You may not realize it, but you probably verify email addresses every day. Whenever you get an email address and send an email to it, you’ve verified that email address.
This works just fine when we get an email address from a friend or get one from a company website.
But if you purchase an email list, or scrape emails from the web, verifying those email addresses may not be so simple. However, if you’ve collected emails in bulk, verifying them before you use them is even more important.
If you’re sending sensitive information, or running email marketing campaigns, having invalid email addresses can be bad news.
Also, almost 10% of email addresses entered on forms are invalid. This comes from typos, invalid syntax (like a missing “@” sign), or people entering fake emails to get to gated content without giving up their inbox.
So it’s best to check email addresses before you use them.
Unfortunately, email addresses are slippery things since they’re so easy to create. The fact that there’s a nearly infinite number of possible email addresses makes this even worse. People often have multiple email addresses. Scammers can have thousands.
Fortunately, there are a few methods businesses and individuals can use to verify email addresses.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is Email Address Verification?
First, it’s important to understand what you’re doing when you verify email addresses.
Verifying an email address is simply making sure that the email address exists and can receive emails. But verifying an email address doesn’t tell you who owns that email. You’ll need to do a reverse email lookup to discover that information. We’ll cover reverse email lookups later on in this post.
You should verify email addresses before you use them for anything. Doing a reverse email lookup on an invalid email is a waste of time. Sending marketing emails to invalid emails can hurt your email deliverability.
In short, sending emails to unverified email addresses isn’t worth it.
How to Verify Email Addresses
Since it’s important, it’s worth it to know how to do it. This is true even if you end up just using an email verification service.
But doing it yourself is can be pretty easy, depending on how many email addresses you need to verify and how vital it is that you’re discreet.
Let’s dig into checking email addresses yourself!
Send an Email to The Email Address
The first way to verify email addresses is the simplest. In fact, you’ve probably done this already:
Just send an email to the email address you’re verifying.
If the email address doesn’t exist, the email domain will send an automated email telling you as much. Some techies call this a “bounce email.”
Notice that the bounce message says that the email can’t be found or that it’s unable to receive messages. So it’s possible that the email does exist, but the inbox is full or the account is disabled. Either way, sending more emails to an email address like this won’t work.
If the address is valid, you simply won’t get an automated bounce email.
A few things to consider if you’re using this method of email verification:
- It’s best not to use your business or professional email if you’re verifying a lot of emails this way. Sending a bunch of emails to invalid addresses could get your email blacklisted.
- If being inconspicuous is important, this method probably isn’t for you. If you do hit a valid email address, the person who owns that address will see your email. You can create a dummy email account for checking email addresses. However, there are better options for verifying email addresses without being noticed.
- Occasionally, email domains will have an email catch all. This means that they don’t return bounce emails for invalid email addresses. This is very rare. But it can give false positives if you’re checking emails with test messages.
There are other methods, if you’d rather not check email addresses this way. Some are more technical than others.
Ping the Email Address to Verify It
This method of verifying email addresses is a bit more technical and time intensive. But the email owner won’t know you did it.
So this technique can work well for people who only need to check a few addresses and also need confidentiality.
Here, all you need to do is check the mail exchange (MX) records of the email domain.
To check the MX records, type this command into the command prompt or Mac OS terminal:
nslookup -type=mx [domain name]
Replace [domain name] with whichever domain the email is located on. If you’re checking firstname.lastname@example.org, the command would look like this:
nslookup -type= searchbug.com
This command will probably return a few results. There may be more. There may be fewer. But your results should look something like this:
From here, choose one of the servers listed in the MX records. Usually, one without an “ALT” tag is best.
Now, use these four commands to connect to the server and simulate sending an email:
telnet [server] 25
mail from: [dummy email]
rcpt to : [email you want to verify]
So, for my mock Searchbug address, the commands would look like this:
telnet ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.com 25
mail from: email@example.com
rcpt to: firstname.lastname@example.org
If the email address exists, you’ll get a response like, “OK.” If the email is invalid, the server will return a 550 error like:
“The email account that you tried to reach does not exist.”
“The email account that you tried to reach is disabled.”
