This article was taken from the May issue of Wired magazine. Be the first to read Wired’s articles in print before they’re posted online, and get your hands on loads of additional content by subscribing online
To hunt a con-artist, catch a debtor or find an old pal, you could do worse than enlist Leon Hart. The 36-year-old, who used to investigate fraud for a large department store, runs Intime, a private-detective agency in Mayfair that offers “tracing” services (intimeinvestigations.com). Wired asked him how to track someone down from the comfort of your computer.
Assemble your data
As a starting point, says Hart, pull together as much available information on the target as possible. Most important are name (including middle name), age and date of birth. When searching the sources below, use all the information first, then strip back until you hit a result. Also try shorter and longer versions of the first name as well as maiden/married names.
Your first destination should be the UK electoral roll, which lists everyone who is registered to vote: “You can find people’s present and previous addresses as well as the other occupants in the property, their dates of birth and sometimes a telephone number,” says Hart. His preferred source is 192.com — which also has its own database of personal records.
Come up empty-handed? Check Companies House for directors and company secretaries, at companieshouse.co.uk. If they’re listed, you can also find company turnover, assets and credit ratings here, as well as the other people involved in the organisation — useful for background checks.
Or try Experian. It collects information on people, businesses, motor vehicles and insurance, searchable at experian.co.uk. Legally, you’re allowed to dig up information only on yourself. People have been known to pose as someone else, but we don’t encourage that…
Then there’s the Land Registry (landregistry.gov.uk). The Title Register (Property Register) lists title deeds, which contain a description of the property, its tenure, the name and address of the owners, and the purchase price. If you think they’re abroad, Infobel.com offers international directory-enquiries searches.
Follow digital footprints
Emails from your target can be useful. Ask your mail program to “show internet headers” (it’s usally under the “messages” toolbar option).This will disclose the IP address of the machine from which it was sent. Whatismyipaddress.com will show the area where that IP address is located. Do they have a website? If so, go to whois.co.uk or whois.net and type in the domain name.
When it says that the URL is not available, click “lookup”. This can expose the registrant’s name, email address, postal address and phone number, and the date on which the domain was registered. Social-networking services such as Facebook, bebo, MySpace, Friends Reunited, LinkedIn and Twitter are all potentially good sources of data, if only for a rough search area (location-based services foursquare and Google Latitude even more so). Wink.com lets you search several at once. Pipl.com plunders the “deep web” for a variety of information including email addresses, web pages, blog posts and photos. Go and seek.