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The amateur detective

Depending on what you're looking for, the kind of information available online can be broken down in a variety of ways. Here's how this case developed, with links to some basic resources.

    Searching the Net can be anything but elementary. But never fear: You can put some method in the madness. Here are the steps that our stealthy reporter followed and some links that could help jump-start a search of your own.

    Getting tipped off
    Pages that provide useful links and instruction on how to be a cybersleuth.

    The Stalker's Home Page: provides a wealth of tips and links to find and protect private information
    The Private Investigators Mall: an excellent starting point. It provides several links to PI home pages, referrals to investigators, tips on conducting searches, and a list of links
    Finding People on the Internet
    Sherlock@--The Internet Consulting Detective: a storehouse of tips and links
    The Internet Sleuth
    Yahoo's list of online investigators
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    Just the facts
    Sites that allow free searches of publicly available addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.

    Yahoo or Excite: if the person is a Net user
    Yahoo's people search
    DejaNews: a fully searchable archive of bulletin boards
    Switchboard: a popular nationwide telephone directory
    Four11 White Pages: telephone and email directory.
    Internet Address Finder
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    Digging deeper
    Sites that allow more specific, free searches.

    Military City Online Web Outpost: to search out people in the armed services
    Gopher links to university and other directories
    ReuNet: The Reunion Network: billed as the original missing people's network, this site helps find long-lost family and friends
    Ancestry Search: includes a free Social Security search of deceased Americans and other links
    The Missing Persons Pages: search a database of missing persons or submit a report about a missing person
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    Offline intelligence
    Sites that put you in touch with a human being. Keep in mind, you must generally pay for these services.

    1-800-U.S. SEARCH.
    Nationwide Investigations
    Pritchett Bureau of Investigation
    The Integrity Center
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    On the record
    Sites that allow searches of record databases; a combination of free and pay services

    KnowX and the The American Information Network will do court public records searches for free; you have to pay for the information if it's found, but it's fairly cheap
    Confi-chek is a brand-new site that says it will allow limited low-fee automated checks of records
    CDB Infotek is one of the most popular Web databases used by investigators but requires membership
    WESTLAW is another subscription-based service
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    When all else fails
    Sites that tell you where to write for information.

    Where to write for vital records
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    (NOTE: This is by no means a comprehensive list of all engines and services on the Net. NEWS.COM does not endorse the sites behind these links.)