Best People Search Services
We spent 40 hours searching for people and analyzing our findings. This was done with permission of the participants as people search services provide personal details such as work history, previous addresses and criminal records. Our choice for the best overall service is US Search. It has the best combination of price and report quality. We liked the easy-to-read reports that contained accurate information about our subject’s addresses, relatives and criminal history. You can get a single basic report for $2.45 or a monthly subscription of $19.95, both among the lowest costs we saw during our testing.
Best Overall: US Search has low costs for single reports as well as reports that include work history and social media accounts.
Best Value: PeopleFinders has some of the lowest prices, especially if you only need basic reports.
Best Data Visualization: Intelius has the best presentation of data, making it easy to see how the person you’re looking for is linked to addresses, employers and relatives.
Why Trust Us
We’ve been reviewing people search services for 10 years. We take great care to look at the accuracy of each report, and rather than looking at each service’s sample demos, we actually purchase reports of people we know personally and compare them to our subject’s biographical information to evaluate the accuracy of the information.
We also reviewed people search services keeping in mind that they are designed for personal use only, rather than professional use. Due to FCRA regulations, these reports can’t be used to make lending, renting or employment decisions. Those types of background checks are done by consumer reporting agencies, which are different services.
The services we reviewed all pull records from public databases and other public sources like social media accounts. Some variability is natural, so to account for that we ordered reports for multiple people so that we could assess discrepancies and include them in our ranking.
How We Tested
To test these services, we purchased, with permission, reports for three different people, including one of our reviewers. Our search targets had names that ranged from very common to fairly uncommon, which let us see how well the search element of these services worked.
For each report we purchased, we had the subjects verify the information to ensure it was as accurate as possible. We looked at email and phone numbers, addresses, assets, marriages, divorces, relatives and criminal history information in each report. We also checked to see how current the information was.
We found that most of these services did a good job with addresses, relatives and criminal history information. There was more variation when it came to finding email addresses and phone numbers, especially cell phone numbers. Some of this came down to how much our subjects shared on their social media profiles, and in some cases the service couldn’t provide any information at all.
Many people search services are adopting a subscription model. These usually provide unlimited searches, though some operate on a credit model. We like services that give you the option to buy individual reports, since you may only be interested in information about a single person.
The pricing we included is the non-promotional price. Many services offer promotional pricing that discounts reports if you sign up for a trial during checkout.
The single reports are usually sparce, containing only address and contact information. If you want an expanded report, those are costlier, but they contain all the information the service can provide.
When looking for our subjects, we found that the more information you can provide, the better. Especially if you’re looking for someone with a common name. Adding middle names, cities, states and ages can greatly reduce searching time. Most services have filters that let you narrow your results.
Because these services aren’t licensed as consumer reporting agencies, the reports can’t be used to make decisions about hiring, lending or renting. That doesn’t mean people search services aren’t useful. We spoke to Shawn Siegal from BeenVerified to learn more about how these services are used.
According to Mr. Siegal, the most common reason people search services are used is to reconnect with a lost friend, family member or professional acquaintance. They can also be useful for checking out blind dates or potential business partners.
Running a search on yourself is another way to use these services. This is a good opportunity to see what information someone else can see about you. Most services also offer a way to flag information as inaccurate, which helps the service tighten its data matching and provide anyone looking for you with the right information.
Of course, you can learn a lot about a person from their social media accounts. We asked Mr. Siegal how people search services differ from social media. He told us a people search report can give you a clearer view of someone, while social media accounts present a filtered version of a person. Additionally, many older people aren’t on social media, so using people search services is a good way to find them.
How to Reconnect With Someone
A Pew Research Center survey found that about 46 percent of those who use people search services are trying to reconnect with people, whether old friends, estranged family members, lost business associates or former flames. But if you’re willing to pay upwards of $30 to get the contact information on someone from your past, you need a careful approach if you want the best chance of success.
Here are some easy rules to follow when making first contact:
- Be Noninvasive. Give them the opportunity to ignore you. If the report has an email or social media profile, try sending a message or friend request. It seems counterintuitive, but contacting the person this way allows them to respond on their own terms, respects their right to privacy and ensures you don’t seem too eager. If the report lacks email or social media information, a letter is the next best option, as long as you...
