In today´s world, being unknown on the Internet is something hard to achieve. Even when people might not have an active online life, there are thousands of databases circulating all over the internet that may contain our information and that can make us vulnerable to identity theft or other online fraud. Not to mention much more serious crimes. Despite the fact that many people don´t even have an email, they are still citizens and consumers, and their information is probably online in some kind of subscribers list, public records, or countless other databases that sell, share and distribute your information with and without your consent. This new digital world means that in theory, we are all searchable on the Internet, and privacy is disappearing fast.
When searching online for someone who actually has an online life –an email, social network profiles, online dating profiles, Linkedin, Facebook, etc- the amount of results might be overwhelming and very confusing too. According to a recent publication, 74 percent of American adults with an internet connection have a social media profile, and chances are many will have the same or similar names. Now imagine how hard it could be to look for someone in another country! That is why some companies are dedicated to gathering all the information there is online about a certain person, and putting it together in one place easier to search for. So when you look for a John Smith in New York, the promise is you´ll be able to find the records of all John Smith´s in New York easily and browse through the list to the find the one you are looking for. Now, whether that information is accurate or current, that’s another story.
People search websites at best are a handy online phone book or directory that searches the web and public records for you in one single place. On the negative side, private investigators and law enforcement say such websites put individuals at serious risk by publishing private information, and selling it across the internet. Your birth records and address and family members may be part of “public records”, but when sold to data brokers and distributed across the internet, you become a prime target for identity theft, fraud and more serious crime.
Did you know that in many criminals cases investigated by police departments across the country, that many crimes start with the criminal investigating his victim online? Google Street View, for example, is used by dangerous criminals, not just by honest citizens.
It’s also important to understand that people search websites have very limited information and are not always reliable. These websites might be of use under certain situations, such as when searching for someone’s phone number or address, but that’s about it. For more detailed information, and evidence that the information is accurate, consumers still need to rely on trained investigators when gathering important information and evidence is the objective. People search sites search the internet and online databases for you, but that is where the capability stops.
There are two types of people search websites. Primary sites aggregate all the data they find of a person from online public records and primary sources (like courts). Although it might sound trustworthy, these sites just take all the information they have and put it into a report without any verification. The data can be incomplete, totally wrong, or include information on people with similar and same names, and with different dates of birth, and even include records from profiles found on the internet, that are totally false! The information can also be outdated. But, what do you really expect for $9.99 or $19.99. As in other services and industries, you get what you pay for. No one is confirming the information is correct and updated, which often leads to huge mistakes about a person´s background and can even harm your reputation, or cost you a job!
The second type of sites only gather the information available online and put it together. No public records are searched, no investigation is done. These sites only aggregate anything that matches a name, an email address, a phone number or a physical address. The information from people search sites can be far from reality, and data is sent to customers in a computer generated “report” listing unverified data.
So, are these sites completely worthless? Not at all. For the small price, they do sometimes serve a purpose. International investigators in the media have warned that people should be very clear about what they´re looking for and about what they will be getting before paying any money. If you lost your high school friend´s email or phone number, and you want to get in touch with him again, then a people search website may help. But when you need to know if someone you met online is legitimate, or if you’re thinking of hiring someone, or you need real evidence to make an important decision, that a people search site is not for you. For situations that require clear evidence and answers, so you can make an informed decision, clients will still need to turn to a reputable private investigation company. Databases and social media screening have limits.
People search and people finder websites and so called “background check” websites will offer you information for as low as $15. Ask yourself, what can you truly get in this world for less than $100? Unfortunately, not much. Well, the same is true in this case. If you’re searching for a phone number or address, it might be worth trying a people search site for $20 or $30. However, experts say it’s important understand the difference between real investigations and real evidence, compared to searching the internet. Speak to a professional for matters of greater importance.
Privacy advocates urge consumers to speak to their elected officials and demand change in the industry, as many crimes are being committed based on the information being shared and sold by people search websites. If you’re concerned about your safety, your privacy or the safety of your family because of information being published about you, contact your attorney and demand the site to opt you out.
As the decline in privacy continues, so too will the number of databases tracking your every move and life history. Do your best to keep your information private, to protect yourself and your family. Avoid identity theft, blackmail, fraud, scams and other more serious crime by remaining a mystery to those trying to find you or investigate you. For matters that are important and require real evidence, contact a professional private investigator to discuss your case and how you can get clear answers. If you’re looking into a long term relationship, trying online dating, or are planning to invest money, time and your emotions, or maybe you are considering hiring overseas, these are situations that require the skills, resources and training of a private investigator. A professional background check investigation performed by private investigators offers not only information, but verified findings and evidence that you won’t find on the internet. Be safe, be smart, and get what you pay for.
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