Home / Background Checks / How To Do A Background Check On Almost Anybody

Whether you are looking for a long-lost friend, about to go on a blind date, or in the process of hiring your new babysitter, there will come a time when you’ll want to know how to do a background check.

And more importantly, you’ll inevitably need to do a background check on someone whose name may not readily pop up on Google or Facebook.

Luckily, there is a systematic approach that you can use to perform a background check on almost anybody.

How is this possible?

Whenever we complete a legal or civil action such as filling out a voter registration card, signing a petition, or even buying a ticket for a raffle, we leave behind our personal information.

In some cases, that information may simply be our name and phone number. Other times, the information may be more involved and include our place of work, home address, or even how much money we paid for our house or contributed to a political campaign.

In short, it is very unusual for someone to live in today’s world without leaving behind at least some personal information. Most of that information is now stored electronically and is (more often than not) available through an online database.

That’s why it’s not very difficult to do a background check on someone. While the process can take some time and effort, there is usually enough information located online to find out the basic facts about a person, including place of employment, residence, phone number, and oftentimes the names of the spouse (or spouses!) and immediate family members.

So, where do you begin when you do a background check?

Understand how Google searches for information

Before you input someone’s name into Google, it is imperative that you learn how to use this tool that has indexed over 23.5 billion web pages (as of 2010). Google is searched by inputting specific search terms called operators. One example of an operator is the name Mary Dempsey.

However, if you only input the operator Mary Dempsey into Google search, you’ll get all kinds of results, including 30 different Mary Dempseys, Dempsey Street, Dempsey eateries, etc.

While you could peruse every one of these search results, doing so would take a long time. Thus, the keys to completing a fruitful Google search lie in actually narrowing and restricting the scope of the search so that you obtain more relevant results.

Use Google’s Advanced Search

To force Google to provide just a few yet highly relevant search results, you must change the way you input your operators as well as where on Google you go after inputting your initial search.

To begin with, you should go to Google’s Advanced Search area immediately after performing your initial search on the general Google page.

The Advanced Search area is usually located under the gear tool. 

Once you select the Advanced Search area of Google, you will see a screen akin to the one shown below.


The top four text boxes are syntax tools that help you narrow down your search. Below them are filters that restrict your search to a specific domain or time frame.

Use Google Verbatim

You should also use what is known as Google Verbatim to define and specify your search. In layman’s terms, Google Verbatim tells the search engine, “I want to look for this, but not that.” This helps Google return results that closely match the data you are seeking, so you aren’t sifting through 12,765,902 results in order to find those 20 that really matter.

What are some Google Verbatim terms you can use?

Quotation marks– The most common terms are the quotation marks, which you place around your search query so that Google returns only exact word matches and not synonyms. “Mary Dempsey” is one such example; inputting quotation marks around the name provides you with Mary Dempsey and not Dempsey Jr. or Mary Rogers Dempsey. 

Minus sign– Adding a minus sign is powerful. It essentially tells Google “no” to bringing up a host of results that do not matter to you. For example, if you wished to search for Mary Dempsey but wanted to exclude all searches related to an identical Mary Dempsey living in Maryland, you could input the following:

“Mary Dempsey” –Maryland

OR– Placing two search terms next to each other and having them separated by a space tells Google that you want both items searched and to appear together in the results. You can change this assumption by adding OR or the | symbol to have Google give you either one or the other result. For example, if you are looking for different restaurants that take reservations, you could input the following query string:

“The Orca” reservations OR “Pizza Pit” reservations

“The Orca” reservations | “Pizza Pit” reservations

Asterisk– When searching for information on someone, you may not have all the facts straight (which is obviously why you’re doing a background check in the first place). That’s where an asterisk comes in handy. The asterisk is a kind of wild card that helps you fill in the blanks when you search. For example, if you are wondering what state Mary Dempsey was married in, you could input this query string:

“Mary Dempsey” “marriage” state of *

Likewise, if you weren’t certain about Mary’s exact work title, you could input the following string:

“Mary Dempsey * of Dunder Mifflin”

Brackets– If your search query actually includes symbols or the word OR, Google might consider those words as part of the Verbatim. To distinguish such terms as actual search terms, place brackets around them. For example, inputting [to be or not to be] notifies Google that you are looking for a Shakespearean line, not grammatical terminology.

