How to be Veronica Mars: Getting Information via the Internet

You don’t have to be a tiny sassy blonde in order to sleuth your life away! All you need is a bunch of search know-how, a little creativity, and some perseverance.

There are many different reasons you might have for needing information about people. You may need to gain knowledge on potential employees, employers, dating prospects, roommates, buyers, sellers, caretakers, that shady friend… Sometimes a little free DIY background check is necessary to prevent yourself from making a huge mistake. It’s so easy to create a false identity by using the Internet, and on the flip side, it’s so easy to be fooled. Here are some of my tricks that I use to find out what I need to know, as well as what you can do to prevent people from finding out the same information about you.

Search Engines

This is obvious, but so many people don’t know how to utilize the full potential of a search engine. The information that you need is out there, it’s just hidden among everyone else’s details. These days, many people share everything on the Internet. They’re just giving it away without a second thought. And to start your search, sometimes all you need is a first name, a significant detail, and a search engine. You can use any major search engine—it’s up to you.

Once you know where to look, use these tips:

1.   Quotes for fine-tuned results: “Donald Draper”

2.   Use the right keywords: location, education, career, first and last names. You can also try searching for their name and location grouped with the activity you suspect: “Donald Draper” + “Rio de Janeiro” + “Starbucks” + “fraud”

3.   Search again on another search engine. Cross-reference and double-check everything for maximum accuracy.

Basic name and contact information can also be found at these people-specific search engines: PiplSpokeoWhitePages (reverse phone look-up comes in handy every single time). Don’t bother signing up for a subscription to these sites, though: you’ll get the basic information you need and you can use that information to search elsewhere (like on a major search engine). With these, you want to look up screen names, email, nicknames and phone numbers. Screen names usually turn up the best results because these are what people use to assume their Internet identity. People also tend to keep the same username across various accounts, so search for the same one across multiple websites. What I also like about these people-specific search engines is that they tell you when there are more online accounts for the person you’re investigating.

Keep this in mind when you are signing up for your own accounts. Use separate email addresses/variations of your own name when signing up for accounts that you wouldn’t want just anybody to find.

Yelp

Know where the person works? Use Yelp. Maybe they’ve been mentioned in a review. Or if their place of work has a website, check it out. Leave no stone unturned. You might find out that your hopeful employer is a real shady character who has a history of treating employees unfairly.

You can’t really prevent someone from using your name when they’re writing a review, so this is a bit tricky to prevent. You can try to limit the exposure of your last name, but this is very dependent on what kind of job/career you have.

Social Media profiles

i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Google+,Tumblr, Instagram

If you have access to a person’s Facebook, don’t just check out their history—click on their friends as well. Genuine interactions with other people are important. Anyone can create a hundred different profiles by using a hundred different email addresses, but it’s harder to fake an actual life. You’re looking for quality profiles! Conversations, details from shared events, responses to tweets, and photos with the people they say they are friends with—these are all good signs. An abundance of photos showing the person actually doing stuff, participating in events, hanging out with friends and such may bring relief, but this can still be faked. These photos could actually have been stolen from another Facebook! Interaction is very important: I cannot emphasize this enough.

If you have incriminating information on your Facebook, try keeping your own profile private and don’t post valuable information about yourself on other people’s walls. I thought I was being super careful by not friending my employers on Facebook, but unfortunately a few of my other coworkers had, so a manager was able to see a comment I made on a coworker’s wall that was not work-appropriate. Very frustrating, since I thought I had all my bases covered.

People

Do you know people? Then use them! Just be subtle. However, you should always keep in mind that all sources are biased, so try to scope out concrete definitive facts. Know the right things to ask (this will vary based on your situation, obviously). Pay attention to all the details. This is where it pays to be a good listener.

Before you go searching, be prepared. Do you actually want to find what you are looking for? It’s important to remember that whatever you find may be inaccurate or attributed to a person with a similar name. The Internet is a big place, and wrong turns happen. I’ve searched for people from my childhood and instead found people that could be them, but in a bizzaro, meth-y world. Take a break and try again later—maybe you overlooked a link.

Even if it is accurate, it may seem worse than it actually is without the benefit of the bigger picture. Keep an open mind: the Internet can’t give you all sides of the story. Also, please don’t do anything creepy. This is defensive investigating, not offensive. Use what you find to protect yourself and not to ruin any lives.

It’s too easy to find out information about people’s lives via the Internet. The same can be said about you. The Internet is NOT a place of privacy. It’s a community made out of glass and everyone can see what you’re doing.

Photo by Sara Slattery

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