TechBite: Use the Web to Find Anyone in the World

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By Steve Bass

Find Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime (Almost)

"You find my long-lost buddy and I’ll paint any room in your house." I was talking to a couple of friends about how I had tracked down a wayward YahooGroup moderator.

It was a sweet deal (the kitchen has three colors, lots of cabinets, and needs painting) and I was up for the challenge.

Just the Facts, Please
There were no rules: I could use any Internet resource or even social engineering, the art of extracting information from people by e-mail or phone. As in, "Hi, I’m calling to update your free white pages listing. Can you confirm that…"

I used only free sites to do the digging; I also used data I picked up from fee-based services — without paying a thing.

My friend gave me all he knew. "His name is Jan Shepard. The last I heard he was in Corpus Christi, Texas, and he’s a bankruptcy attorney."

"Are you sure of the spelling," I asked. The Shepard name does have variations, and the fact that the guy had an ambiguous first name added to the challenge.

He was adamant–and as it turned out, wrong. The last name was actually "Shephard."

"You have anything else?" I asked, wondering if we wanted to keep the kitchen white or go for another color.

"He was born in Binghamton, New York, but actually lived in Vestal, New York." I was also told his mother’s maiden name, the name of his brother and sister, and that his birth year was 1944 or maybe 1946.

Techniques, Clues, and Patterns
I hit pay dirt in about an hour. I didn’t do it in one sitting and had to verify a few things from my friend along the way. (I could see my friend spending two days painting — make sure you get the inside of the cabinets, too, please — so I told him it took lots longer).

In the next few paragraphs, I’ll take you on a tour of how I found the guy. Along the way you’ll see the tools I used, and next week, I’ll supply a list of sites you can use for searching.

Learn about Steve’s techniques here.

TechBite’s columnist Steve Bass and PC World Contributing Editor publishes a free weekly newsletter with commentary on the technology products he loves, the strategies for getting the most out of them,and the gotchas that can cause computing misery. Sign up for the newsletter here

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2 thoughts on “TechBite: Use the Web to Find Anyone in the World

  1. In the past 6 months, I located to of my “old” best friends. I kind of suspected that both were deceased, and turned out they were. Talked to the ex-wife/now remarried of one on what would have been their 50th anniversary. Talked to the sister-in-law of the other, and as I suspected, he died from drinking “white lightning”. Actually located the grave marker for one of them. It is not hard but you have to really dig.

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