The Pesky Problem of People-Finding

The challenges of people searching and background investigations

At the upcoming WebSearch University conference, I’m presenting a session called “The Pesky Problem of People-Finding.” I must credit program director Marydee Ojala for the catchy title. I liked it immediately, because it really highlights how frustrating investigating people can be.

So what’s so annoying about people-finding? Here are my top reasons, and I’d love to hear yours:

It’s an exact science – Making sure you’re investigating the right person can be tricky. When researching an industry, for example, there’s little doubt about whether or not the article you’ve found actually covers your industry. Not so with people-searching. Try to obtain as many clues (location, DOB, etc.) as possible to help identify your subject.

A rose by any other name… – One person can be known by a number of different names. Middle name or initial? Nickname or full legal name? First name first or first name last? And don’t get me started with maiden vs. married names! Gather as many name variations as you can, and make sure to include them all in your searching.

Good sources are hard to find – There’s no magic database for finding everything you need, so you’re often piecing together bits and pieces found in scattered places. Many sources are inaccurate, relying on computer algorithms, with no quality control. When researching people, always verify, verify, verify. Then verify again.

It’s a fine line between investigating and stalking – Make sure you or your client have valid reasons for conducting a background check, and always comply with consumer-protection and other laws. Some information is only available to licensed private investigators, so know when to hire a professional. Take care with sensitive and personal information, and create procedures for document retention and destruction.

In future posts, I’ll offer tips on how to handle these and other pitfalls – so let me know what annoys you most about people-searching.


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