The Deception of the Automated Online People Search Engines
Do you trust the online people search engines? The Lead Private Investigator of PeopleSearchLive has written this article as a “Public Service Announcement.”
So, you’re dating someone online and you would like to know if they are a possible felon or worse, an ax murderer. Or, maybe you just want to reunite with a long time old friend to see how they are doing all these years later.
Most people believe all online people search engines are created equal, which is far from the truth. The automated online people search websites are basically scraping the web for data and providing these results to the end user. They do it without being able to verify if the data is up-to-date or verified.
Surprisingly, if you put in some work on the public records yourself, you might get lucky and could probably get the information for free. That’s right, you’d be doing the work and your reward could be getting results at no charge.
Online People Search Engines and Free Public Records
Why do most people choose to use online people search engines? Why do most people normally end up spending more money on these searches than expected or intended? Did you know that people search websites normally provide outdated information? Moreover, do you know there are humans available who are experts at finding people at a comparable cost to online people searches? You’re about to find out the answers to these questions and more.
You’ve also got questions like many others about the online people searches, such as: “What do they know about me?” Or, you may need to do a background check for a serious matter and you need accurate Intel. We’ll give you the answers that will assist you in making the best decision. It’ll save you money, time and lots of frustration.
Get ready for the breakdown of the deception of the multi-billion-dollar online people search industry. We’ll be revealing the Dirty Secrets of Online People Search websites. Let’s start from the beginning.
The Many Names of the Online People Search Engines Con Game
Alright, so you need information on someone? You type in your web browser anyone of the following terms:
- Public records search;
- Background check service;
- People search;
- White pages; or
- Information broker.
What the search engine returns as an answer is several ads and websites of online people search service companies, which go by many different names.
The online people search and background check services Con comes from providing you access to Public Records, which is still mostly free, anyway. You’re searching for information that is valuable to you. Consequently, they know they can charge you for it. Most people choose to use online people search engines because it’s convenient and they don’t want to do the legwork themselves.
Many times these websites end up charging a monthly subscription fee. If you’re not a person keeping up with your credit card statements, you may end up paying a monthly fee for a single search and not even realize the charges until months later. When you realize it, then comes the effort of trying to cancel the subscription. If you’re lucky, the company will have a phone number you can call on their website. However, many of these people search and background companies have support only by email. Furthermore, to add insult to the injury, the public information you receive often isn’t the latest.
The Real Truth about Public Records
We live in a society where there are records on every individual from the time we are born. Our first government public record (city, county, state, federal, etc.) in our life is our birth certificate. It will be on file in your city government agency, which tells the world your full name, your parents name and the time you were born. The collection of data starts at that point and ends with your death certificate. If you had any traffic tickets or court proceedings, that information belongs to the government and becomes many times a free public record.
These free public records also come from whenever you fill out a form, say, forgetting any type of insurance. They include when you get a driver’s license, attend school, take online surveys, have hospital visits, and get a cell phone, and so on. Many of these companies will sell data randomly to data brokers who then add it to their databases.
In addition, these days there is another layer to this public records collection held on each one of us. It started with the introduction and powerful data collection of the many Social Media websites, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
The Internet Became a Game Changer in the World of Public Records
Back in the day, if you need valuable information for a specific reason on an individual, you would have to figure out which government agency could possibly have the record. Then you would have to get dressed, get in your car and drive to that office or courthouse. Then you’d search on microfilm to locate the information. It took a lot of effort.
What if you wanted to know if someone had a criminal record? Or, needed to find out if he or she was ever married? You had to make that drive to the courthouse. What if it was in another state? You had to hire a private investigator to do it for you.
I remember in the mid-1990s when you would go online with a dial-up connection like AOL. At that time, the Internet was not powerful enough to handle mass data. Data transfer and storage was very slow compared to today’s standards. Not to mention the fact that manually recorded public data was transferred online very slowly if at all. Some of that data never got transferred. As a result, you would never get that data in online search results.
Today, the Internet offers fast and large-scale data collection, storage and analysis. Nowadays, technology allows companies to scrape the web and gather all the data from public information available on the web. Moreover, with the constant improvement of data storage capabilities, they are able to keep this on their own databases. These companies then sell this information back to you, the consumer, as well as to companies looking for a marketing advantage as their “business partners.” Your information is out there and gets shared or sold many times over.