Allin– Sometimes, you may want to locate your search term within the URL or title of your text, or even in the anchor tag (i.e., link). To this end, you can perform your search using the following syntax:




You can also use this syntax to find more than one term without having to use quotation marks. For example:

Allinurl:ford Lincoln

Allintitle:marksman hunting

Allintext:sewing machine wheels

Use Google filters

To further restrict the number of irrelevant results, you can introduce filters into your searches. There are many filters available; the following are the most commonly used.

Domain– You can restrict your domain searches to provide you with just one type of domain. For example, if you wished to peruse only tax-related government websites, you could input the following domain filter:


Database/Site– Some websites are so big that searching on just them could take up the space of a day. To this end, you can input a database/site restriction and populate your results area with the relevant results from just one site. For example, if you wish to locate deadbeat taxpayers in the state of Wisconsin, you can input the following restriction:

“delinquent taxpayers” site:revenue.wi.gov

Filetype– If you are trying to locate detailed information or large files and have no interest in text, you can restrict your search by file type. For example, if you’re looking for a divorce decree on someone, you might input the following string:

“divorce” filetype:pdf

Likewise, if you’re trying to find a list of area banks, you might use the following search query:

“banks” “Austin” filetype:xls

Numeric range– Another useful parameter is numeric range. Consider how you would locate someone who may have been indicted on DUI or OWI charges. One easy way to do this would be to input the following numeric range:

“dui” $400..$5000

Now that you know how to select for and restrict the mass of data that Google is capable of capturing, it’s time to move into the finer details of doing a background check, as well as the many resources that are available for accomplishing this task.

How To Do A Background Check - Quick Glance

Here are the quick steps involved. Read below to find out more about each step:

  1. Start with a unique qualifier
  2. Search online phone books​
  3. Use reverse lookup
  4. Use Google and other image searches
  5. Use people search tools
  6. Use Google News
  7. Email address guess
  8. Social Networks
  9. Find vital information
  10. Salary records
  11. Find professional licenses
  12. Business and civil records
  13. Criminal records
  14. Military info
  15. Tax info
  16. Other public info

How to do a background check

  1. Start with a unique qualifier.

What is a qualifier? It can be the full name of the person you are searching on, the street address, phone number, etc. It might even be that person’s job title and place of work.

Ideally, you want to use more than one qualifier to find your subject of interest. This is because there could be many upon many Mark Wagners out there or Eric Dempseys. Thus, if you have the person’s full name and a date of birth, for example, this will help you eliminate dead leads immediately. Or the person’s full name and home address/home phone number/relative name/etc.

  1. Search online phone books.

Using the qualifier(s) you have on hand, try searching an online phone book like AnyWho (provided by AT&T), WhoWhere? (provided by Lycos), or 411.com (provided by WhitePages). Keep in mind that these services will only list the landlines of individuals who choose to be listed in their local area phone book.

  1. Use reverse lookup.

What if you have only a phone number on hand and wish to know the full name of the person you’re looking for and/or their home address? Various reverse lookup services exist online, and many of these services offer free trial periods where you can look up people to your heart’s content.

The Cole Directory is one such reverse lookup tool. It is used primarily by telemarketers and realtors to uncover sales prospects. PeopleVerified will also perform a free reverse phone number search for you, and while it won’t provide you with a name (at least not for free), it will give you the geographic region where this phone number is registered and the phone company that owns the number.

SpyDialer will often give you the first name and geographic location of the landline or cell phone number you input.