- Keep it short. It’s tempting to write a lot, but too much is overwhelming. One to three sentences with your contact info is ideal. And you should...
- Avoid phone numbers. Since most of us carry our phones everywhere, this method of contact is tempting, but very invasive. It should be the last resort. And even if this fails, you should…
- Never show up to any of the addresses listed in the report. This is the easiest way to ruin your attempt to reconnect. It borders on creepy. Just keep in mind, if they ignore your email...
- Give It Time. Don’t repeatedly try to contact them. If they ignore the email or don’t respond to a mailed letter, give it several months before trying again.
How Can I Find a Person for Free?
All the information people search services collect and sell is public information. They simply make it easier to find by doing all the detective work for you, albeit through using web-scraping software and through the purchase of data in bulk from companies like Facebook, who collect it when people sign up. If you want to find a person on your own for free, put your detective-cap on and start doing some internet sleuthing.
Finding People Using Google
Google is so commonly used for finding information that “to Google” is now a proper verb. In fact, you’ve probably already Googled the person you’re looking for. Unfortunately, searches can be unproductive, especially if the person has a common name. However, there are ways to filter out the noise.
First, add keywords to the name in the search bar. It helps to think like a witness describing a criminal to police – any identifying information can help. Add those identifiers to the search terms: schools, cities where they’ve lived, age, professions, hair color, height, tattoos, etc. The more you know about the person’s history, the more likely Google can find them.
If adding descriptors doesn’t help, access the settings by clicking on a dropdown menu under the search bar. This provides advanced tools you can use to filter out a lot of the noise from the search, limiting the results by language, specific websites, how and where the search terms appear on a page, and the published period of the websites. You can also get tips from Google on how to best find the information you’re looking for.
If the advanced search tool doesn’t work, it’s worth looking in the images tab under the search bar. This shifts the search results from website text to images. In this search, it's easy to scan through hundreds of pictures to see if you recognize the person you’re searching for. If you find the person, you can follow the image to the website by clicking on the image.
Finding People Using Facebook
Facebook is the largest social media platform in the world with 2.2 billion active monthly users. Nearly 1 in 3 people on the planet have a Facebook profile and actively use it, making the chances of finding someone very high. In fact, the chances are even higher in the U.S. where 62-percent of the men and 74-percent of the women are on Facebook, according to a Pew Research fact sheet.
The best place to start is with the “Find Friends” feature next to the home button. This provides a list of people you may already know. You can scan through the profiles to see if you recognize the person you’re looking for. The list of recommended friends is never ending. As long as you scroll on the page, new profiles appear.
If you’re not having any luck finding the person by scrolling through an infinite list of people, you can search for the person using the search bar at the top of the interface. This provides a list of people with the same and similar names. To the right of the interface are tools for filtering the results by city, school, work and mutual friends.
However, if all this fails to produce the person you’re searching for, the final step is to try and find people who might know the person as well - other friends, co-workers, relatives. If you can find this other connection, they might have the information you need to find the person you’re looking for.
Finding People on LinkedIn
Since LinkedIn is aimed at professional networking, it is ideal for finding coworkers or business associates. That said, it is also an effective tool for reconnecting with old college or high school friends. In many ways, it is easier to find people on LinkedIn than Facebook and other social media platforms because LinkedIn profiles are meant to be outward facing –people who sign up want to be found for professional networking and job searching, so they’re less likely to be strict with their privacy settings. Still, only about 25 percent of the U.S. population has a LinkedIn profile, and less than 10 percent of people over 65 years old are on it.
Finding people for free on LinkedIn starts under the My Network tab. At first glance, the page lists profiles recommended for you based on the information in your profile –schools you’ve attended, industries you've worked in, companies you’ve worked for, mutual connections and interests. As such, you’re more likely to find people if your profile is complete with as much information about your professional and academic life as possible.
Similar to Facebook and other social media sites, the page features an infinite scroll that continually updates with new profiles as you scroll. However, for a more efficient search, you can enter the person’s name into the search bar and use a dropdown filter tool to narrow the results according to location, industries, interests, companies, languages and schools.
