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2011 March 21 - 12:00 am

TECHNOLOGY TODAY: ‘Background Checks on Web Can Yield Plethora of Personal, Professional Data

You may have seen the TV commercials. A nervous-looking young woman has a date with a man she met over the Internet. She wants to make sure that he’s not an ax murderer. To learn more about him, all she has to do is sign up with a service that provides background checks, for a fee.

There are good services out there that do just this, but there are also free Internet services that let you uncover information about people. If you want to learn more about a date, a baby sitter, a job applicant, or a contractor working on your house, or if you want learn what information others can see about you, these sites are worth checking out.

Google, as the most popular general search site, is the place to start. Just type in the person’s name. If the person has a common name, resulting in too many irrelevant results, you can try including a word or phrase connected with that person.

Afterward, click on “News” to see if the person has appeared on a news website aggregated by Google over the past 30 days. Google News archive (news.google.com/archivesearch) goes back further.

You can also try the popular social networking sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Facebook is by far the most popular, and it has done a better job recently of helping those who want to keep their information private. But workarounds exist. If you go to Google’s Advanced Search page, type the person’s name in the “this exact wording or phrase” field, and type Facebook.com in the “search within a site or domain” field, you can find comments the person has left on Facebook.

People, however, rarely talk publicly about their own criminal activities. Perhaps the best known site for criminal background checks is Intelius (www.intelius.com), a pay site. A full criminal check costs $49.95. This includes not only records of crimes but also lawsuits, bankruptcies, liens, divorces, income and other information.

The company has had some legal problems of its own, spelled out in its Wikipedia entry (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelius). As with any company through which you sign up for a one-time service, it’s best to check your credit card statements for recurring monthly fees that you may be charged by mistake.

Intelius provides information for a lot of other people search sites as well, which may provide other information on their own. One example of this is ZabaSearch (www.zabasearch.com). It can show you people’s phone number, address, and even a map to their house or apartment. But when you click on “Background Check,” you’re directed to Intelius.

You can sometimes obtain information directly from federal and state government agencies, more or less easily.

The U.S. Department of Justice maintains a sex offenders registry (www.nsopw.gov/Core/Portal.aspx) that’s easily accessible to the public. You’re warned, however, not to use the information to “threaten, intimidate, or harass” in order to avoid criminal prosecution or civil liability.

One good portal to information from multiple sources, including government agencies, is VirtualGumshoe (www.virtualgumshoe.com/resources). You have to dig around, and the resources are far from complete, but you can find information from marriage records to wanted lists, some free, some pay.

Another such portal is pipl (pipl.com), which bills itself as “the most comprehensive people search on the Web” because of its ability to search through online databases. It finds phone numbers, addresses, age, birth date, websites, blogs, reviews written at Amazon.com, and other information. Some is free teaser information, with more in-depth information requiring payment.

Interestingly, pipl also lets you search for information about someone using their online handle, or nickname. But since handles are rarely unique, you may turn up information about more than one individual, and this may not even include the person you’re looking for.

Similarly, you can search through pipl and a number of other people search sites by email and phone number. Don’t forget Google for this. Despite privacy concerns, many people leave email addresses or phone numbers in Facebook comments and elsewhere on the Web.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or

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