  1. Use Google and other search engines to find image files.

You probably don’t need much help using Google and other search engines to find people. However, what you should also do, in addition to clicking on your “written” search results, is to peruse any image files and other “unreadable” documents that come up during your search.

In many cases, the answers to your questions may be buried in an image or other file that Google cannot scan.

For example, a person’s address may be listed on an image file of a signed petition that was scanned into a government website.

Newspaper clippings may also hold personal and marriage information that you will not pick up from the simple text results that a search engine delivers to you, simply because these results are in graphic and not text format.

  1. Use people search engines.

There are many paid people search engines out there which, for a small fee, can help you locate your person of interest. There are also some completely free people search engines. While they may not be as easy to root out as Spokeo or Intelius, they do exist. One such example is ZabaSearch, a tool that provides the age, location and relatives of the person you’re searching for.

If you use Firefox, this browser offers a plugin called WhoIsThisPerson?, which enables you to highlight any name found online and find that name across all kinds of social networks including LinkedIn, Facebook, Wink, Wikipedia, etc

Check Someone's Background Right Now

  1. Use Google News and Finance

Google now offers sub-sections of its search functions, and quite often the best sources of information come from Google News and/or Google Finance. Within these areas, you might luck out and find a sizeable biography of the person you are searching for and/or where they live and work.

For example, company executives are notoriously difficult to hide in the online world, and especially if the company they work for is publicly traded.

By simply looking at the company’s financials, you will inevitably find out how much these execs earn, when they were hired, their ages, and sometimes even the names of their spouses and children.

  1. Brute-force guess the email address.

Brute-force guessing an email address is a critical skill that most job seekers inevitably acquire during their job searches. In essence, you start by going to the company where your person of interest works and finding out the email addresses of other employees.

You will probably notice a certain style of email addresses being used, such as firstname.lastname@company.com or lastnamefirstletteroffirstname@company.com.

This system will more than likely be used by your person of interest. Even if you’re not 100% sure, you can try emailing that person via several different address iterations to find out if one of the addresses is correct.

As for those incorrect addresses, not to worry: they will simply be returned to you as undeliverable. It is also reasonable to assume that, in many cases, the email address format being used at work by your person of interest may also be getting used by her on other email servers, including Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail and the like.

Many individuals do this simply so they do not become confused when giving or writing out their email address on a form.

  1. Don’t forget about social networks.

Social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have given us entirely new ways to search for people online. Whereas a person may not willingly broadcast his marital status at a club or bar, he may openly list his wife, kids and even dog or cat on a platform like Facebook.

LinkedIn is arguably one of the best social platforms currently available for performing people searches. While someone may not use her real name on Facebook, she would be silly to go incognito on LinkedIn.

Furthermore, seasoned LinkedIn members will even have references from other platform users on their profiles, which can prove useful for you if you need to verify some information.

In such a case, you could contact the reference and make inquiries about your person of interest by pretending to be a recruiter or prospective client.

Yes, this is a sneaky way of obtaining information- but it works!

  1. Find vital records.

Some vital records, such as a person’s birth or death certificate, are off-limits unless you are next-of-kin or have a legal reason to view them.

Other vital records, including marriage and divorce certificates or adoption papers, fall into a gray area and may be accessible depending on your state.

You can find out what exactly is accessible by going to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)- this site publishes a guide called Where to Write for Vital Records. In this guide, you’ll find listings of states and their respective agencies where you can inquire about vital records, including those involving birth, death, marriage and divorce.

Another good place to search for vital and legal records (such as personal bankruptcies) is PACER, a government site that tracks electronic court records.

  1. Find salary information.

Finding salary information can be tricky if the person is employed privately or is a freelancer. However, if the person is employed in a common profession, you might still be able to find out her salary by going to a site like Glassdoor, which lists many and different salaries derived from actual workers.

