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8.98
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Report Information

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Accuracy
B
A-
B+
A+
B+
A-
D+
C
D
F
Social Media Accounts
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Work History
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Timeline
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Pricing

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People Search Report
$2.45
$1.95
$3.95
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-
-
-
$1.95
$9.95
$19.95
Background Check
$39.95
$39.95
$49.95
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-
-
-
$39.95
$39.95
$19.95
Monthly Subscription
$19.95
$24.95
$19.95
$34.78
$26.89
$27.78
$13.95
$24.95
$24.95
$29.95
Download Report
Free
$0.50
-
$2.99
$2.99
$2.00
$1.95
$0.99
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Free
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Searching

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Search Interface
B
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D
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Search by Phone Number
Search by Email
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Best People Search Services

Our Verdict

We spent 40 hours searching for people and analyzing our findings. This was done with the permission of the participants, as people search services provide personal details such as work history, previous addresses and criminal records. We evaluated the reports based on the accuracy of the information, the pricing structure, interface design and how well the information was formatted for easy reading. Below are our recommendations based on our experience with these people search services.

Best Data Visualization: Intelius

Intelius earned our pick for best data visualization because the reports are both easy to read and visually interesting. For example, you can view an interactive relationship map showing relatives and professional connections within the person’s network. In addition, Intelius is one of the best people search services for buying individual reports ($4) rather than requiring a monthly subscription like so many other services, though you can still sign up for a subscription. The biggest downside, however, is you can’t download the reports you purchase.

For accuracy, Intelius earned a B+, which was significantly better than other services, but certainly not ideal. While the search function makes it very easy to find people using filtering tools, even when they have common names, the accuracy was a bit inconsistent from person to person.   

Intelius utilizes a unique spider-graph to display the person’s relatives, addresses, work history and other data points. Then you can filter the results of the graph so you’re only looking at the information you want, such as addresses or work history. This visualization of the information, and the ability to adjust it using the filter tools, makes the reports visually easy to grasp compared to other services.

Read the full review of Intelius.

Pro:

  • Spider-graph is visually unique
  • Provides work history
  • Affordable monthly subscription

Con:

  • Single reports are expensive
  • Can’t download reports
  • No social media information

Best All-Around Performance: US Search

US Search was one of the best performing people search services when it came to accuracy, pricing, interface navigation and report formatting. It’s not the best in any of these categories, but it’s among the best.

With this service, you can find the person you’re searching for, for less than it costs to buy a coffee and a few donuts ($2.45). With other services, you have to sign up for a monthly subscription, costing upwards of $30 to $40 per month, just to find the individual you’re searching. In addition, US Search includes social media and work history.

However, while the accuracy of the reports was above average in our test, it wasn’t perfect. We purchased full background reports for our tests, and while this provided more information – criminal records, social media, marriages, divorces, property and business ownership – the accuracy of the reports earned just a B grade in our tests. We found the addresses and property ownership records to be accurate, and finding people wasn’t difficult, even with common names, but the phone numbers and emails were inconsistent.

The layout of the reports is clean and easy to read. The information is divided into sections that you can bounce to from the top of the menu. The reports also included a map showing all the addresses and properties within a geographic context.

Read the full review of US Search.

Pro:

  • Download individual reports for free (with a subscription)
  • Easy to read reports
  • Affordable

Con:

  • Inconsistent accuracy
  • Lacks chronological information layout
  • Website is difficult to navigate

Best Value: PeopleFinders

PeopleFinders earned our pick for best value because it has the most affordable plans and one of the highest accuracy grades. You have the best chance of getting the right information at the lowest cost. That said, while the subscription isn’t the most affordable option at about $40 per month, you can purchase a single report on a person for less than $2. And since it had the second-best accuracy grade in our tests, you have a good chance of paying for good information.

In our test, each person said their reports were accurate with addresses, relatives, properties and businesses, but there were some inconsistencies with phone numbers and email addresses. In addition, the marriages of each person we bought reports on were not included in the reports. Social media and work history information was also not in the report.