That’s it. This is a good way to verify an email address without alerting whoever owns the email.
However, it’s best not to use this method for mass email verification. Doing this too much can get your IP address blacklisted. That means that email domains might stop accepting emails from your IP address.
If you have a lot of email addresses to verify, or if you’re not comfortable messing with the terminal or command prompt, it may be best to try a different method.
Use an Email Verification Tool
Email verification tools are often free. They also work without exposing you to the email address owner.
Email verification tools are also accurate. False positives are possible, especially with popular email domains like Yahoo!. However, these are uncommon. As you can see, Searchbug easily spotted my mock email address.
This is the fastest method. Most tools only allow validation of one email address at a time. Email validation services are subject to the same IP blacklisting rules as you are. So they try not to get their IP addresses blacklisted either.
However, it only takes a few seconds to validate an email address this way. That’s far faster than sending emails or pinging email servers.
But, if you have just a bit of information related to an email address, you can use batch processing to get valid emails.
Use Batch Append to Verify Email Addresses
If you have a lot of emails to verify, and have one other piece of information for each email address, you can use batch processing to validate email addresses.
You can use these pieces of information to validate email addresses in bulk:
- Phone number
Here’s how to do it:
Build a TXT, CSV, or Excel file with just the information other than the email addresses. For example, a list of names and addresses would be perfect.
Upload your bulk file to a batch processing service, and request that they append emails. This will give you a list of emails that have been matched to the names and addresses. You can double check these emails against your original list of emails.
This isn’t perfect validation. However, this cross checks the emails against two sources. Then you can use a true email validator to check the emails that don’t match.
This is a great way to verify email addresses in bulk. It’s especially effective for businesses that are just trying to minimize the number of emails they send to invalid email addresses.
But there’s one more way to check an email address.
Use Reverse Email Lookup
This isn’t quite the same as true email address validation. This won’t tell you if the email address exists or not. But it’s useful if you want to find out who an email address belongs to.
This is a kind of “soft validation” because most invalid emails aren’t assigned to anyone. It’s also handy if you have an email that you suspect may belong to someone, but need to make sure before you fire off any email messages.
In this case, you’d just take the email addresses, and use them to get names and addresses. That will tell you who owns the email addresses you have. This checks the email addresses you already have against a secondary source so you can be reasonably sure you know who’s on the other end of the email wire.
This method can also be used with batch append services. So you can use it if you have huge lists of emails to match with names.
So, to sum up, there are a handful of ways to validate email addresses. Sending emails or pinging email servers can work if you need to be sure an email exists.
Batch append and reverse email address lookup can serve as soft email validation. They can tell you if the email has a name and other personal information attached to it, which usually signals that the email address is valid. These methods can be especially effective when they’re paired with true email validation to clean up inconsistencies.
Skip tracing seems like pretty serious business, right?
The term sounds technical. And you may have heard it tossed around by bounty hunters or private investigators on TV.
However, skip tracing is useful for more than hunting down fugitives. Skip tracing can be handy for harmless things like finding a friend from high school that you’ve lost contact with. Or doing a little skip tracing yourself can save you money if you need to hire a private investigator or processing service for something more serious like a missing person search.
In any case, skip tracing may be useful for you. Or you may need to hire somebody to do it for you. We’ll cover the basics here to help you decide.
What is Skip Tracing?
First, a basic definition: “skip trace” is the process of using the information you have about somebody to discover their current location.
The name “skip tracing” is derived from the term, “skip town.” Someone who has dropped off the grid is said to have “skipped town.”
What you’ve seen on TV regarding bounty hunters and private investigators is partially correct. Bounty hunters and private investigators perform skip traces to find people. However, just because you don’t know where a person is, doesn’t mean they’re trying to hide from you.
Sometimes people just move and neglect to tell everyone they were moving. Maybe they’re doing some extended travel. Either way, there are a lot of reasons that people who aren’t bounty hunters or private investigators might want to do a skip trace.
Here are some examples of other professionals who have use for skip tracing:
- Real estate agencies.
- Marketing departments and agencies.
- Missing children organizations.
- Insurance fraud investigators.
- Repossession companies.
- School alumni reunion organizers.
- Employment and tenant verification services.