How Do You Search for Someone Using a Picture?
You might be able to find the person you’re looking for without paying for a people search report using Google's reverse image search feature. To use this tool, you upload or drag and drop a digital photo into the search bar on images.google.com. You have the best chance of finding the person if the picture is already online because Google searches for image tags and file descriptions matching the image you uploaded. However, if the image isn’t already online, it provides images similar to the one you’re searching for. You might find the person you’re looking for through a similar image, but it’s not easy.
To test this, I uploaded a bunch of photos of myself that I took with my phone, so the images weren’t already online with image tags and descriptions. An image of myself while hiking resulted in similar images of people hiking. It also resulted in websites for musicians and a Wikipedia page describing what a mountain is. I had the same issue when I uploaded an image of myself working out in a gym – images of people in gyms and links to weightlifting sites appeared. In other words, you might get lucky, but it’s best to treat reverse image search as a last resort.
Why Is the Fair Credit & Reporting Act Important?
In Broken Records, a National Consumer Law Center report on using people search services to perform background checks, Samuel M. Jackson was denied employment based on a misattributed felony conviction. The error listed the felony as occurring when Jackson was just four years old. In reality, the error occurred because Jackson shared a similar name to the actual felon.
Such egregious inaccuracies, according to the NCLC report, are widespread with people search services because there is an “industry-wide lack of accountability” and a very big incentive to “cut corners” in how information is collected and attributed. This makes using the reports these services sell problematic, and illegal, for employment screening purposes.
As the NCLC research shows, since these services are subscription-based, anyone willing to pay the monthly fee can view an unlimited amount of background information on as many people as they want. While we don't expect you to use people search services to screen applicants, this subscription model combined with a lack of accountability makes it an extremely tempting and affordable background checking tool, especially for small businesses looking to save every penny.
Each service we reviewed has a version of the Fair Credit and Reporting Act disclaimer on its website, but these disclaimers do little to stop you from using the reports to determine employment eligibility. But, as the anecdote shared in the report suggests, you’re actually hurting your business by accidentally eliminating quality applicants based on inaccurate information. To abide by the FCRA procedures for employment screening you must do the following:
- Get permission
- Inform applicant of how the information is used
- Promise not to misuse the information
- Provide a copy of the report to the individual
- Allow applicant to dispute inaccuracies
This process isn’t perfect, but it gives you the best opportunity to make better business decisions based on correct information.
Do's & Don’ts of Using People Search Services
The data these services sell is collected legally, either by pulling from public databases or by purchasing the information. For example, just like so many websites that require you to provide personal information, Facebook sells your data to anyone willing to buy it.
Since there is no way for people search services to police your intentions, it’s worth emphasizing the do’s and don’ts of using them ethically.
- Protect Your Children: You can use people search services to make sure your children aren’t interacting with potential predators. You can also use the free U.S. Department of Justice NSOPW database.
- Protect Your Identity: You can purchase reports about yourself to evaluate whether your identity has been stolen.
- Protect Yourself: When you buy your own people search report, you can make sure your information is accurate and decide whether you’re okay with what data is available for people to buy. It’s not easy, but you can get services to scrub information about you.
- Make Online Dating Safer: You can purchase people searches to confirm the identities of potential dates you find online or in apps.
- Find Out Who Is Calling You: These services can help you find out who is likely attached to an unknown phone number that keeps calling you.
- Make unwanted phone calls
- Send unsolicited or unwanted letters or emails
- Follow or spy on the individual
- Show up at their listed address unannounced or without a valid reason
- Wait outside their address, place of work or other frequently visited locations
- Send or leave unwanted items, presents or flowers at their listed address
- Post information or spread rumors about the person on the internet, in a public place or by word of mouth
The don’ts are behaviors of stalking, according to the Department of Justice. And unfortunately, people search sites make this all too easy. Since a quarter of stalking begins online and many stalkers deny their behaviors were stalking, it’s worth emphasizing so you can police yourself and not step over that ever-so-creepy boundary. Remember, most people value their privacy and don’t appreciate being contacted by someone who purchased their information.
Contributing Reviewer: Jeph Preece, Senior Domain Editor