Being a “net detective” is a tricky business, with a whole profession behind it. There is a sharp line between our right-to-know and the right-to-privacy, and people tend to be very paranoid on the Internet anyway, so the first thing you have to realize is that some people are unfindable and that’s that – unless, of course, you have some form of government clearance. For regular civilians, the task is a bit daunting.
Two tips on using these methods:
- Use your own data to test the accuracy of the service. I’ve seen purported search sites that couldn’t find themselves in a paper bag. Searching for yourself is enlightening anyway – you find out just how much of a trail you leave and how easy it is to find you.
- Cast a wide net, use many different methods and sites, and log all the results in a file. Collecting clues will be tedious, but remember that it’s kind of like working your way up a ladder; once you have four pieces of information it will be easier to find out a fifth, and so on.
For a regular name-check (for background, criminal, and so on) there seem to be a million sites online to sift through. One that has recently risen to the top is ZabaSearch, which recently got a good write-up over at LifeHacker. ZabaSearch gives away address hits for free, and charges only a modest fee for further information with a guarantee of results. This is better than most services out there.
For finding an IP address, your luck might be better. The best site for this starts with IPAddress; just go to the link and you’ll see how much it knows about you! Enter the IP number of your favorite spammer and find out all about them as well. You’ll at least get the physical location and the web hosting provider.
If you’re starting with a website address, Domain Tools is your new best friend. From this point you can find out the Whois (the owner of a web address must be a matter of public record), site stats, Alexa ranking, ownership history, and tons more. The legendary Netcraft will also tell you what a site is running, along with other statistics.
For starting with an email, your best bet is to view the headers. The method for doing this is different depending on your email/webmail interface, but just look for a button/link saying “show header (data, info, etc.)” This will tell you IP address and/or website address of the original sender. Then follow the steps above.
Of course, some people connect to the web through dynamic IPs that change all the time, or host their sites on some faceless hosting service, so even these methods may not give you the specific person in the case of a website or IP. IP addresses can even be cloaked via a proxy server such as Tor. Your final option is a paid service, mentioned earlier. But even at that, results will be hit and miss depending on the individual.
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