The layout of PeopleFinders’ reports is appealing. It lets you skip to relevant sections using the menu, making it particularly easy to navigate compared to some services. And as with most services, it utilizes filtering tools to help find the person you’re looking for, so the more information you have on the person, the easier it is to narrow your search.

Read the full review of PeopleFinders.

Pro:

  • Affordable single reports
  • Affordable subscriptions
  • Above-average accuracy

Con:

  • Background check reports are expensive
  • Reports lacked social media information
  • No marriage records included

Best For Accuracy: Instant Checkmate

Every people search service claims to provide accurate reports, but Instant Checkmate was the most accurate in our tests. Not only was the information the most accurate, it included information many other services neglected, such as marriage and divorce records. It also flagged potential criminal records rather than including the information indiscriminately. This is especially useful if you’re searching yourself, because this service allows you to easily flag the inaccurate criminal information to have it removed from your report.

The reports we purchased included current and correct phone numbers, email addresses, relatives and associates and current and former addresses going back 15 years.

The reports are also among the cleanest and best designed. The information is laid out in a chronological timeline, making it easy to view the person’s history in a clear, linear progression. In addition, the left-panel menu makes it easy to navigate the report’s various sections easily without having to scroll endlessly.

Unfortunately, the biggest downside to this service is the cost. The monthly subscription is about $35, making it the second most expensive people search service we reviewed. It also costs $3 to download any of the reports you’ve received.

Read the full review of Instant Checkmate.

Pro:

  • Accurate reports

Con:

  • Additional fee to download reports

Best for Work History: BeenVerified

While you can’t use people search services to make hiring decisions, BeenVerified is the best service for finding someone through their work history. Often, the easiest path to finding and contacting a person is through their work, former work associates and coworkers. In our tests, while it wasn’t as accurate in some areas, the work history and social media information provided by this service was the most accurate and was provided in an easy-to-read report. The information was pulled from LinkedIn and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. So, you can probably find the person you’re looking for on those sites without paying an expensive fee.

BeenVerified did struggle to find marriage and divorce records in our tests, but it provided accurate addresses, including the most recent address. It also provided  accurate emails and phone numbers, including mobile numbers most services didn’t provide.

The biggest downside to BeenVerified is the pricing structure. You can’t purchase individual reports; instead you sign up for a $27 monthly subscription, making it one of the more costly services, especially if you’re just looking for one person. In addition, when you consider all the add-on costs, such as the $3 charge to download the report or additional charges if you want more information in your reports, such as property records, the cost of trying to find someone on BeenVerified can add up.

Read the full review of BeenVerified.

Pro:

  • Accurate work history in reports

Con:

  • Individual reports can’t be purchased

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 to Reconnect With Veterans

The friends you make while serving in the military can be some of the deepest relationships in your life. Veterans often describe the bonds they’ve made while serving as being closer than family. However, it’s not uncommon to lose track of your military friends once you’ve entered civilian life. Fortunately, there are  free tools you can access to find your friends and reconnect.

Here’s a list of government databases and websites devoted to veterans:

  • National Archives: The National Archives’ National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR) is a repository of millions of U.S. military personnel records. The report includes a person's last known address. However, to find your military friends here, you have to submit a written request that requires you to know a significant amount of information about the person you’re looking for. As such, this might be best as a last resort.
  • Department of Veteran Affairs: If you can’t find your military friend, the VA can forward a letter to any veteran who has filed a claim.
  • USA.gov: The official website of the U.S. government has a database of members, units or facilities. It even includes guidelines for mailing service members. This is, however, for active personnel.
  • Military.com: With 10 million members, this website is the biggest online veteran organization. Membership is free, and while the website offers a bevy of features for vets, the main purpose is to connect servicemembers, military families and veterans.
  • Military Connection: Similar to Military.com in purpose and scope, it’s a go-to site for connecting military with resources.  
  • Together We Served: This is a social media platform with over 1.4 million members. It’s like a Facebook designed specifically for military personnel and veterans, allowing you to not only reconnect with your military family, but to also share your stories and be part of the U.S. historical record of service.
  • VetFriends: With over 2.5 million members and a database of over 25 million records, this website features an easy search tool for finding your military friends.

