When you meet someone you’re interested in online, it can be tough to separate fact from fiction. Are they really who they say they are? Are they leaving out important information?
These are critical questions to answer. If you don’t really know who you’re falling for, you risk getting swindled for more than just your emotions.
At first glance, looking into someone’s personal history sounds like something only private investigators can do. Nowadays, however, there are relatively easy ways to get valuable insights into who a person truly is.
If you meet someone online or long distance, you should always pause to consider whether they may be hiding something important from you (like criminal records, bankruptcy filings, aliases, social media profiles, and more). In an ideal world, we should be able to trust the people we care about. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and when you meet someone online, it’s smart to double-check that they are who they say they are.
Catfishing, bigamy, and other reasons to look up an online love interest
Why would you look up an online love? Isn’t that sort of prying a bit creepy? Aren’t real relationships built on trust?
Here are two compelling reasons to background check someone you meet online…
Have you ever heard of catfishing? In the online dating world, a catfish is a person who creates fake profiles on social media accounts using someone else’s information. Maybe they just want attention, or maybe they’re trying to lure you into sending them money or personal details.
People don’t want to believe they’re being catfished. But especially if you’ve never met your long distance partner in person, there’s always a chance they’re hiding elements of the truth from you.
Other lives and hidden details
Even if you aren’t being catfished, your partner might choose to avoid telling you certain details about their life. It could be something small and forgivable, like a few speeding tickets they’re embarrassed to mention. Or maybe it’s something big and concerning, like a recent DUI, drug charges, or a series of tax liens that might make it very difficult to buy a home together in the future.
At the end of the day, learning more about your partner’s background is totally your choice. But if your gut is telling you to learn more about them before things get too serious, here are some things you can do.
DIY Background Check: How To Find Information
A full, exhaustive background check can be expensive because it pulls past employment history, credit history, and criminal history—everything an employer would want to know about an employee. But if you’re trying to corroborate details you know about your partner, there are far easier and less expensive ways to go on a fact-finding mission.
1. Google them
Naturally, google is the first place most of us turn when we’re trying to learn more about a person online. But nine times out of ten, just searching for a person’s name returns basic results like social media pages you already know about. And if you’re trying to find someone with a common name, you’ll probably be clicking through search results for ages.
So don’t just put in their name. Try searching:
- Their email address
- Their full name in quotes (like this “FULL NAME”) and additional phrases like: outstanding debt, divorce, girlfriend, boyfriend, criminal record, school, university.
Reader tip from Tammy:
“I wanted to find out if he had outstanding debt…so I googled his full name and “outstanding debt.” Other things were divorce, family names, criminal record, names of friends, public school, high school, places of employment, old girlfriends (and this was before Facebook), places he mentioned like his former street (not the address, just the street)… I took a lot of my cues from things that I read. So if I read about the kind of car he drove, I’d google his name and the car. I even got the VIN number of the car he was driving at the time (which was repossessed after I broke it off).”
Sidenote from Lisa:
Google is a great tool, but please, PLEASE keep in mind how shockingly easy it is to spread false information about someone or slander them online. Always take everything you read about someone online with a grain of salt unless you’re absolutely sure of the source and know you have the full story and accurate facts.
2. Search for social media profiles
Make sure you check all the common social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest). You can search for profiles on Facebook by using names, locations, and even groups (like the 1999 class of St. Andrew’s High School, for example).
Reader tip from Dalyce
“If you can’t find someone online, but you know what city they live in, you can also try typing in their last name and what city they are in. You’d generally find a relative of theirs. Go through their friends list and find the person you are looking for who obviously has the search feature turned off or has changed their name slightly on FB.”
Reader tip from Sharon:
“If you can get their email, or sometimes even just their phone number, you can do a search on Facebook. I had a guy last week tell me he was a widower with two small children living in the states. I ran his name through Facebook and his pic helped me find his profile. You then look to see what their friend list is like…males and females or just females. Look to see when their posts were made. All over the last month or last week or have they been active for a year or more. More than one pic in their profile? Look at who is liking their posts. His were all liked by Nigerian friends. Blocked immediately. They are even contacting people in online Scrabble games now.”