There are others. But you see how skip tracing is useful in a broad range of professional fields.
Since it’s possible (maybe even probable) that skip tracing is useful for you, here’s what you need to know before you do it:
Is Skip Tracing Legal?
Skip tracing is legal in the U.S.
As long as you’re not breaking laws in order to get information (for example: accessing private records illegally or using violence to get information from somebody), there’s no law against using what you know to find out where someone is.
However, there may be laws in your state or related to your business that govern how you can use your knowledge of a person’s whereabouts. For example, if you’re in the debt collection industry, it’s illegal to mislead or lie about your intentions when contacting debtors. So it’s legal for debt collectors to find people. But you have to tell them truthfully why you’re contacting them, if you do.
Check your local laws and business specific regulations to make sure that you don’t step over the line once you’ve discovered where someone is.
Now, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of skip tracing.
How to Skip Trace Someone
Skip tracing is more of a process than a one-off activity. There are several steps. However, the process fairly straightforward.
Here’s how it works:
Build a profile
The first step is to collect all the information that you have about the person you’re searching for. This is all the data you can currently verify.
Consider personal information:
- Names (first, middle, and last), aliases, and nicknames.
- Date of birth.
- Email addresses.
- Physical addresses.
- Land line and cell phone numbers.
- Social security number.
Also look for historical information:
- Previous physical addresses.
- High school attended.
- College or university attended.
- Previous employers and professions.
- Military service.
And gather associative information:
- Names and addresses of relatives.
- Ex-spouses and significant others.
- Friends, colleagues, and other associates.
- Business associations or affiliations.
Then, take into account any assumed information you may have. The person may have mentioned something about a place they intended to go in your last conversation. A friend of theirs might have said something offhand about a new address or job.
Assumed information can’t be verified. But it can be useful for narrowing your search later on. At the very least, it gives you somewhere to start.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. But you get the idea: collect all the information you can. The more information you have, the easier the entire process will be.
Make sure the person is alive
This might be a bit dark, but one reason people fall out of contact is because they’re deceased.
So the first step is to ensure that you’re searching for a live person. To do this, you need to check death records. Fortunately there’s a tool that checks death records.
There are free people search tools. However, free searches don’t check death records. So it’s unlikely that you’ll find this information with a free search tool unless information from the death certificate is published somewhere independently.
Premium records searches usually check death records. However, these aren’t free.
Single premium public records searches are affordable. You can usually get one search done for a few dollars.
If you’re doing a lot of premium member searches, purchasing a subscription to a premium public records search service can save you money.
Once you’ve got this out of the way, move on to the next step.
Check standard phone directories
The most basic information sources are the yellow and white pages. Searching these directories is free.
This search may not turn up any direct matches. Most cell phone numbers aren’t listed in the yellow and white pages. And people are more and more going without any landline at all. So free reverse phone lookups can be spotty.
However, you may get lucky and find something. Or you could tun up a relative or roommate. This is good information when you’re trying to find someone.
Next up: the internet.
Do a Standard Internet Search
This method can be ineffective if you have very limited information. If you’ve only got a phone number or an email address, search engines may not find much.
But, an internet search can turn up some legitimate results if you’ve built a good profile to work from. With a few pieces of information, you can start connecting the dots and get a hit. If you do find someone, cross reference your findings with as many pieces of information as possible. You want to verify that you’ve found the right person.
Also, use the advanced search function to narrow your criteria. Most search engines offer advanced search functionality.
However, if you come away from Google empty handed, you’ll have to forge ahead to the next step.
Search Social Networks
The first thing to know about searching social media is that you’ll usually need an account to get meaningful results. You’ll get extremely limited information if you search without being logged into a valid account.
Social network searches can be very effective if you have the right information. Since social media accounts require an email address, you’ll usually get a good match if you have an email address to search with.
Also, people are usually friends on social media with their actual family and friends. If you already have a list of associated contacts, you can use this to verify that you’ve found the right person on social networks based on the contacts associated with their profile.
Also check the birthday on any social media profiles you find. If it’s not publicly displayed, look for happy birthday messages posted by their friends. The more pieces of information on their social media profile that match what you already know, the more likely it is that you’ve got a positive match.
