On the Internet, as Martha and the Vandellas would say, you have "nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide."
Just ask Norma Mott Tillman, author of "How to Find Almost Anyone, Anywhere" (Rutledge Hill Press, $14.95). A private investigator for more than a decade, Tillman thinks the Internet is the world's greatest tool for locating anyone in the United States.
As a gumshoe, Tillman has an enviable record. Over the years, the resident of Nashville, Tenn., has located more than 1,000 missing persons by conventional methods: poring over courthouse records, knocking on doors, wearing out shoe leather.
But the Internet, Tillman says, can turn anyone into a cyberprivate eye - from the comfort of his own living room. Virtually everyone in the United States leaves some kind of paper trail. More and more, those paper trails are finding their way into computer databases, many of which can be accessed via the Internet.
Before anyone gets worked up over the issue of the Internet and privacy, let me acknowledge that critics have raised many legitimate concerns.
But the tips that Tillman offers aren't for people who want to root around in someone's private life. They're for people looking for long-lost sweethearts, old military buddies or missing relatives.
In abbreviated form, here is Tillman's guide for finding people using the Internet:
First, determine whether the person for whom you are searching is alive or dead. You can do that at the Ancestry Web site - www.ancestry.com - which maintains free access to the master Social Security death index. Anyone with a Social Security number, who has died since 1948, is listed.
If you have an exact name and an idea where an old friend might live, try a Web site called 411 Locate - www.411locate.com - which searches for people by name and state. It can produce a map with driving directions.
Also try "playing around with the spelling of the name you're looking for," Tillman said. "Sometimes, their name simply could have been typed in wrong by whoever was doing the data entry."
If you don't know the state, try a Web site called Unclaimed Property. It has links to state agencies throughout the country that keep tabs on unclaimed property valued at more than $100. This site might not tell you where somebody is, Tillman says, but it can tell you where they've been. Address:www.unclaimed.org
When all else fails, Tillman says, consider hiring someone schooled in the ways of Internet databases. There are dozens of such companies throughout the country. You can find them by doing a Yahoo search on the term "information broker."
Such brokers typically charge from $30 to $200, depending on the databases they tap.
Pub Date: 12/28/98