Inland Empire women wanting to verify if someone has a criminal past are regular visitors to a free online database that links users to potential sources of information on people, the website's founder told City News Service Friday.
"If you've got a feeling about somebody, and you want to dig deeper, this is a good starting place," said Erik Knight, creator of Phoenix-based DirtSearch.org. "You can get a detailed glimpse, a snapshot, of the person."
According to Knight, the five-year-old Internet startup gleans information from a variety of public portals and other sites to deliver search results to users.
In Riverside and San Bernardino counties last year, 160,000 people logged onto DirtSearch.org at least once and about one-fourth of them returned "religiously," Knight said.
The favored search terms? "Inmate records, mug shots and criminal records," Knight told CNS.
He said much like users in the rest of California, inland residents regularly seeking info from DirtSearch.org appeared to be women between the ages of 25 and 34. Surveys indicated low-income Hispanic females were the most frequent visitors.
The search engine's biggest lure, Knight admitted, is its no-cost access. Users can do basic and "deep" name searches without charge. A basic search will produce results inside of six minutes, while a deep search can take up to three times as long.
Knight cautioned that multiple returns of people with the same name might present confusion as to who's who, so it's incumbent on the user to complete verification by other means.
"We're searching over a thousand sites in California alone. Can you imagine doing that by hand? It would take days," Knight said. "This is about putting the data out there and providing a service. We like to be accurate. It's important to remember this is one tool."
Among the site's newest features is a photograph search, which allows users to input the "tags" associated with online images to help verify someone's identity.
According to Knight, DirtSearch.org relies on pay-per-click ads and donations to keep it going. He pointed out that most traditional background check websites require up-front payments before users can access information that often is not anymore detailed than what they might find on his site.
Knight acknowledged that counties, such as Riverside, that no longer make court records available online have put a squeeze on the information pipeline, but the quest to convince public officials to at least make basic data, such as names, associated with cases accessible is continuing.
"We want to be as free and open as possible," he said.
-City News Service