Facebook and Instagram are by far your biggest information pools. But old networks like MySpace can also be good places to search. A person may have an old MySpace account that they forgot to make private or remove information from.
If you find someone on social media, this will often give you enough information to find them. It’s very common for people to post updates about their whereabouts on social networks.
But, if the person is actively trying to avoid being found, they may intentionally keep sensitive information off the web.
However, if social media doesn’t pan out for you, it’s not the end of the road.
Search professional networks
People have more interest in being found on professional networks. There’s a perception that there are fewer people snooping around on professional networks. This means that sometimes people are a bit looser with their information on social media networks like LinkedIn.
The rules for professional networks are essentially the same as social networks:
- You’ll need an account to find any good information.
- An email address is your best search criteria.
- Check their connections and birthday to verify you’ve found the right person.
If you’ve still found nothing at this point, there’re still a few more options.
Search other online resources
There a few more repositories of information that you can access online for free.
Check blogging sites like WordPress. There’s no universal search engine for blogs. But if you check the most popular blogging sites, you’ll cover a vast majority of that ground.
If you know where the person went to high school or college, check their school alumni and reunion websites. This can turn up location information, as people often talk about where their traveling from for a reunion or what they’re up to now.
At this point, if you’re still coming up zeroes, it may be time to throw a few dollars into your search.
Do a Skip Tracing Search
There are skip trace searches that are often very effective.
However, skip tracing searches usually costs a few dollars. And you’ll usually need some sort of business account to use these services. But you can purchase as many searches as you need.
If you’ve got a ton of people to find, say you’re cleaning up a business or consumer list, you can do a batch append. Batch append won’t complete your skip trace.
But it’ll help build more complete profiles for skip tracing.
If you do a lot of skip tracing, a subscription to a people finding service may be the most cost effective option for you.
Anyway, if all else fails, you may need to hire a professional to find someone for you. If a person can’t be found using online resources, it may be necessary to contact someone who knows them and use investigative prowess to get information. This sort of work is best left to people who do it for a living.
So that’s skip tracing. Depending on your needs, a DIY online skip trace may work for you.
If you’re struggling, check out our people finder to find out if a free people search will find who you’re looking for.
Feel free to leave a comment and let us know if you’ve successfully skip traced anyone. If you have, what methods worked for you?
Reverse address lookup is a super useful tool for most businesses.
Having an address for a lead or business contact opens up a lot of possibilities for marketing and follow up conversations.
If you have addresses for your entire customer base, you can do even more advanced analytics and make your advertising more targeted.
So, knowing how to do a reverse address lookup is a good skill to have in your pocket. We’ll show you how to do it in this post.
But, before we get into the meat of doing reverse address lookups, let’s cover the basics.
What is Reverse Address Lookup?
Reverse address lookup is simply using a street address to find out the name and phone number of the person that lives or works there, or who owns the property at that address.
Doing a reverse address lookup will get different results based on what sort of address you’re reversing.
Reverse IP address lookup is available, but it’s a different service. We’ll focus on physical addresses here…
How Accurate is Reverse Address Lookup?
Reverse address lookups are generally more accurate for single family residences or detached houses. If the address is a large apartment building or an office building with a lot of offices, the information can be spotty.
The trouble with apartments and office buildings is that people often leave out part of the address when they fill out official documents or public records.
This information can include:
- The apartment number.
- A fraction if there are two apartments in the same unit.
- The office number or letter.
People sometimes do this out of convenience or because they don’t want to be found. Either way, these incomplete addresses make their way into marketing company databases or get used in organizational algorithms.
Whether you’re purchasing address lists, gathering them from customer registrations, scraping them from the internet, or using some other method of address collection, it’s critical that you verify the addresses are valid.
Even if you paid for the addresses, that doesn’t mean they’re correct or current.
You don’t want to waste time trying to find the name, phone number, or email address associated with a physical address that’s invalid. The most accurate and free way to validate addresses is to use the USPS Zip Code Lookup.
You can only lookup one address at a time using the USPS website. But it’s effective and it’s free. If you want bulk address validation, you may have to pay a bit for it.
