; you can also search for aliases, nicknames and surname only too. From here, you may find a few leads on your chosen trace: homepages, alumni inclusions and such. If the list is long, you could repeat the search including more information, such as the name of the company they work for, or the last school they attended.

Still no luck? More information can be found by visiting the company/school/university/club home page (if you know them) of the person you are seeking. It is always a good idea to search Friends Reunited and Classmnates Reunited to see if they are listed too.

You can search the residential phone directory online for free, which details names and addresses. Usually you will need to know the town and preferably the first initial of the person for a good result. However, many people choose not to be listed in the public phone book to ensure that canvessers and unwanted callers cannot track them down at home.

By law, anyone eligable to vote in the UK should be registered on the electoral roll. You can search this online (usually for a fee) at 192.com and Electoralrolluk.co.uk. Searches on these websites can often bring up others who are registered at the same address, and include historical registrations as well as current ones.

Google Groups is an interesting place to search. You can find lots of information in this place as it holds records from bulletin boards from the early nineties onwards. Try searching for names, clubs and societies, places and companies relative to your search to discover any useful leads.

But what if you don’t want to be traced online yourself?

The most important thing to do is never post anything personal about yourself online, eg: address, postcode, personal phone numbers, date of birth, and is possible, your real name. This may seem elementary logic, but you would really be surprised how many people actually do open their hearts online, especially on home-pages and chat rooms. Identity theft is a common threat. Be very careful about what you make public knowledge! Here are some further tips:

  • Search for yourself online. If you are concerned about the publication of any personal information you find online, ask the web page’s webmaster to remove it and check that it has been done.
  • Use aliases on chat rooms and bulletin boards. Never give out your personal information in a profile and ensure that any membership details are kept in a secure database.
  • Remember that no-one can use or publish your personal information without your permission, so do ensure you read the terms and conditions of online memberships fully before commiting to them.
  • Ensure that your telephone numbers are ex-directory.
  • If you prefer not to have your details on the public electoral roll (which anyone can search!), then opt to be included only on the “edited register” where your details are kept private. Companies can still verify your address with your permission (for cretit applications, for example), but Joe Bloggs can’t find out where you live. However, historical editions of the electoral roll cannot be edited.

I found this post interesting when researching this subject; basically it’s a case study of what could happen when someone searches for you online. A little bit spooky for my liking…

In conclusion, here are some useful links to help you trace (and avoid being traced!) online:

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