How to Find People

December, 2013

You will have your own reasons for tracking someone down. Maybe a guy owes you some money, or an ex-spouse took your coin collection. You could be adopted and want to find your biological parents. Or perhaps you just want to locate an old friend that you lost touch with over the years. Whatever your motivations are, you could hire a private investigator, but that can be costly. Fortunately you can find people more easily than ever thanks to the internet, so we will start with the online tools available, and look at some sneaky techniques that may or may not be justified by the reasons for your search. Use this information at your own discretion.

The simplest way to start is to search the person's name online. Google is perhaps the best search engine for this, but because each one has a different database and results, it is worth searching using at least several of them. Even the lesser-known ones like can have results that aren't found on the others. If the subject of your search has a common name you might have to narrow the results a bit by adding the name of the city or cities with which he or she is most likely to be associated.

Another way to narrow results down with common names is to search for people in conjunction with any known interests or other connections. For example, if you were trying to find me, you would discover that there are a dozen of us in the country with the name Steve Gillman. It isn't a common name, but depending on how well you previously knew me it might still be difficult to determine which one I was. But if you recall that I love to play chess you could go to Google and search this:

"steve gillman" + chess

Having just done this I can tell you that every one of the first ten results is about me. In fact, the third or fourth result links to my name in a newsletter produced by the Southwest Florida Chess Club. Click through and you'll find that it is an old newsletter (February, 2012), but the phone number for the president of the club is still good, and the club still meets regularly, and yes, I do still play with them from time to time. So you found me, or are close in any case. That took all of sixty seconds, and a few minutes on the phone might be all it takes to get me address.

If the person you are looking for is likely to be in trouble from time to time, search the name plus "mug shot," and you might be looking at his or her photo from a police station. There are many websites that publish mug shots online now. List any interests and likely connections (other people, professions, etc.) and start searching.

What if the person you are looking for doesn't have a Facebook page, never goes online except to check email, and just doesn't show up in the results? You still might find something if you have a few details about the person. For example, if your subject changed his name, but you know that he loves to gamble, you might find his photo in a newspaper because he won a poker tournament or hit a jackpot at a casino. Of course, it could be very tedious to look at old newspaper articles about such things for hours, but if you have more information, like a probable area of the country to search or a more specific habit (he always bets on horse races), you can narrow the search and speed things up.

People are creatures of habit. Even when they are willing to give up their names, and move far away, they rarely are willing to change who they are. A bowler will still want to bowl. If you suspected which city he may have moved to, you could call bowling alleys there to get information on new league members. If I moved and changed my name, you could probably find me where people gather to play chess. To find people list all their habits and consider how these might predict their behavior and location.

Of course, most of the time people you try to find aren't really trying to hide. At least, they aren't trying very hard. Maybe they have left town and keep their phone number unlisted, but they probably haven't changed their names. For these simpler cases here are a few more techniques for finding people quickly.

Skip Tracing Using Mail

"Skip tracing" is an old term for tracking down people who have "skipped" out of town, or otherwise disappeared. This was the part of my job that I enjoyed when I was a bill collector many years ago. As mentioned, it is much easier today with the use of the internet, but there are other tools as well.

For example, you can send a letter to whatever addresses you have for a subject. When you send a letter, pay a little extra for "address correction." The post office will return a card to you with any forwarding address they have on file for the subject. You can also trick the subject into responding. Just mail a letter that has a phone number to call (make sure it is not one that the subject is already familiar with) and a hand-written note that says "Call me Jake (or whatever his name is). It's important." If there are no other clues as to the sender, most people are too curious not to call. Of course, you'll have to hope your subject gives up his location (purposely or due to your trickery) when he calls, but you will at least have a number to call back.

Find People Using Phone Pretexts

Another thing to try is to call any phone numbers related to that person. Start with his or her past phone numbers, and if you get an answer ask for the subject. If he has moved, you want to get any information you can from the person on the line. Use basic phone pretexts for this.

A phone pretext is just a useful story that allows the person on the other end to feel comfortable giving you the information you need. They can be as simple as "Hi, this is Dave. I'm an old friend of John's. Do you know where I can find him?" Be prepared, of course for a question or two, like. "Where do you know John from?"

More complicated pretexts might involve a temptation like, "I have a rebate check for $50 on a car stereo here that John never claimed. Do you have his address, so I can just drop it in the mail today?" If they refuse or claim they don't know where he is, give them your number and ask if they could give it to John if they talk to him.

Get any information you can while you have a person on the phone. Even when friends or family members refuse to give you an address or phone number, they might mention the city that the subject has moved to, or the new job that he started. Ask them who else might help you, and call those people. Using the internet along with your phone is usually the easiest and fastest way to find people for free.

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