People search websites, also known as people finders, collect and make personal data available. Some are free, and others are paid. They are very popular because you can use them for a wide variety of purposes, such as learning more about a potential roommate, a new neighbor, or a prospective partner.
They are also used to look up old classmates and friends or exes. Members of the press, police officers, and private investigators turn to people search sites during their investigations.
Here’s what you need to know about these sites, what information you can get about someone from them, how to check if your data is on one, and how to have it removed.
How people search sites work
People finders are like data brokers. They are companies that collect, store, and sell data. They source data from public records, social media, and the internet in general. Sometimes they buy data from other people’s finders.
Free people finders are usually supported by ads. However, few of them are completely free. Most require users to buy one-time reports or subscribe. You can use people’s search sites to carry out background checks. In-depth reports will cost more than basic ones.
Information available from people search sites
The specific data depends on the site and the person you’re looking up. You might be surprised how much information you can get from one of these sites. When you do a people search on someone, you can expect to obtain one or more of the following details:
- Age and gender
- Name, previous names, and aliases
- Current and previous addresses
- Phone numbers and email addresses
- Current and previous roommates
- Marital status and divorce records
- Social media profiles and other online activity
- Family members, including nuclear or extended family
- Occupation and estimated income
- Education level
- Political affiliations
- Property records
- Criminal and civil records
Sources of information
Apart from online sources, people search sites get data from government and public records. Examples of these include, but are not limited to:
- Trademark filings
- Real estate transactions
- Marriage licenses and divorce decrees
- Birth and death certificates
- Any unsealed lawsuits or legal actions
- Census statistics
- Driver’s licenses
- Voter registrations
- Utility companies
- Political campaign contributions
- Government spending reports
- Legislation minutes
- Professional and business licenses
- Business and entity filings
Data from social media
Quora, Reddit, and other online forums can be goldmines for advertisers and data brokers. Keep that in mind when sharing information about yourself with them.
Advertisers use sweepstakes and mailing lists to generate leads for target audiences. Examples of self-reported details include mailing list signups, surveys, contests, sweepstakes entries, and warranty cards.
When you sign up for a contest, a mailing list, or sweepstakes, find out whether the company is allowed to reuse your personal data for other purposes.
How to check for and remove your data from a people finder
You can do a general search for your details or search specific sites for your name or other personal information. Most likely, the site will ask you to pay for a report.
If it emerges your information is available at a data broker, you can ask to have it removed. There are no federal laws prohibiting brokers from posting your information. There are some state laws, but public records are typically exempt from them.
Some search sites have opt-out forms or pages to request the removal of your data. The process can be complicated and involves tracking down record IDs or finding the specific URL with your information. This process will have to be repeated with every website that has your info.
There is also the risk that your information won’t be removed from the original source. You will need to watch for new people search sites that appear with your data. You might have to re-submit a request to a site that previously took your information down, but resurfaced.