Find Hidden Social Media Profiles
Put on your sleuthing cap and deploy these 5 tried-and-true tricks.
"What's your Insta?" you ask the new guy.
He shrugs. "I used to be on it, but I don't really post much anymore." You can tell he wants the matter dropped.
You don't want to invade his privacy, but you are curious what face he shows (or showed) to the world on social media. Time to put on your detective's hat and go looking for hidden social media profiles using these five methods.
- Search a website in a search engine.
- Peruse a mutual contact's profile.
- Try an image search.
- Try a phone number or email search.
- Buy a public records report.
Search Anyone Free
Website Search via Search Engine
Most everyone has googled somebody. If your subject has a common name, the millions of hits such a rudimentary search brings up are next to worthless. You can try adding nicknames, hometowns, and careers.
Overwhelmed by the avalanche of results in a search engine, people turn to the search boxes in social media apps themselves. If you find the profile you are looking for that way, it's because the social media giant, such as Facebook and Instagram (both are owned by Facebook's parent company, Meta), wants you to find it. Sites hide profiles it assumes are of no interest to you, even if the name is exactly the name you want. And besides, if you found the person you're looking for by searching an app, you wouldn't need the tricks we are talking about here.
The answer is to perform a search on a particular website using the muscle of a search engine. Just add site:facebook.com to your query on Google or Bing. So you would type the person's name, a town or state, and site:twitter.com or the like. The search engine now scours the website and brings back results that the social media's own search function filtered from your view.
The "Friend of a Friend" Search
Let's say you can't find the person you're looking for by searching a social media app or by the advanced method above. You did, however, find a mutual friend or two. Or a former classmate. Or someone who should be a former classmate based on school and year of graduation.
Don't get all stalkery, but give some consideration to the social network your subject might have around him. Coworkers and friends might mention him in their posts. A photo could be tagged with your subject's profile name, maybe a riff on a nickname or another variation you could hardly have guessed.
Once you find the funky and apparently random username your subject used on one social network, try looking it up elsewhere.
When you locate a mutual friend and thereby zero in on the profile name of the person you're looking up, and you see a message like, "This person only shares information with friends," gracefully accept it. Become a friend if you want to see more.
Try an Image Search
A great deal of the processing power of our brain and the space in our memory is devoted to facial recognition. The average person can recognize 5,000 faces according to findings in a recent Smithsonian magazine article.
Switch to the image tab of Google or Bing and try your query there. Instead of a sea of listings, you'll get a gallery of faces—exactly the kind of searching for which your brain is highly evolved. If your subject is mentioned in a caption to a photo or anywhere near a photo on a website, an image search should find that picture.
Use image searching to eliminate false positives too. Let's say you found a profile somewhere that matches your subject's name but has no photos that would let you know for sure. That profile lists an employer and a tennis club and a fraternity. When you run all that through an image search you see photos of a complete stranger. You now know that profile is not the one you were looking for.
Phone Number and Email Address Searches
People might make up fake names all the time on the internet then go right ahead and give a real phone number (for texts) and a real email address (for tickets, confirmations, and so on). Try searching for someone's email or phone number. You'll need to weed through all the commercial listings promising to hand over all they know about that phone number for a low, low fee. These come-ons might take up the first several pages of results. Somewhere in the mess, however, you might see an actual website or blog where your search subject gave his phone number or email address.
Buy a Public Records Report
Public document search engines such as PeopleWhiz pour through billions of court records, licenses, deeds, social media accounts, address histories, and more in a matter of seconds. If the other methods of finding a social media profile haven't panned out, yet you are certain that you know your subject's actual name (never forget you might not), a public records search most definitely will turn up something for that name. Everyone leaves a paper trail.
One especially useful feature of PeopleWhiz is that you buy access to the search engine, not to a single report. You can run multiple names and variations. Try nicknames and maiden names; try initials and different towns. There's no limit to the number of searches.
- If you know the person's real name, try a public records search.
- People can scrub their own mentions of themselves or go invisible, but friends or acquaintances might still refer to that person's links and photos.
- People leave social media for good reasons that you should respect. Still, it's useful to see the face they were showing the world.