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.

Finding an Old High School Friend
It's common for people to search for their high school friends, particularly as they get older. However, it can be difficult to find old classmates, especially as you drift further from your teenage years. Friends move away to college, start families, change names and get lost in careers. While a people search service is an excellent way to find your best buddy from high school, there is an even better tool – Classmates.com.

Owned by PeopleConnect, Inc., the same company that owns Intelius, Classmates is the largest database of school yearbooks online, and it is truly impressive. The yearbooks are scanned, page by page, into a searchable database. You can view the yearbooks as much as you want for free, and you can order hardcover versions for about $100 each. Some yearbooks date back to the early 1900s – I found my grandmother’s 1940 yearbook from a small farm town in Safford, Arizona.  

Classmates is also an excellent resource for finding out about reunions or for scheduling reunions yourself. You can invite all your classmates, so long as they’re registered and tagged in the graduating year. You can also leave messages and share memories and news about deceased classmates.   

While you can register for free and view as many yearbook photos and classmates as you want, you must pay for a subscription to connect with classmates. That said, a Classmate's subscription costs between $1.50 and $2.50 per month, compared to $25 to $50 per month for a people search service subscription. 

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.

What Is Reverse Phone Lookup & Why You Shouldn’t Trust it

For decades, you could find a person’s phone number by looking up their name in the white pages of the local phone book. Phone numbers are, after all, considered public information, though individuals often take steps to keep their numbers from being listed publicly. People search services use the public information found in local white pages and convert this into a database where the phone number can be searched rather than the name. This allows you to find out who is calling you when you get a phone call from an unknown number.

Unfortunately, you can’t trust a reverse phone lookup report. And it’s not the services’ fault. Rather, scammers use a technique called “Caller ID Spoofing” where specialized software is used to mimic local phone numbers on your phone’s caller ID. The scammer could be calling from the other side of the planet while your phone’s caller ID shows it as a local call. It’s an effective scam because people are far more likely to trust a local number and answer the call. However, caller ID spoofing also means the name of the person that comes back in a reverse phone lookup report almost definitely had nothing to do with the call.

To avoid these scams, the FCC recommends you simply never answer calls from an unknown number. If the person truly knows you and wants to get in touch, they are likely to leave a voicemail or send you a text message. If neither happens, it was likely a caller ID scam. If you do answer an unknown number, the FCC recommends the following:

  • Don’t press any numbers on your dial pad if asked.
  • Don’t respond to questions asking for yes or no answers.
  • Never provide personal or financial information over the phone.
  • Verify any calls from individuals claiming to be from companies or government agencies by hanging up and confirming the actual phone number before calling back.
  • Protect your voicemail with a password.
  • Use call blocking apps to filter out unknown and unrecognized phone numbers.

Should I Hire a Private Investigator to Find Someone?

If people search services don’t help you find the person you’re looking for, hiring a private investigator is the next option. According to Brian Willingham from the Diligentia Group, private investigators can find just about anyone, as it’s among their core skills. However, the bigger question he urges you to ask is why you want to find them. Just because a PI can find almost anyone doesn’t mean they will agree to it.

In addition to being bound by state and federal laws about the kinds of information they can share, PI’s are likely to vet your intentions before agreeing to take on your account. They need to make sure they understand your motivations for finding the person to limit their liability. Willingham argues it’s one thing to wish to reconnect with an old friend or a biological parent, but it’s something else entirely to look for an old flame or ex-spouse. As such, Willingham says the best private investigators will contact the person they’ve been hired to find to ask if they are fine with having their client contact them – the PI only passes the information along once the person agrees.  

