How to Find People Online

Magnifying glass on a map

It's never been easier to find an old friend, an ex, a coworker, or another person who was important to you based on their digital footprint. From your best friend in high school to your favorite coworker at a job you used to love or hate, finding someone is doable and usually free. The tools available to assist you in your search include social media, search engines, alumni sites, background check sites, and more. People used to pay private detectives to track down someone they used to know. This is still possible but expensive and rarely needed. We can all be private eyes in the digital era.

Magnifying glass on a map

This guide shares some valuable tips on how to find people online, even without much information.

Why are You Reaching Out?

Before you start, consider why you are reaching out to prepare yourself for the consequences. Ask yourself:

  • What do I hope to get out of it?
  • Is reaching out in my best interest?
  • What are my expectations?
  • Can I be honest with this person?
  • Can I prepare emotionally for being ignored?

Being aware of why you are reaching out will help you control your expectations and be more realistic. The details of why you lost touch with the person and the type of relationship you had can help determine how it will impact your well-being.

Use People Finders

People search engines, also known as people finders, allow you to search for people based on their name, email address, phone number, etc. Some search engines require you to create an account to access their services, while others are free to use, but they don't always yield useful details.

If the person has a common name, you'll be frustrated by the long list of matches the search engine generates. In some cases, valuable information is worth paying for.

Ideally, the directory or search site will retrieve the person's place of birth, date of birth, list of relatives, and other personal information. Not all people finders give access to the same data, but you'll get at least some of the following from a reliable platform:

  • Phone numbers
  • Possible aliases
  • Names of possible relatives
  • Social networking accounts
  • Email addresses
  • Home addresses
  • Criminal records and other court records
  • Blogs written by or associated with the person
  • Marriage records

Try a few search sites for optimal results. Keep in mind flat-rate search fees can pile up. While there is no shortage of search sites online, many of them apply deceptive billing approaches.

Use Online Directories

Online directories like White Pages and Yellow Pages can also help you find someone online. These directories allow you to search for people based on their name, city, or phone number. Some directories also provide additional information like email addresses and social media profiles.

Use Google to Find People

Unless the person's name is very common, you can find them on Google, especially if you have additional info, like an email or phone number. You can also perform a reverse search if you have an old photo.

Data protection laws are very strict in some countries, which is making people harder to find on Google. To increase your odds of success, try searching for their name in quotation marks. This allows you to search for a specific phrase, and the list of results will be much shorter.

The results will include the first, middle, and last names separately if you don't put quotes around the full name. As you can imagine, that generates a plethora of possible matches.

Use any additional information you have, like where they live now, any clubs they're in, their last job and place of employment, etc.

Join Alumni Groups

If you lost touch with someone from school or university, joining alumni groups can help you find them. Many schools and universities have alumni groups on social media platforms or dedicated websites. Join these groups and post a message asking if anyone knows the person and has an idea of their current whereabouts. You can also reach out to your school or university's alumni office for assistance.

Final Thoughts

Other ways to find people online include social media and search engines like Bing and Yahoo. People finders are probably the most effective, though. They aggregate publicly available information and bring you all the data available on the person online in seconds. Searching manually would take hours if not days. Not all the data will be accurate, so make sure you use a reliable service.