If the person is employed in a civil or military occupation (e.g., grade school teacher), well-publicized and public pay grade scales should help you narrow down his yearly income. Federal jobs typically follow the Base General Schedule Pay Scale, while senior-level positions fall under the Wage Grade or Senior Executive Service scales.

The salaries, bonuses and stock option information of corporate officers who are employed at publicly traded companies is fairly easy to find. Simply check the company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission- any 10-K filing will provide you with information on how each officer is compensated by the company.

  1. Find professional licenses.

If you want to research your family physician, dentist, chiropractor or just about anybody who holds a license, there are state licensing associations that will enable you to do just that. These associations also often report on the professional misconduct of licensees, and in some cases those individuals whose licenses have been stripped from them.

With medical doctors, a good place to search is the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)’s “Criminal Cases Against Doctors.” Current case listings go back to the year 2000.

State medical boards can also tell you if your specific physician has been charged with any legal actions.

Other health professionals such as nurses, osteopaths, etc. must also be licensed by their respective boards. To easily find those boards, go to Google and type in the search operators “[profession]” ”[state]” ”license”. You can get even more specific by typing in “[profession]” “[state]” “license” “board” site:.gov.

  1. Find business and civil info.

Non-occupational licenses and permits can also be a great tool for track people down.

For example, most dog owners must register their canine with a city or county office and purchase a dog license. Owning a store that sells liquor requires a business permit and a liquor license. And so on.

State and county buildings are filled with all kinds of licensing and permit information and forms- the trick is simply knowing which sub-office holds the information you are seeking. Some of this work requires time and effort, not to mention a small bit of luck. However, that is the nature of sleuthing.

If your person of interest has ever run for public office, including some lesser considered offices such as school board member or a citizen’s council on traffic safety, that information is also probably stored in a school district or city administration website.

Alongside such civil information, you will typically also discover that person’s home address, age, employment status, and other useful information.


  1. Find criminal info.

Criminals are arguably one of the easiest class of individuals to locate online. If you’re worried that your neighbor or babysitter is a sex offender, you need only go to the National Sex Offender Registry.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons offers an inmate search, some information on the nature of the crimes committed, and the prisoners’ parole or release dates. Individual states typically list information on their jailbirds at respective Department of Corrections websites.

  1. Find military info.

If the person you are searching for served in the military, the Department of Defense (DoD) more than likely has several files on her. Generally speaking, the DoD releases such information to next-of-kin or spouses only, but limited information may be available under the Freedom of Information Act.

To this end, try using the automated search system at the National Archives and Records Administration. This site also offers veterans service records.

  1. Don’t forget your County Clerk’s office.

Your local County Clerk’s office, which is often tied in with the City Assessor, can offer some interesting information on property owners and taxpayers within the county and/or state. Through this site, you can find out who owns what kind of property, how much that property is worth, and even if the respective homeowner has paid his taxes.

  1. Find tax info.

Many state revenue offices are now engaging in a form of public shaming; in essence, these departments are publishing the names of “deadbeat” state taxpayers and how much money they owe to the government. Alongside such pertinent information you will also find the deadbeats’ current home addresses, business information, and names of representing attorneys.

  1. Find other public info and files.

If you’re still coming up empty-handed regarding your background search, don’t fret. There are a number of online resources available, including Zimmerman’s Research Guide, which is currently owned by Lexis.

This guide provides many public records sources and was actually compiled by the law librarian Andrew Zimmerman.

Another useful online resource is Virtual Gumshoe, which showcases public records including investor and bank sanctions, sex offender identities and locations, and property ownership records.

USA.gov offers additional vital and public records, while The Free Public Records Search Directory (offered by Online Searches, LLC) lists different public records offices categorized by state.


Closing Thoughts

As you can see from the article above, there are countless ways of really digging deep and checking someone’s background.

Even though it really depends on what you want to find, how much information you need, and who it is you’re investigating, it’s pretty clear that you can find out almost anything.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at all, then you can use the form below to have Verispy do the search for you. 

Check Someone's Background Right Now

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