Why Use People Search Engines?
The top performers in our review are US Search, the Gold Award winner; Intelius, the Silver Award winner; and PeopleFinders, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a service to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the best people search services.
When you want to reconnect with someone you've lost touch with, the internet offers you a lot of ways to search. While search engines and social media sites can guide you to some information, it can be time-consuming to dig through the search results. Rather than trudge through public records yourself, you can turn to people search services to do the work for you.
People finders generally provide you with basic personal information – names and addresses – about the person with whom you are trying to reconnect. Most services can also give you criminal records, aliases and social media histories.
People search engines are only for personal use, however. If you are looking for a background or credit check before starting a personal or business relationship, consider using background check services. Background check reports can provide in-depth criminal and financial history about a person. Several services offer both people search and background check services. Read our articles about people search services to learn more about how to make the most of these companies' offerings.
Dos & Don'ts for Using People Finders
DO use it for personal use only. People search services pull their data from a variety of sources, such as public documents and court records. Some services, like Spokeo and Instant Checkmate, can also pull information from social media profiles and include it on reports. These reports, however, are compilations of public record and not for business use. In fact, there are laws that prohibit use of people search reports except for private use. Here are some things you can use them for:
- Checking out that cute guy you met online before the first date
- Looking up the parents in your child's carpool
- Getting the scoop on a potential roommate
- Finding an old friend or family member
DON'T Use It for Legal Reasons. The Fair Credit Reporting Act limits the way you can use the results you receive from people search services. Because of this law, you are not able to use the information you've purchased from people search companies to determine a person's eligibility for credit, insurance or employment. If you want to purchase reports on personal information to use in these contexts, you will need to direct your attention to credit reporting agencies or employment screening services. So, don't use it for:
- Making employment decisions
- Deciding whether to approve a loan
- Screening tenants. While you can use it to check a roommate, you cannot use it when you are the landlord
- Qualifying for an educational program or scholarship
DO provide as much accurate information as you can. In order for you to reconnect with a lost family member or romantic connection, the information you use to initiate a search also must be accurate or you might get the wrong person if you get results at all. Along those lines, the more details you provide, the easier it is for you to locate someone.
DON'T expect everything to be up to date. Because people search engines pull data from public records, the reports you get may not be entirely current. In addition, people can actively suppress, through aggregates or data suppliers, the amount of personal information available for public viewing. This means that you might not be able to find current information for every person you try to locate.
People Search Services: What We Tested, What We Found
In order to test people search services, we purchased reports from each of the companies on our lineup. Some of the companies we tested have a one-time report purchase option, but several offer monthly or one-day or five-day passes. Some companies allow you to perform an unlimited number or searches during the time frame, while others limit the number of searches you can perform.
We focused our testing on what kind of information was available on the reports and how accurately that information was represented. We tested these services on subjects who had varying levels of public visibility – on people who actively try to suppress their information as well as on those who do not actively do so. Several of our test subjects were divorced, which made a difference in the results. The companies we tested had no input on the way we tested, and we did not provide them any results of the testing before publication.
The best people search services offer highly accurate results, as well as a large amount of information, on their reports. During our testing, we compared the information on the reports to the data our test subjects provided about themselves. Anything on the report that was incorrect resulted a reduction in the company's accuracy score. Because public records can often be outdated, we didn't reduce accuracy scores for out-of-date information.
Of course, it's important that the information in each report is clear and easy to read. We found that, across the board, the people search companies we reviewed provide reports that are clearly laid out and simple to grasp. We had no significant problems understanding the information each report presented.
Several of our divorcees found that their results included a huge amount of information about ex-spouses, sometimes more than the test subjects themselves. On occasion, a sibling's information was attributed to the test subject.
More Search Options Help Narrow Your Results
All of the people search services we reviewed allow you to initiate a search for someone by using basic personal information such as names, addresses, phone numbers and maiden names, which are typically the most common data points used for locating someone in people finder databases.
However, we also looked for the companies that allow you to search with information that is more specific, which can narrow down the results you receive. Searching by specific criteria, such as a general age, date of birth, or email addresses, can be immensely beneficial when you can't find someone by searching with the average data points.
With the ever-growing popularity of social media, we also found it useful when companies included social media as part of the search criteria. While a few services include social media results in their people search reports, a few also allow you to search by social media usernames.
As you initiate a search, you may find several potential matches. The best people search services will offer you a preview of the results with some identifying information – typically age, relatives and locations – that will help you choose the right person.
Protect Your Online Identity with a People Search Service
Searching for someone and finding a wealth of information can really open your eyes to the possibility that your information is available for others to access. Of course, you can purchase people search reports about yourself from these companies; it can be an enlightening – or chilling – experience.
The best people search services have an opt-out option you can use to remove your information from their searchable databases. This option is typically a little difficult to access, so you may need to contact the company to see if it is available. However, the opt-out function is only for its own search engine. It cannot remove your public records. Thus, if stops anyone from pulling up your information if they use that people finder in particular.
Another way to protect yourself, at least from inaccurate information, is to do a search on your own name. Many people search engines will allow you to then request erroneous information be removed.
People Search Services: Our Verdict & Recommendations
While there are many things to consider when choosing a people search service, it's important to first evaluate what kind of data you have available to use in the search so you can select a company that allows you to search using those data points.
Our top three services performed the best in our testing at giving you a variety of search options and accurate results. US Search excels at providing accurate previews before you purchase so you know exactly what you are buying. PeopleFinders offers a wide range of search criteria and ways to narrow your search. Intelius gives you unlimited access to reports on your account after you purchase them.
While the top three companies on our lineup offer the most comprehensive and accurate reports, there are other companies that excel in different areas. One company worth considering is PeopleSmart, which can show you how long someone lived at different addresses. BeenVerified scours social media to pick out not only social media profiles but other mentions, including press releases.
In finding the best people search engine, look for a company that can use the information you have to search and provide you accurate results, especially if you have an urgent need to reconnect with someone.
Contributing Reviewer: Karina Fabian