A concept straight out of George Orwell’s book “1984.” This might feel a little scary, huh, but is it legal or right?
Online People Search Engines Have Major Problems
While running your searches, the online people search engine companies claim that the information found is cross-referenced against other databases. This is how they make you believe they ensure the data is correct. Read on to see what’s happening.
The way online people search engines do business may vary from platform to platform. Regardless, most people search engines scrape various consumer databases that are available. They also scrape county, state, and federal databases for free data regarding the individual about whom you are searching for critical information. They boast to gather information differently than the others. Thus claiming to be more reliable than other similar websites or apps.
To the average user, this sounds like they are thorough and accurate. In reality, they use similar methods, but their sources may vary. Since the data they pull has limitations, the online so-called online people searches often just cause frustration. The bottom line is, the user is often disappointed with the results they get. And why is that?
As the Lead Investigator (Live PI) at PeopleSearchLive, I can tell you that we often deal with clients who found out the hard way. Many have visited such sites as Intelius, BeenVerified, PeopleFinder, Instant Checkmate, and more. And these clients, when I asked how they rate these online people search companies, often give them no more than 2 stars. They don’t get usable information. The most common three complaints are as follows.
Problem #1: Old and Incorrect Information
“I searched myself on this website and found incorrect information: a town & state I never lived in, someone with a similar name used as an alias (I never used any aliases), and a red flashing warning that my financial history is bad (I have excellent credit, no liens, no foreclosures, no bankruptcies).” – [an actual consumer review from the BBB website]
Here is how these online public data brokers operate: For instance, you relocate from New York to Florida to start a new job. As most of us do, you would submit a change of address form to your local post office. This would be a piece of public information via the federal government.
After living in Florida for a few months, you meet a girlfriend and move in with her. But this time, you don’t submit another change of address form. Consequently, your last address on file is not your girlfriend’s house.
At this time, if someone decided to search for your address, they would probably only come up with your original New York address. The online people search engines offering public records searches more than likely would have only your outdated address to offer as a search result. I just ran a check like this for a client. He was looking for the address of a person who had moved five months ago. All he got back from the couple of people search engines he tried was the old address. It took me a couple of minutes to look up the current address. It’s all about the source of information.
Here is a Fact: The Online People Search Companies only find the information available in public records. Most of the time, they lack in time unlike proprietary databases that professionals use and that are frequently updated.
Problem #2: You Can Find the Information without Cost
”This pay service offered nothing that can’t be found in a simple google search. It is a total ripoff. I called their number to complain and was put on eternal hold. Their customer service sucks. I’ll dispute this charge.” – [an actual consumer review from the BBB website]
The instant online people search engine companies give consumers the impression that the information they are receiving is exclusive. In reality, they are selling their customers free public information. Hence, the consumer is basically being conned into believing that they are getting information from data brokers who specialize in gathering up-to-date data. The kind of data that real professionals, such as investigators, lawyers, and the repo man use.
Yes, you may get lucky using these sites to find the desired data. As a professional private investigator, I may start an investigation using free public data to see how much public presence is available. Then I’ll get the real data from my trusted databases. Shortly, we’ll look at how you can find info without paying anything.
Problem #3: The Cost of Free Information
“I logged into this service a total of 2 times in October of 2016. I did not realize it was a monthly recurring subscription service. They have charged me over 500 dollars to date. The company informed me policy dictates they can only refund 4 months. That means I was charged over 200 dollars per log in!! This is insanity…” – [an actual consumer review from the BBB website]
Even if you’re doing only one search, many of the online people search companies require you to sign up for a monthly subscription to access reports. Many customers don’t even realize they signed up for a subscription. It’s in the fine print in a font size that’s barely legible, which most people don’t read. With the basic subscription, you might only get a report with limited information. They’re sure you’ll want more information than that and upsell. Consequently, you’ll need to pay more for a “premium” report with add-ons.
Moreover, there are many customer complaints regarding customer service. When you want to end a trial, it may not be that easy. Customer service may not be responsive when you want to cancel a subscription. It may be even harder to receive a refund for a subscription that you months later realized you had but didn’t want.
Why would you pay for free information? If you want information from public records, you just need to know how and where to find it. Plus spend the time retrieving it. Remember that public records can work well for old information, but not so well for current data. Or, if someone deliberately wants to hide their information. Regardless, it may be worth your while, so I’ll give you some pointers.
