Apart from the ubiquitous dating apps, there are plenty of opportunities to meet people online. If things go well, you might decide to kick it up a notch. If you’ve had prior bad experiences (or are just incurably curious) you might want to sneak a peek at your prospective love interest’s RL before you set up a date.
Is it creepy to research someone even before you meet up?
No. Catfishers, swindlers, bigamists, gold-diggers … they’re all out there, and it’s better to prevent a situation from getting out of hand than doing damage control after. Here are a few non-invasive hacks to research someone you meet online before you commit.
1. Be discreet
Mind the line between cyber-stalking and honest-to-goodness concern for your safety. Digging too deeply just to satisfy your curiosity is offensive.
Some dating experts believe you should do only the minimum research to ensure your safety. They advise against digging, to avoid clouding your judgment. Finding something unexpected might cause you to decline the opportunity to meet a slightly flawed, but very human Mr. Right, or be so vested in a person with an impressive profile that you miss warning signs.
If you are concerned about any obvious, big problems, check the National Sex Offender Registry in his area.This Wikipedia page lists information and links to public record websites.
2. Google them
A rather obvious first step is to do an internet search. Use Duck-Duck-Go for a discrete approach, but also use Google, Bing, and Yahoo to search all possible variants of the person’s name, surname, nick-names, and any other personal details you may have. You’ll probably get the most accurate results with an email address or phone number.
Phrase your search terms using quotation marks, e.g. “Regular Guy” plus specific search terms like “criminal record” or the area where he’s from. Criminal records are part of the public record and are usually easy to find provided you know which county or state to investigate.
3. Facebook and other social media platforms
You probably skipped the Google search and went to Facebook first, didn’t you? Search for a name, address, email address, employer, phone number – use any personal details you have to help you home in on your target. You may be able to see his photos, friends list, and tags, but if that information is behind a privacy wall, consider just sending a perfectly normal friend request.
Social-searcher.com is a niche search engine that uses Google to find people’s social media accounts. When you’ve done your Facebook (semi-) stalking, also check Instagram, Twitter, and especially LinkedIn. Most people walk the straight-and-narrow on LinkedIn and will refrain from making claims that are too outrageous, so it’s a good place to fact-check the information you do have.
4. People-search services
If you’re in a hurry and need good data to make a quick decision you definitely need a data aggregator site. Data aggregators combine public data like a person’s criminal history, public filings, and marriage and property records with info from social media accounts to sketch a good outline of the person you are interested in.
Be aware that all such sites are not equal. You need a service that has a search engine that is powerful enough to sniff out information from odd corners of the internet. Try Nuwber’s free search. You may get sufficient information to run cross-checks on the info from other sources before you order more information from a deep search.
5. Reverse image searches
Is he catfishing? A quick reverse image search on TinEye or Google for the photos you have might reveal some unexpected details. If he’s camera-shy or privacy-conscious it is not unusual to re-use the same photos on all of his social media accounts. But if your search uncovers other seemingly unrelated social media accounts under different names, you need to sit up and pay attention.
6. Check out his online haunts
Did he mention any hobbies, interests, or favorite websites? If he’s an online troll or a bully it’s best to discover this early on. You can learn a lot from his online behavior and conversations or opinions on forums.
Use the secret weapon usersearch.org to find his online hangouts. Try a known username first, but the search need not be complicated because many websites automatically record your email address as your username.
7. Use GeoLocation to find his den
If you’d like to make sure he’s not a Nigerian 419 scammer, you can track his location via one of his emails. Look for “show internet headers” (toolbar – messages – show internet headers) to see the IP address of the device used to send the message.
Use Ip-tracker.org to see the location of the IP address. Don’t be too alarmed if the result isn’t what you thought it should be. He may be using a VPN to mask his internet activities. That’s actually a good thing because he’s internet savvy!
What if you can’t find anything?
There are a few deceptive methods to get closer to the person you are interested in. If you are desperate for information, or want to test his reactions to a particular situation, or cannot find an honest way to learn more about him, you can create a fake media profile to approach him as an interested third party.
However, you are now definitely on shaky ground, you Catfish! Set this problem aside until you have more clues to work with, or … just ask.
Perhaps he simply made a conscious choice to keep a low internet profile and to delete and avoid social media platforms.
Remember, he may be cyber-stalking you just as you are stalking him.