What I can learn about you

Bismarck Tribune, Keith Darnay, July 28, 2008


You don't know me, but I know a lot about you.

I've got your number.

Your phone number, that is. And your street address. Your e-mail address. Your age.

I know the value of your house, your property taxes and your property assessments. I know what your home looks like outside and, under the right circumstances, I also know what the inside looks like. I know how to get to where you live from anywhere in the country.

I know if you've had any trouble with the law. I know if you filed bankruptcy or have any outstanding liens.

I know your personal interests, hobbies and some of the people you associate with at work or at play. I know the names of your family members and where they live or have lived.

It didn't take much effort or time on my part to find what I know about you. I got it all online. And most of it for free.

Does that bother you?

This is nothing new. Public records have been available to anyone who wants to access them long before the Internet arrived. Businesses and "interested individuals" routinely buy lists compiled from public records that track and detail your credit history, certain financial dealings, legal entanglements, martial status, home ownership, property taxes and more.

And to keep this all in perspective, there's a lot of information you can learn about anyone without the help of the Net simply by looking in the phonebook or asking a few innocent questions.

But in the pre-Internet days, that usually meant physically going to various towns and various locations in town to compile the information. Or spending money to buy lists of specific, often hard to get information. Or investing the time to correspond by mail with distant agencies and build relationships with key people in key offices with access to key data.

Not anymore. In the Digital Age, it's easy to collect a lot of public information in a short period of time using a computer, the Internet and a few resources and services.

Which seems great if you need to know information about potential employees. Or to learn a little about people and businesses you're about to deal with financially. Or to get a general sense about a new acquaintance or the person you're dating. Or if you're just a snoopy person.

But for everything you can learn about a person online, someone somewhere also can learn about you.

Which doesn't seem so great from that perspective.

It's surprisingly easy (perhaps disturbingly easy) to find free information about people online. And, if you're willing to spend a little money, you can find out a lot more.

How easy? Simply type in a person's name within quotes into any search engine. Go to MySpace (www.myspace.com) or Facebook (www.facebook.com) or any other popular social networking site and type in a person's name. Doing just these basic searches can turn up a wealth of personal information - most of it generated by the person being searched.

Just recently, PeopleFinders (www.peoplefinders.com) unveiled a series of free services that allow you to quickly check for criminal record summaries of anyone as well as build an interesting map of your neighborhood based on criminal public records:

1) Go to Criminal Searches (www.criminalsearches.com) to search available criminal records on someone in all 50 states. The site doesn't guarantee accuracy. The fine print at the bottom of the page notes the data "is collected electronically and errors do occur." It is presented "as is."

2) Go to Neighborhood Watch (www.criminalsearches.com/neighborhood/) to build a map of your neighborhood that identifies people and addresses around you tied to criminal public record information. Again, the data is presented "as is" and can be incorrect in some instances. Some of the data may be years old and not necessarily a reflection of current criminal activity in your neighborhood. Also, some states include minor traffic offenses in the data that is presented. Which means on the neighborhood map, information on someone who got a ticket for a broken headlight may show up with information on a convicted sex offender or violent criminal.

The PeopleFinders site offers several fee-based services that, based on the payment level, provides you with various public record information on an individual: Age, possible address, phone numbers, bankruptcies, tax liens and judgments, property ownership, aliases and maiden names and more. Other sites such as Intelius (www.intelius.com) provide similar fee-based services.

A lot of this kind of information is available for a lot less or free on many local, county and state government Web sites across the country.

If you're willing to invest a little Web time, you can quickly find all kinds of interesting information. Easy to find data includes:

1) Phone numbers. Among the best online telephone databases in terms of depth and current information are Dex (www.dexknows.com), Switchboard (www.switchboard.com) and AnyWho (www.anywho.com).

2) Street addresses. Again, Dex, Switchboard and AnyWho are excellent starting places.

3) E-mail addresses. A good starting point is Yahoo! People Search (http://people.yahoo.com). The Freeality Web site (www.freeality.com/findemt.htm) offers metasearch, which allows you to look for someone's e-mail address in several search engines at once.

4) Driving/direction maps. Once you know an address, you can generate driving directions and maps on how to get there. MapQuest (www.mapquest.com) and Yahoo! Maps (http://maps.yahoo.com).

yahoo.com) are among the most popular services.

5) Aerial photos of where you live. The GoogleEarth application (http://earth.google.com) is the most popular in terms of finding aerial and, in some cases, street level images of just about any location on the planet. You also can use TerraServer (http://terraserver.homeadvisor.msn.com) and TerraFly (www.terrafly.com).

6) Comments you've posted online. If you've ever posted a message to any newsgroup over the past 20 or so years, a record of your digital thoughts can easily be found. Go to the Google Groups Web site (http://groups.google.com), which is, essentially, a searchable collection of every posting to every newsgroup.

Other interesting and specialized free resources include:

North Dakota Courts

www.ndcourts.gov/publicsearch/

Quickly and easily search records from criminal, traffic, civil and, in some instances, municipal court cases. Different counties provide different levels of information; that is, records provided by one county may go back only a few years while another county's data may go back a decade. There's a link that details what's provided by each county.

N.D. Public Death Index

https://secure.apps.state.nd.us/doh/certificates/deathCertSearch.htm

Search public death records in the state by name. Any death in the last 12 months isn't included. From the N.D. Department of Health.

Burleigh County Property

www.co.burleigh.nd.us/property-information/

If you know the specific street address, you can get information on who owns the property, the taxable value, property taxes, special assessments.

Clandestine Drug Lab

www.usdoj.gov/dea/seizures/north_dakota.html

Intermittently updated list, by county and street address, of some locations in North Dakota where law enforcement agencies reported they found "chemicals or other items that indicated the presence of either clandestine drug laboratories or dumpsites."

(Keith Darnay is the webmaster and designer for bismarcktribune.com. His Web site, featuring this column going back to 1995, is at www.darnay.com.iec.)


This article was taken from http://www.bismarcktribune.com/news/opinion/columnists/keith_darnay/article_ef85345e-ac1f-5f69-ac9b-2c2622a02044.html


PeopleFinders is dedicated to helping you find people and learn more about them in a safe and responsible manner. PeopleFinders is not a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) as defined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This site cannot be used for employment, credit or tenant screening, or any related purpose. To learn more, please visit our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.