Private investigators find people and find out about them. The modern era (the past 10 years!) has been one of extensive public disclosure of private matters on the open Internet, where those with a computer at their disposal are found revealing friends, family, vacation locations, employment, lifestyle and loves and hates related to everything from food to a cheating spouse. This is outside the scope of traditional investigations: putting feet to the pavement, knocking on doors, interviewing witnesses, obtaining public records, verifying backgrounds and conducting surveillance — which are still the primary aspects of our work.
Professional databases of personal information have become more expansive at the same time that laws have restricted the terms of access. California motor vehicle registrations were open records when I started as an investigator 25 years ago. (Has it really been THAT long?) Now we have to be approved by DMV to retrieve vehicle records. On the other hand, scores of public records and privately sourced personal information are aggregated into massive databases, providing leads to where a person has lived, real property they own, corporations they’ve registered and how much money they owe to the IRS. Private investigators are adaptable. They have deftly extended their street skills to information research, while working within the privacy restrictions for information access, and then, expanded their repertoire into Internet sleuth. Hey, the folks we investigate made us do it!
Okay. This brings me to the reason that you’re reading this article. Undoubtedly, you’re searching your subject’s name through search engines and the social networks, but some people use a moniker and you may not know that. But if they registered at a site, such as Facebook or Linkedin, using an email address (more in a minute on constructing variations) you can find that and save their social network address and photo without ever going to the site. This is handy, too, if you like to match photos with your email contacts.
If you use Outlook 2003/2007 for email, add the Outlook Social Connector. It’s built into later versions but you may not have noticed it. Find Almost Anyone’s Email (just a bit hyperbolic) is a short guide on importing multiple email addresses for a quicker scan. At the end of the post, there’s a link to an email generator that you can use with a name and domain to produce lots of variations. Search the name variations with all the common domains: yahoo.com, gmail.com, hotmail.com, live.com and the antiquated aol.com.
Even if you’re not connected to the person, you’ll see their public status update, profile photo and Linkedin profile description. The box appears at the bottom of the compose mail screen.
The social network finding tool, Rapportive, is an add-on program for Gmail. After installation, open a compose window, insert one or more email addresses and scroll through them to find a match with the person you’re looking for. If the program hasn’t stored the email address, it won’t pop up in the right sidebar. So it’s not necessarily a bad email. Cross check it with Outlook Social Connector, which is making a real-time match, not just searching cached results.
Rapportive will display Twitter and Google+ profiles but Outlook just shows Facebook and Linkedin.
You can also verify if a Yahoo, Gmail or Live.com domain email is valid directly at the domain through each site’s “forgot password” page. At Live.com password reset enter the full email address you want to check. If it’s assigned then you’ll get the message “we need to verify your identity” that displays a different, partial email. In Yahoo, an expired address will return this message.
An assigned email address will return a screen that shows portions of a cell phone number and/or other email addresses.
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