3. Look them up on LinkedIn
In addition to social media profiles, check them out on LinkedIn to get a view from a slightly different angle.
Reader tip from Tristan
“LinkedIn is a great place to cross-check information. Not only can you see if stated information on a LinkedIn account matches other claimed info (ramifications of lying on LinkedIn are much higher than other social media accounts due to risk of consequences if your current or potential employer discovers fraudulent information), you can learn useful things as well, such as inferring d.o.b from dates attending school/starting work, confirming locations, claimed professions, etc. Also, the extent to which their profiles have been ‘endorsed’ by peers, while not flawless, is an indicator as to the veracity of their profile.”
4. Run a reverse image search
Before you spend too much time chasing rabbit trails on Google or searching social media sites, run a reverse image search on any images your significant other has sent to you, including their profile picture on dating profiles or their email account. If they’re catfishing you with stock photos or profile images from someone else’s account, a Google image search will return any other places the photo has been published.
Here’s how to do a reverse image search:
- Save a copy of their profile photo to your computer
- Go to images.google.com
- Click “upload an image”
- Either click through the search results to see where the image may have been posted elsewhere online, or explore the “visually similar images” section at the bottom of the page
Do they use the same profile photo for all of their social media accounts? That’s pretty harmless. But if their profile photo appears on some stranger’s Instagram timeline, something might be funky.
5. Do a county criminal record search (or equivalent if you’re outside the US)
Depending on the charge, criminal records aren’t necessarily a deal breaker in a relationship. But at the very least, you probably would want to know if you’re dating a felon, especially since a felony charge can get in the way of finding a job.
In the United States, criminal records are generally part of the public record, which means they are not considered confidential and you are able to view them. However, criminal records are recorded and filed differently depending on local laws. If you know the county or state your partner lives in, you may be able to view portions of their criminal history online. Just Google “state/county + criminal records” and search for sites with .gov in the URL.
For example, when you google “Maryland + criminal records,” one of the top results is the official website for the Maryland court system. From there, you can search case records with a person’s name. You can even narrow your search down by different counties and case types, such as criminal or traffic cases.
If your search comes up dry, it might be because the courthouse does not maintain an online criminal records database. In that case, you may have to pay a small administrative fee to request the documents in person. If that’s not possible, or if you’re not sure where your partner has lived in the past, check out the next step!
6. Check them out on Stud Or Dud
A new IOS app aims to help keep online dating safe. Stud Or Dud bills itself as the first free background app. It aggregates public data to provide information, including a person’s criminal history, court records, and public filings.
Once a user creates a free account, they can do background checks on people they know who live in the US. If you can find the profile (and I found most people I tested this out on) you can often see the address of the person, along with their age, who they are related to, and the existence of any criminal convictions. You can tap on a result to bring up more details, including a partial phone number, their likely marital status, previous addresses, and even the likely worth of any property they own!
7. Do a public records search
If a DIY background search isn’t generating the results you want, try a public records search website. Sites like Open Public Records or Instant Checkmate are designed to aggregate results from public records, turning information from tons of different sources into one report about the person you’re trying to research.
Keep in mind that these sites usually charge a fee to access information. Instant Checkmate even states that “almost any method of accessing public records involves payment” because people and companies have to pay to access the data. [Update: Just FYI. Since we published this piece a few readers have written in to tell me that they have gotten the hard up-sell from this company, and that Instant Checkmate will not allow people based outside the US to access reports.]
But in return, you can save tons of time searching. You can narrow down your results by entering a person’s name, age, and location, and you can view details on everything from their real name and location to their criminal history.
Is your significant other lying about their age? Are they hiding aliases or nicknames? Does their background report include arrest records that give you pause? A public records search could reveal everything you want to know—or give you priceless peace of mind.
Would you ever look up your partner?
Have you ever discovered something shocking about a person you met online?
Share your story or additional DIY background check tips in the comments.
Elise Torres is a writer based in San Diego, California. She’s fascinated by the way technology is changing the way we connect with others online. When she’s not behind a computer, she enjoys baking and spending time by the beach.