Desktop Detective is Foolkit's collection of tools for finding out information about people both in Australia and overseas using the resources of the internet. Most of them are free.
If you are having trouble framing your question, use Ask (also known as Ask Jeeves) and enter your query as an ordinary sentence.
Dogpile returns results using a variety of search engines.
Google Advanced Search Terms allows you to be more precise than you imagined possible. Many of the features now appear in the left hand column of the results of a standard search. The reatime option lets you find items in Twitter, to go back in time and to follow events as they unfold.
Google Alerts will watch the internet each day for you and send you an email listing any sites that match the terms you are interested in.
Old internet pages do not die. They go to the Internet Archive Site. If you use The Wayback Machine you can see how a web site used to look like going back a number of years. Find out who was working there then, what promises they were making on their web site.
It is possible to Remove Content from Google. But this is not the same as forcing somebody to take down material that damages your reputation.
Most Social Networking Sites (Facebook, MySpace and others) allow you to search.
Wikipedia keeps a current List of social networking websites.
MyPermissions is a tool that will help you systematically review the permissions you have granted in the various social media tools you use.
Usenet newsgroups are discussion groups on the internet. There is a separate group for each interest. Sometimes there are many, many groups on the same topic.
These are largely uncontrolled and can contain some fairly frank views. Search to see if your person of interest has been the subject of discussion.
Aerial Photos of Australia - Google Maps now offer the ability to enter a street address, suburb, postcode etc.. It quickly locates the address and offers a choice of street directory, satellite photography and a hybrid version (photography with streets named). It is not as three dimensional as Google Earth for more detailed aerial views of sites. But it is far quicker navigation to your address. It can be interesting to copy the address from the Contact page of a web site into Google Maps. You may find that a business that impresses you with their web site operates from a house or shop front - or vice versa.
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There are some basic searches that you can do for yourself for free.
ASIC Austn Securities & Investment Commission allows searching of the National Names Index. Check if a company is registered, check the ACN, previous names, business names. A cancelled business name can lead you to a previous owner of the business or other failed franchisees.
Click on more documents and see a history of filed documents. For further details you have to use an Information Broker.
There are a range of other searches available from ASIC. This link takes you to a page that describes the different searches. Or, go to the home page of ASIC Austn Securities & Investment Commission and explore the bottom right hand corner.
You can also set a watching brief. ASIC will notify you within a business day if any documents are lodged for any company that you are keeping an eye on. They call it a Company Alert.
It is difficult to find information on incorporated associations. The best you can do is write to OCBA and pay their fee and ask for a copy of their latest filed periodic return.
The Government's Business Gateway allows you to ABN - Search the Registry. The search link is in top right hand corner.
Australian Financial Security Authority maintains the National Personal Insolvency Index ("NPII"). Unfortunately you can only access this for a fee via Citec, Lawpoint, ABR Data or Legalco - or by going into Australian Financial Security Authority .
Other information about bankruptcy applications is available free from Bankruptcy Application Information.
Electoral Rolls are not for sale in any format, but can be viewed electronically at Electoral Commission Offices. You can use the You can use the verify your enrolment details online function to confirm that somebody is still enrolled at the address you have.
Trade Mark Searches ATMOSS and Patent Search can be searched as a guest at IP Australia. Enter as a Guest. I would only use this as a preliminary search and for a more comprehensive search you should defer to a Patent Attorney.
You can search and see if somebody has attracted the attention of ACCC Austn Competition & Consumer Cmn.. (Search the info-centre top right of the home page).
Credit Reference Checks - Veda Advantage - Allows you to carry out credit reference checks on private companies (and indirectly information about their directors). Casual use permitted, you do not have to subscribe. Try Multipower Express.
To search on public companies, use the Media Search topic on this page or review the material on Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) or available through your stockbroker's site..
Credit reference checks on individuals can only be carried out with their written consent.
To search internationally try Company Searches - Free & Basic by Hoovers.
Electronic documents and email include information beyond the printable text. This is known as Metadata. This goes beyond the looking to see if there are any old track changes in the document.
The ABA have a paper discussing both how to prevent giving away this extra information - but also how to retrieve the information if you are the detective. There is also Metadata removal and retrieval software available.
Tools to protect your own privacy - from some of the tricks mentioned on this page. You can also use online services and software to secure your email and to track it.
Former employees are often a good source of information. You can track who are or were employees at particular points of time using the Wayback Machine at Internet Archive Site discussed above.
WikiLeaks claims to vet and publish responsibly leaks from around the world, and have an Australian section.
Don't overlook the obvious. White Pages on-line.
If you are having trouble finding somebody in a search engine like Google on the first try or two, look them up in the Whitepages. There is often a link to a web page or you can find something like a discrepancy in the name that can help you with the search.
Journalism Net has a collection of international phone books.
You are not as anonymous on the internet as you think you are!
There is an excellent collection of tools for computer forensics written for lawyers called Cybersleuthing.com. The best one to try is Craig's Sampler of Informal Discovery Links.
DNSstuff has a collection of tools to let you work backwards from domain names, IP addresses and the like. Click on "Free DNSTools" in the top menu.
Then you have web sites known as "grey pages" or "reverse telephone directories". Veda eTrace provides information on Australia. You can search from name, address or phone number and see the history of who subscribed for the phone at the address you find.
Skip Ease Introduction To Doing Free People Searches On The Web is a very instructive page on using the internet to find people. Unfortunately some of the people finding sites that they mention are limited to USA or will only take you so far before requesting a small subscription payment.
Not as free as they used to be. Some databases like ProQuest are only available by subscription - or via your librarian.
News Ltd provide paid media searches. Your friendly librarian may also have access to a DataBase such as ProQuest.
You can also set a watching brief with Fairfax that covers many papers. The watching brief is free, but you have to pay to access the results.
Journalism Net has a list of international newspaper archives and search tools.
TinEye will search and see if an image has appeared elsewhere on the internet. (Also useful if you find an image that you like and want to find where to purchase it as a stock image). Or you can open one of your own images by clicking on the cameral image on the right of the search bar at www.images.google.com (or drag and drop and image there).
If you do find anything, then you might be interested in Legal plagiarism cases: a non-exhaustive review.