The next question to ask yourself before hiring a private investigator is how much you are willing to spend to find the person. While people search services can cost upward of $40 a month, a private investigator can cost many times that an hour. This is because you’re paying for their expertise and their access to information consumers don’t have. And the result is costly. For example, the Diligentia Group charges a $750 flat fee retainer. That said, private investigators typically have a high success rate and a fast turnaround time, so if you’re desperate to find the person you’re looking for, be prepared to pay for it.

Why Is the Fair Credit & Reporting Act Important?

Broken Records, a National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) report on using people search services to perform background checks, shares the story of Samuel M. Jackson, who 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 shares 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:

  1. Get permission
  2. Inform applicant of how the information is used
  3. Promise not to misuse the information
  4. Provide a copy of the report to the individual
  5. Allow applicant to dispute inaccuracies

This process isn’t perfect, but it gives you the best opportunity to make good 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.

Do:

  • 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.   

Don’t:

  • 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.

How To Take Control of Your Digital Footprint

Kristina Ericksen from Rasmussen College argues for the importance of managing your digital footprint. She notes that a strong digital footprint is becoming ever-more important in today’s competitive job market. As important as it is to make sure you don’t post embarrassing comments and photos, you also need to cultivate a footprint. You have to assume employers are doing more than the standard background checks before they hire you.

To take control of your digital footprint, you need to consider the following activities:  

  • Google Yourself: It’s not narcissistic to Google your name. In order to see what needs improving with regard to your online reputation, you have to do exactly what others do when they want to know more about you. You can even set up Google Alerts for your name so you can track every time you are mentioned on the internet.  
  • Protect Personal Data: Be extremely careful about the personal info you share. Lots of websites require registering an account, but they don’t actually require the information to be accurate. When possible, use a pseudonym, fake addresses and false phone numbers. If you don’t think the website needs your info, don’t give it.
  • Opt-Out: You can opt-out of having your public information sold on people search services by looking for the opt-out form at the bottom of their websites.
  • Deactivate Old and Unused Accounts: If you haven’t tweeted in a long time, deactivate your account. It’s worth taking the time to delete accounts you don’t use anymore. Use this tool to see how easy it is to delete yourself. If it’s difficult to delete an account, consider changing the account details.  
  • Cultivate Your Footprint: While it’s important to remove unflattering comments and photos from social media, it’s also important to make sure you cultivate your digital footprint. Share and comment on industry articles. Show you have active interests, especially within the industry you work in.

Is Your Personal Information Safe?

According to the Insurance Information Institute, about 16.7 million Americans were victims of identity fraud in 2017. Adding to the concern, over 2.5 billion people worldwide had their personal information exposed to hackers in 2018, according to a list of the top 21 largest data breaches. In other words, there is a good chance your personal and private information is already on the dark web. But so is everyone else’s.  

In “Should Identity Theft Really Scare You?”, Nick Clements tempers the fear of identity theft by explaining how rare it truly is for anyone to actually pay a dime. Of the reported identity theft cases in 2014, 86 percent were account takeovers and 4 percent were identity takeovers. The remaining percentage experienced multiple types of identity theft.

Account takeover is the most common form of identity theft and occurs when someone uses your financial information to make purchases or gains access to an account and locks you out. Identity takeover occurs when a person uses your information to open new accounts and loans. The latter is far more dangerous but also far rarer.   

Clements recommends protecting yourself against account takeovers by setting up alerts to all your financial accounts, reviewing your monthly statement and paying close attention to any credit cards you don’t use. The key to making sure you’re among the 96 percent of identity theft victims who never pay a dime is to report the theft as soon as possible. The longer the identity theft goes on before you report it, the more likely you are to be found liable.

Protecting yourself against identity takeovers is a lot more difficult. As stated, your personal information is almost definitely already on the dark web, even if you’ve been extremely careful about protecting it. Rather, the best you can do is to monitor your credit report from all three agencies, looking for errors such as new accounts and loans.

If you’re concerned about protecting yourself against identity theft, read our reviews of the best identity theft protection services. Not only do these services help monitor the dark web for you, they can help in the process of getting your identity back if an identity takeover occurs.

Contributing Reviewer: Jeph Preece, Senior Domain Editor