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Snooping 101

Despite advances in technology, modern life is often as full of mystery as it was for our offline ancestors. Whatever happened to that old college buddy? Is that cute guy or gal flirting with you on Facebook really who they say they are? Why would a Nigerian prince need your help to move a small fortune?

Fortunately, thanks to a globe-spanning network of instantly searchable information and a near-total erosion of privacy in the online realm, solving life’s little (and big) mysteries is easier than ever. Whether you’re trying to track down an old friend, verify the trustworthiness of a business, or even catch out a sneaky spouse, you’ve got access to a wide variety of tools and tricks to help you pick up the virtual breadcrumbs almost everyone leaves in their electronic wake.

While it might seem logical to take immediate advantage of a premium public search service such as Spokeo or PeopleSearch.com, you can find a surprising amount of information about companies and individuals alike without forking over any of your hard-earned cash. What do social media sites and the government have in common? They both love to collect data about John and Jane Q. Public, and with a little judicious searching, you can discover a person’s age, hometown, relationship status and known associates (that’s “friends list” in Facebook-speak), along with an overview of their criminal record, DMV records, marriages, divorces and more. Throw in a search of LinkedIn, WordPress or even a phone number related to your search, and you can uncover hidden contact information and job histories. And depending on which government records you search and compare, you can also find out voter registrations, real estate records, and tax information. Not bad for a few hours hunched over the old keyboard.

Of course, it’s not just social media sites and government institutions that contain a wealth of potentially useful data. If the target of your inquiry is one you know well, a quick review of the Internet history on their laptop, tablet, or phone can be rather…revealing. Obviously, this method requires bending (if not breaking) a few interpersonal boundaries, so you might want to think long and hard before grabbing that mouse or swiping that screen in the name of personal edification.

Snooping 101

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