Once you know that an address is valid, you can do a reverse address lookup to find more information about that address.
How to Do a Reverse Address Lookup
How you go about doing a reverse address lookup comes down to how much time and money you’re willing to invest in finding address information.
While it’s possible to do a successful reverse address lookup for free, it could take you a significant chunk of time.
So reversing addresses yourself may not be a viable option if you’ve got a lot of addresses to lookup.
But if a free reverse address lookup makes sense for you, here’s how to do it:
Check Search Engines
For private residences, the success rate using this method is rather low. But an internet search works quite well if the address belongs to a business. Businesses publicize their addresses so people can find them.
If the address appears to be a business, double check to verify the right business is listed. Sometimes, the first results aren’t the actual business at that address, as you can see in the image below.
Also, the information you find may be outdated or inaccurate. Be careful using information you find this way.
Search social networking sites
A standard internet search sometimes turns up information from social networks. But the best way to search the massive repository of information on social networks is by using the search function in the social networking apps themselves.
If someone has their address openly displayed on their Facebook or LinkedIn page, it should turn up when you search for that address.
Also check the less popular networking sites like MySpace. Although MySpace is mostly a ghost town now, there may be some address information left on an abandoned MySpace page.
Searching review sites like Yelp and Google reviews is a good way to find out if the address your reversing belongs to a business. Most businesses have their address listed on these pages so they can get reviews.
Remember, that just like information from search engines, anything you find on social networks may be old or incorrect information. Be cautious with this data as well.
Use a free online address lookup
Free online address lookup tools tend to be more reliable than internet searches in terms of finding some information. However, free online address lookups can’t guarantee the accuracy of the information they find.
Free address search tools rely mostly on information from the white pages and yellow pages. This information is publicly available. Most of it is used by police departments or published in libraries. That’s why information from these sources isn’t reliably found using a simple Google search.
Note: the white pages and yellow pages are public information for free use. Never pay for an online address search that relies only on these sources.
You’re less likely to come away from a free address lookup empty handed. But it’s probably unwise to hire a process service or pay to have something delivered to an address you found using a free address lookup tool.
Use a premium records search
If the free reverse address lookup methods don’t work for you, it may be time to invest a few dollars into your search.
A premium records search scours unpublished records like court proceeding records and marriage applications for information. All this information is publicly available but usually doesn’t show up in an internet search or free reverse address lookup.
Premium records searches are a good way to find names, phone numbers, email addresses, and aliases connected with an address. Premium records searches are also relatively inexpensive. But the information may not be 100% accurate.
You can also do bulk premium records searches, also called batch appends, if you have a list of addresses to check.
You can simply upload a TXT, CSV, or Excel file with the addresses you need information for. Good services allow you to choose the information you need to gather.
It’s not entirely free. But a premium records search is a good compromise if you need to find decent information without investing a lot of time and money. Batch append services are usually reliable enough for businesses to use with purchased lists of leads or for completing customer profiles.
Note: some companies offer inexpensive non-recurring people search memberships. However, be wary of any people search company that wants you to sign up for a monthly subscription without knowing if they actually found the information you’re looking for.
A good reverse address lookup provider also won’t charge you if they don’t find any information.
Hire a professional
This is the best option if you:
- Need the most accurate information possible.
- Are willing to pay for it.
Hiring a private investigator is best when you need well-verified information. It’s also the most expensive and takes the longest.
To find information, a private investigator will usually do what’s called a utility search or a utility billing contact information search. The best way to get information about an address is to find out who pays the utility bills at that address.
This might point to a landlord. However, private investigators can often get tenant information with a bit more investigative work.
Finding information this way is usually very reliable. But beware of any private investigator who doesn’t offer at least a partial refund if they fail to find information for you.
All the same principles apply to doing a reverse address lookup for a PO box or a private or personal mailbox (PMB, like a UPS store box). You can try to find the information inexpensively or for free. But if you absolutely need verified information about the real address, it’s best to pay for an assisted search.
And one last thing…
Is a Reverse Address Lookup Legal?
In short, yes, using an address to find information is legal.
However, there may be protections for the way you use that information, depending on your business.
