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How to find someone for free on the internet

woman typing on laptop on table
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’re wondering how to find someone for free on the internet, you’re not alone. Whether it’s reconnecting with a college friend, or looking for a person named in a will, there are plenty of reasons you may need to search for clues about a person’s whereabouts online with a background check (opens in new tab).

While many people prefer the convenience of using one of the best people search sites (opens in new tab), there are other ways to locate someone online if you’ve willing to do a little detective work. Here are our top tips on how you can use the internet to find details for free about an individual you need to locate.

How to find someone for free on the internet: Preparation

Before you begin your search, it makes sense to compile a list of all the information you already have about the person. Even seemingly minor details can be useful in establishing their location. If possible, include information such as the following.

  • Name (including any other names they have used)
  • Date of birth or approximate age
  • Place of birth
  • Details about friends and relatives
  • High schools or colleges they attended
  • Previous partners
  • Previous employers
  • Property or vehicle ownership
  • Any criminal convictions 
  • Social media profiles
  • Hobbies or social clubs

If you have any mutual friends or business acquaintances, try asking if they recall any details you may have forgotten.

It also goes without saying that you should consider any reasons this person may not want to be found, and whether they will be comfortable hearing from you.

Man pictured from behind performing a Google search

You can find clues about someone’s location through readily available online information (Image credit: Unsplash)

The easiest way to track someone down is often through a simple Google search. You are, of course, more likely to find a person who has an unusual name or a name with a distinctive spelling. 

If you’re searching for a person with a relatively common name, try combining their name with other details such as their last known location. Type quotation marks around their name in the search bar to keep the search criteria as tight as possible.

If Google doesn’t yield any results, try other search engines such as Yahoo!, Bing, or DuckDuckGo. As the latter doesn’t conduct any profiling on its users, you’ll always see the same results as anyone else searching for this individual.

If you’ve found an image of the person you’re seeking, a reverse image search could provide you with clues about their location.

Also known as content-based image retrieval, this technique enables you to search the internet with an image, rather than written text, as your starting point. Once the search is complete, you’ll see details of any websites or other images relating to your initial image.

If you’re using a laptop or desktop computer, you can do a reverse image search by visiting images.google.com (opens in new tab) and clicking on the camera icon. Alternatively, you can use a search engine dedicated to looking up images, such as TinEye or Yandex.

Step 3 Search social media

Screenshot of the Social Searcher main interface

Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook can provide valuable clues about a person’s location (Image credit: Social Searcher)

By checking a person’s Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, LinkedIn, or Instagram profile, you’ll often gain an accurate idea of their location and how to contact them. 

One of the easiest ways to perform a social media search is by visiting these platforms, and entering basic information such as a person’s name and location into the search tool. Alternatively, you can often find a person’s social media profiles through a Google search by entering terms such as “Jane Doe Twitter”.

Should searching social media manually prove unsuccessful, you could try an engine such as Social Searcher (opens in new tab). As these tools monitor all public mentions on social sites, they can be quicker and have greater reach than a manual search.

Step 4: Search public records

When you’re trying to find more information about an individual, you can often find clues by considering key milestones in their life, such as births, deaths, marriages, and divorces. If such an event took place, there will normally be a record of it.

When it comes to accessing this information, the laws in every state vary greatly, so spend some time researching the specific laws in the state where you’re searching. Although marriage and divorce records tend to be public, birth and death certificates are often subject to stricter rules if they are less than 100 years old. You may also find that any identifiable information has been removed from any records you obtain.

Such information is generally maintained by the county’s clerk’s office, and if there is an electronic record, you may be able to request to view it remotely. You should be able to find an email address or phone number for the county clerk’s office on its website. You can then contact the department directly to learn more about the process for accessing public records in the area.

Step 5: Look up court records

Man noting down information he has found online

Legal documents may provide evidence as to a person’s whereabouts (Image credit: Pixabay)

If the person you’re attempting to track down has been involved in court proceedings, the documents pertaining to the case could provide vital evidence.

All federal court records are available through the online catalog at PACER.gov (opens in new tab), which provides information on criminal charges, bankruptcies, and civil court cases. Although you can register with PACER for free, there is a fee of 10 cents per page to access any documents. However, this fee is waived if you access less than $30 worth of information per quarter. 

PACER also has a case locator tool (opens in new tab) tool that can help you determine whether an individual is currently involved in any federal litigation.

If the person you’re looking for has spent time in prison, you may be able to locate them through an inmate search (opens in new tab) via the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Doing so will allow you to see the whereabouts of any individual incarcerated for a federal crime since 1982. 

You can search using a person’s prison registry numbers or through personal information such as their name, race, and sex. Note however that these records relate only to prisoners who have been convicted of federal crimes, and the website states that certain information regarding release dates may not be up-to-date.

If you’re searching for an inmate who was convicted prior to 1982, you could try searching the National Archives Records Administration (opens in new tab).

Step 7: Look for older relatives

Man’s hands as he conducts an online search

You could try contacting a person’s friends and relatives for more information (Image credit: Pixabay)

If you’re looking for a person in the millennial or generation Z age groups, they may have moved around frequently for work or school. Such a lack of stability can make people more difficult to trace, as they have had less time to establish roots in their communities and create a digital footprint. 

If, however, this person has older parents or other relatives, there is a chance their family members will have remained in the same place for longer, which could make them easier to find online. Of course, you should always exercise good judgment when contacting these individuals, especially if there are any sensitive issues involved.

Step 8: Find a free people search tool

Man searching on the internet in an office environment

You may be able to find a free people search tool (Image credit: Pixabay)

If you’ve taken all the steps listed above and you’re still having problems tracking someone down, using a people search site could be your next step. 

Although you’ll normally need to pay a monthly fee to use these services, like PeopleFinders (opens in new tab) or TruthFinder (opens in new tab), the best free people search sites (opens in new tab) such as Whitepages enable you to use a limited version of features free-of-charge. By obtaining a free basic report, you can see details such as a person's full name, age range, landline information, and address. 

The service also includes a free reverse phone lookup, which enables you to type a phone number into its search tool and, if the information is a matter of public record, find details of the phone’s owner and whether the number is known to be associated with any fraudulent activity.

Step 9: Set up a Google alert

Even if you’re not currently able to find any relevant information about a person online, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should abandon your search. If you set up a Google alert on the person you’re trying to locate, you can receive a notification of any future online activity that could provide some clues about their whereabouts. 

To set up an alert (opens in new tab), you’ll need to go to Google Alerts and enter keywords for the topic you want to follow (in this case, the person’s name or any other pertinent details). You can also select the frequency with which you’d like to receive alerts, and state the types of sources you’d like to monitor.

How to find someone for free on the internet: Summary

While searching for someone online often requires time and effort, the process can be invaluable if you’re able to reconnect with an estranged relative or forge a new business relationship. Using the methods outlined in this article is a good place to start. 

It could also be worthwhile to invest in a people search tool if your best efforts don't yield any results. Although many of these carry fees, the best people search sites (opens in new tab) often offer competitive deals, and you may find you only need to sign up for a short time.

Katy is a freelance journalist and editor with more than 10 years' experience writing about tech and finance. Throughout her career, she has worked with tech giants such as Google and Yahoo!, as well as a host of fintech start-ups. Her work has appeared in national newspapers and independent media outlets.