Mastering a few basic online investigative techniques can open a floodgate of information.
You can research a person’s online aliases, dig deeper into leads (such as profile images), leverage Google to uncover files, and set up a system to capture real time notifications about your target’s online activity.
Here are a few simple tools to get you started:
1) Dictionary mining
Spam bots use this method to guess email addresses, but it can be a valuable technique for online investigation as well.
Subjects will often use the same nicknames for their emails as they do for forums and blogs. So if the person of interest is sweetsparkles02, chances are the person’s email is email@example.com. An investigator can try sending a test message to that email and wait for a bounce back. If you don’t get a ‘delivery-failure’ bounce back message, it means that firstname.lastname@example.org is likely a real email address. (note: Some hackers try to gain access to those emails by selecting “forgot password” link and guessing the secret question…so make your password a good one.)
You can often discover what aliases a person uses by searching for the person’s name. Twitter, for example, will show a username associated with the person’s real name. SocialMention and CheckUserNames are also useful tools for finding other sites where username appear.
2) Reverse Image Tracking through Exif Data/Tineye
Armed with a person’s name, you can find the web-sites a person visits, then do a reverse lookup on the images to uncover additional sites visited by the target and even discover a person’s location.
A) Use a profile picture to discover other sites visited by the target by checking which other sites have the same profile image. Web-sites like tineye.com show all other sites with the same image. This can be particularly revealing for catching cheating spouses who post the same profile picture across multiple dating sites.
B) Smartphones often Geotag pictures with GPS coordinates, which means it’s possible to learn where a picture was taken by looking inside its EXIF data. Many sites (including Facebook) delete this information, but Twitter and Photobucket preserve it.
3) Picture fishing
Another way to acquire pictures of a person is to simply ask for them—say, by using a fictitious dating profile. (Be aware of any legal or liability issues involved with using fake online profiles.) To get a recent picture, ask the subject to hold up a book or magazine to prove that their profile photo is a recent one. The picture may reveal GPS coordinates in the EXIF data.
4) File search
There’s a special Google search operator that shows files stored on uncovered servers. Using this method, it’s possible to discover files belonging to a person, like a CV.
Type the following command into Google.com: intitle:”index of” “parent directory” john doe (John Doe should be replaced with subject’s name or alias).
The above search format is known as “Advanced Google Search Operator.”
5) Google Alerts
Setting up a Google alert on the subject’s name and/or alias (google.com/alerts) allows you to capture up-to-date notifications from Google whenever the name comes up somewhere online.
6) Search within a site
Finding people who like to hang out at certain Websites can be tricky—many sites (especially blogs) do not have a built-in “user search” function that shows all pages where the subject has interacted (left a comment, created a profile etc.).
It is, however, possible to do the following search in Google: site:domain.com John Doe —while replacing the domain.com and John Doe with name of the site and subject’s name/nickname. This will show all comments made by the subject on a given site, for example: site: pursuitmag.com “chris says:”
This can be useful for building a target’s psychological profile. People often mention personal details in comments, such as the city they’re in, Websites they frequent, or places they spend time. This a good source of additional leads and a chance to apply other steps described above.
About the Author:
Robert Sinclair is an online investigation enthusiast and chief-editor of http://whycall.me