Protections provided by the government are fairly minimal in the United States. But there may be limitations or restrictions for using personal information in the terms of service for some businesses, such as Amazon sellers.
It may be perfectly legal to get information using a reverse address lookup. But check to be sure that you’re not breaking any rules when you use the information you find.
So, that’s it. If you’re trying to find information based on an address, these are your options.
The reverse address lookup method you use depends on how vital it is that you get accurate information. Searching the web or playing with free online address lookup tools can be entertaining. And a premium records search is accurate enough for many commercial business uses.
When you really need dependable information, though, you’ll probably have to invest in some professional services.
Have you ever received a call from an unknown number and wondered who it was? Maybe you missed the call or wanted to know who it was before you called back. We all have those unknown calls that we just don’t want to answer, but sometimes we’re just curious about who was on the other line.
Most of us have used a site such as Yellowpages or whitepages to search company or residential phone numbers by name, but what about the various reverse phone lookup sites? Do they work? Are they accurate, and what are the costs?
How Can I Find Who Owns a Number?
The popular search term that often comes up in Google instant search when you start typing reverse phone, is known as “reverse phone lookup”. This enables users searching the internet to find a website that can get a phone trace performed.
Generally, results include the owner name, address, phone issuing location, phone carrier, and line type. Sometimes social networks, emails, and more are also added to results. Sites promise accurate, up-to-date information to instantly show after a search. This is what reverse phone lookup sites promise, but do they deliver?
The majority of the time, after a search is done, a reverse phone lookup site will excitedly tell you that they have found information for the phone number you have entered. The “read report” button, when clicked, displays a free trial offer, or full report purchase option. The most a phone number search site will give is the original a phone carrier or location (typically called the “rate center”) which has nothing really to do with where the phone actually is used. More often than not, you’re looking for a name and often, this information falls short. And, even more often, many sites try to sell you information that is available from phone books or free reverse phone lookup sites.
White pages search results display the area code, carrier, phone number, city, state, zip, and time zone of the phone number. You probably already know the area code and full number which you most likely entered in the search bar. The city and state is a given because you most likely have the area code. The helpful information here that can help narrow down your search is the carrier. Sites like anywho.com and Yellow Pages display a note below the search bar saying “cell phone numbers are not available.” This drastically narrows down the search ability.
In this day and age, even some businesses are run from cell phones. So what is the best way to find information on your missed phone call? Sometimes searches on sites like Google, Yahoo, or Bing turn up better results than most reverse phone lookup sites. A quick search for a random cell phone number entered into the search bar can sometimes find information including social media accounts and email addresses. These results all depend on how much information someone has placed online and if they’ve included their phone number. This search tactic can be a hit or miss, but when it works you’ve got the information you’re looking for.
Should I Pay to have a Number Researched?
Maybe you’re thinking about paying the fee, (which can sometimes be as low as $0.99) that some sites ask for, promising they have more information on the number you searched. These fees are often promoted as discounted, unmatched, or special one-time prices. If you’re willing to take the gamble then it may pay off, but if you want to save yourself some frustration, pass up the special offer. Chances are it will not be money well spent and you’ll end up having to cancel future charges from fine print trial offers.
In reality, most numbers these days are unlisted or non-published. These numbers don’t show up in any published phone directory or phone book. It wouldn’t be smart for a business to have an unlisted number so this only pertains to residential numbers. Anyone can request that their number be unlisted and since the rise in popularity of phone solicitors, many people don’t want their number published.
Because of this, standard reverse phone lookup databases can’t offer detailed information on phone numbers. They simply have no way of retrieving that data for themselves, let alone for others. If you really want to find out who owns a phone number, our recommendation is to pass up the “special offer” sites, do a little digging on the search engines; try a couple of different free reverse phone lookup sites and if your searches don’t turn up anything, remember that the reality is, it’s most likely not available for free.
Keep in mind that some websites, especially SearchBug use a multitude of databases including LNP, CNAM, public records, private data feeds with phone records, plus a variety of “premium phone records” and combine them with algorithms to try and locate the most reliable information possible. If information is not available via all these online databases, then SearchBug offers advanced assisted searches where private investigators can dig even deeper to get accurate results.