The Basics of Finding Information for Free
Here is the truth about the business model of the online public data retrieval services: Most of the information they provide is free. You’re basically paying for a compiled list of data. You just need to know where to find this data to get it for free.
The most common types of data the online people search engine sites provide may include previous and, if you’re lucky, current addresses, phone numbers, date of birth or age, email addresses, and relatives or other people related to the subject of search.
In addition, the report may contain social media info, criminal records, and government licenses, if such data is freely available online. You may also see real estate ownership, voter registration information, and other tidbits.
Investigator pro tip #1: As an investigator of many years, I have conducted people searches for thousands of clients. As I mentioned, I may use public online search sites along with other free sites to gain initial information when I first begin an investigation. It will give a good idea of how difficult it is going to be to locate the correct information. After completing a free search, I then cross-reference and update the information by using one of my professional databases that specialize in providing the most current information. These sites only deal with licensed professionals.
And yes, it is possible to retrieve a person’s social security number or even an image of their signature online. Public people search engines wouldn’t pull up that information for you. Nor would they find financial information about any accounts. Employment information they may find, if the person has a LinkedIn account with a full profile. When it comes to critical data, I would suggest that you confirm the results with a Live PI who can check that your information is up-to-date and correct. They can verify the results they provide. If nothing can be confirmed, there is no charge to you and you get a full refund.
Free Public Records on the Web
Previously, we discussed how there was a time when data was available only on location. A private investigator or person in search of free public records information would have to go visit an institution or office for any information they may have needed.
Currently, the Internet does make it much easier to start a search. You don’t need to leave the house to do it. However, you probably will need to visit several different public record websites for everything you need. You could start your search using the websites mentioned in Free Online People Search vs. Premium People Search Services. They offer free information, but remember they collect it from online public records.
Investigator pro tip #2: When you need a fast way to look up an email address, I would recommend you use Spokeo. They have the best public record search engine for emails. If you’re looking for, say, a DOB or possibly a birth certificate or death record, I’d say Ancestry comes in quite handy. Ancestry offers a free trial access to their site and they’re easy to unsubscribe. In contrast, many of the other sites are quite difficult to unsubscribe after you provide them your credit card number.
In addition, you’d need to know where the person has lived and search each state and county websites separately for some of the records. There may be fees involved. If so, the information wouldn’t show up in the reports of the popular people search websites, anyway.
Investigator pro tip #3: When trying to get county-level public records for free without using one of the many online people search engines, you will have to go directly to that county’s website. For example, for real estate information, do a Google search for the county tax collector’s office. There you can do searches for properties of interest. Same goes for vehicle information. Do a search for the DMV for the state from which you’re trying to find info. Note, though, that not all states let you search for DMV info. It may be available only for law enforcement and professionals.
Yes, it is easier these days, but often these results are still outdated, missing information or incorrect. We’re talking about public records.
How to Get Accurate and Verified Results
To conclude, doing a free public records search yourself may get you some good information, but it can take several hours. Whether you do it yourself or use one of the online services, the data won’t be any more accurate, because the sources are the same. Using one of the dozens of paid online people search engines on the web can be a waste of time and energy. You may end up spending more than you anticipated for outdated data. Not to forget the frustration of trying to verify the information provided is accurate and about the correct person or trying to cancel the service.
Besides, state laws govern access to public data, so not all information is available in public records. You can choose to deal with a professional Live Private Investigator. They go beyond public data and retrieve information that cannot be retrieved from public records. Live PI has access to data brokers who update their databases frequently. This information is trusted with licensed professionals only. In the past, this would have cost you a couple of hundreds of dollars, but things have changed. We have brought it closer to you, the consumer, with our simplified people search. No more sitting and waiting while a search engine gathers the information you seek. The services we offer are affordable and comparable to the cost of online people search engines.
An added plus is that we will not charge you for a subscription in order for you to get current results. We also offer to verify the results, if you require verification. This option comes with a free initial consultation with your Live PI Verification requires human communication, which is why no online people search engine can do it.
Also, keep in mind that if your Live PI does not get results, you will get a no-hassle refund. It’s a no-brainer to deal with a Live PI instead of A.I. (artificial intelligence).