Google isn’t the only tool in town when it comes to digging up background information on other people.
Niche and specialized search engines are making it easier to do background checks on people.
Using specialty web search sites, people are finding out previously unknown information about coworkers, friends and family as well as complete strangers that doesn’t typically turn up on a normal search engine query. These specialty search engines typically bring together existing public records and make them easier to search.
ZabaSearch.com collects public records like criminal records, directory assistance information and birthdates.
Spock.com and Wink.com are two free people search engines that specialize in finding people’s personal pages on social networking sites.
Spokeo.com is a search engine that allows people to find out what their friends are doing on other websites.
Zillow.com shows the estimated value of people’s houses.
The Huffington Post Fundrace tool tracks people’s campaign contributions.
Jigsaw.com allows people to share business cards they’ve collected – a virtual social network for Rolodex information.
People have found dirt on their loved ones without even explicitly searching for it.
Doug Orlyk, from Bensenville, Ill., recently did a search on ZabaSearch.com to find the listing for his boyfriend’s address so that he could mail a card to him. What he found out instead was that the boyfriend had lied about his real age. It turned out that he was 43 years old, not 35 as he had claimed. “I thought, ‘You’re a liar! You’re older than I am!,'” Orlyk said. The relationship ended soon after.
Art Feagles, a tech professional at the Cate High School, a private school in Carpinteria, California, operates the computer system for the school’s alumni office. But his colleagues, who do fundraising for the school, keep asking him for another skill: researching potential donors on the internet.
In 2007 Mr. Feagles wanted to find out more about a potential donor by using the person’s address. So he used Google Earth’s aerial mapping tool to search for it and saw that the address was for a golf-course condominium. This information led him to believe that this was probably a second home, and therefore the person must be wealthy enough to make a good potential donor for the school.
Ray Chen, a cofounder of Spokeo.com, says he and his company don’t want to make it easier to stalk people. He says, “we’re just trying to make something that’s fun to use.”
Most people search sleuths start out by registering for a free account on one of the major social networks like Facebook.com or MySpace.com.
For people who find themselves targeted by nosey people, the bad news is: There is no guaranteed way to protect yourself from embarrassing personal information leaks.
However. you can avoid some trouble by going to the source of the leak. By keeping pieces of personal data from being made public in the first place. If you don’t want people to find your address online, make sure to keep your phone number and address unlisted.
If you don’t want people to find your Amazon wish list, Facebook or MySpace profiles or the pictures you have on Flickr, make sure to adjust your privacy settings on those sites accordingly.