A cheap way to start a "people search" is just to Google their names; you can back that up by searching one or more of the other resources in the Search Engines entry.
Alternatively, you can check a telephone directory or call Directory Assistance.
If that doesn't work, the following vendors offer databases specifically for finding people in the U.S.:
- Accurint. I've gotten good results from Accurint at reasonable prices. You need fill out forms to get approved in advance, but billing is per search.
- TLO, which is similar to Accurint but even cheaper.
- Intelius. It's pretty cheap and pretty good, and you can charge the price to a credit card.
- KnowX, which also allows you to charge your search to a credit card.
- SmartLinx on Lexis provides good results, though the cost can be substantial unless the database is included in a flat fee contract.
- People Smart.
- PeopleSearch on Westlaw is powerful (they have an exclusive right to use Experian data) but pricey. Rather than going for a whole report upfront, you first might want to try searching for the person in the Address Search database to see if/what information is available.
Alternate Strategies: If you can qualify as a government, law enforcement or child welfare agency, you can get voting records, passport numbers, government-issued ID and other confidential information through Global Locate.
Beyond that, you can check Internet search engines and broad news databases, such as MEGANW;ALLMGA on Lexis, ALLNEWSplus on Westlaw or NewsBank (available through many public and academic library web sites); or, if you know where the person lives, you may want to check just the news for that state. If the person does something special (ex. runs a company), you can check in a specialty database (e.g., a legal news database or Martindale-Hubbell for lawyers) or search for a D&B report. Lexis has a number of Who's Who directories.
For rich people, potentially dead people, famous people, see also the sources discussed below. To find military personnel, see "Military Records." To find people in prison, see the separate entry for "Prisons, Prisoners and Jails."
If you have an e-mail address and need a home address, try Infospace's reverse e-mail directory at www.infospace.com/home/white-pages/email-search (see also "Email Addresses"). If you have a telephone number and need an address, try the Reverse directories listed in the entry on "Telephone Numbers."
Canadians: I've been told that Canada doesn't have a good database for finding people, largely because of national privacy legislation such as PIPEDA, the "Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act." I'd suggest searching Canadian news articles and telephone directories (see "Telephone Numbers"), plus putting the name into a couple of good search engines.
Potentially Dead People: To try to determine if a person has died, check obituaries (see "Obituaries"), Sysoon, TLO, Accurint, another public records database, and/or the Social Security Death Index on Ancestry.com, which lists people who were receiving social security payments when they died. If you have the person's social security number you could run it through the free SSN Validator. Caveat: As of March 26, 2014 the Social Security Administration has placed a three year delay on releasing death information. You can avoid the delay by working with the commercial vendors to get special certification according to procedures established by the National Technical Information Service.
Former Employees: Databases of former employees are available through Accurint and
ZoomInfo. You can also search the person's name in a good business news database and a good search engine to find references to past positions.
Maiden names: The databases listed above often tell you a woman's maiden name. If that doesn't work, see Places for Finding a Woman's Maiden Name: A Checklist of 90 Sources.
Military: To locate military personnel, see "Military Records."
Professionals: If you're looking for a professional, check with the government agency that licenses the profession. See also the entry for that profession e.g., "Attorneys," "Certified Public Accountants," "Company Personnel" (for executives), "Securities Dealers".
Rich: The leading lists of rich people are the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Forbes' World Billionaires and the Forbes 400 Richest People in America. See also "Famous People," above.