What is a people search?

There are times when it's necessary to look for information on another person: an address, a telephone number, or the person's place of work. Finding information about other people has never been easier, or more difficult, than in the age of the Internet.

Perhaps you'd like to reconnect with a college roommate, to reach a distant cousin with some family news, or to find a doctor who diagnosed you many years ago. It can be challenging to find a person's whereabouts or any information about him. Likewise you may want some reassurance that the person coaching your children is who he says he is, or that a new acquaintance actually has the job that he claims to have. People searches can provide most of that information.

History of people search

In years past there were telephone books that provided names, addresses, and telephone numbers. Town or county clerks in some states kept resident books that listed political party affiliations, occupations, and names of family members. Getting the information you sought was simply a matter of visiting or calling those public offices. Dialing 4-1-1 on the phone also raised an operator who would do a simple search for you, producing some useful information about names, addresses, and contact information.

Since the demise of hard-wired telephones in every home and the associated decline of telephone books, finding people has become more challenging. Everyone is more vigilant about providing personal information and acutely aware of the potential for litigation. Because cell phones are generally carried everywhere, people protect their phone numbers to avoid unwanted telemarketing calls that proliferated with the use of automated software that can dial hundreds of numbers an hour, called robocallers. The trend has been to use a cell phone for personal calls and email for business or quasi-social connections. The trend intensified when smartphones became a repository for all communications.

What's available on people searches?

People searches come in a variety of forms: simple information such as name, address, and telephone number, if any, or more in-depth information. Simple searches harken back to the telephone book and may be compiled by census data combined with historical information from phone number registries. At times a people search provides a little more information, such as age, that helps determine if you've found the right person.

Types of people searches

Reverse phone number lookups are popular people searches. If you've missed a call and don't recognize the number, you may search that number alone to find out who called. Oftentimes the information provided is scant and incomplete when using a general search engine. Specialized search engines that filter out unhelpful websites will hone the information down to a general location where the number is registered (if a cell phone), the person's name, and some potentially useful information on age and street address. If the call is from a landline the people search results will likely be more refined and contain more identifying information.

Email searches

Similar to phone number lookups, some search engines allow email searches which provide information on the sender's identity, location, and potentially his place of employment as well as where the email was sent from (IP address). The proliferation of spam and virus emails, fake email accounts, and other sophisticated means of scamming, attempted identity theft, or computer vandalism (hijacking via ransomware) pose challenges for those searching by reverse email.

Identity searches

Many options are available for those looking for more in-depth information than the simple name, address, and age information that's common in people searches. If you seek evaluative information such as length of time at a particular employer, civil and criminal cases involving the individual, names and addresses of relatives, schools attended, and other terms that fill out a profile, it's all obtainable through specialized people search engines that are available with a subscription.