HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Online dating site Match.com turns 20 years old this week, opening a world of meeting strangers online. Many other dating sites and apps followed, helping people find true love.
But while some find happily ever after, others encounter dangerous, even deadly situations they might have prevented with a free background check.
Investigator Dick Gibbins says with a first and last name, date of birth, and address, you can search many government databases for free.
"With just that basic information one can do a lot of research," Gibbins said.
First, figure out which county the person lives in and find the district clerk's website.
- Harris County District Clerk
- Galveston County District Clerk
"This is the website for the Harris County District Clerk. They have an online services link and it says you can search their documents," Gibbins said.
Enter the information you know and be sure to search both civil and criminal records. But you will have to search each county individually.
"You're only going to find the records that are filed in Harris County. So if an individual had a problem in Fort Bend County or Galveston County or some county in another state, it obviously isn't going to pull that up," Gibbins said.
Gibbins suggests finding out any other places the person has lived and checking those district clerk websites as well.
In Texas, you can also find statewide criminal records on the Department of Public Safety website for a small fee.
"It'll bring up any criminal conviction information that was filed in the state of Texas," Gibbins said.
On that same site, you can also search the state's sex offender registry.
"Most times will bring up a photograph of the person as well as the charges and when and where, and that's available free of charge that is not part of the criminal record search," Gibbins said.
To go beyond the state, you can search the National Sex Offender Public website through the U.S. Department of Justice.
Gibbins also suggests registering and paying a small fee in order to check federal criminal records online.
"They are crimes that are investigated by any federal agency such as the FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration," Gibbins said.
In the end, Gibbins warns these searches help, but will only get you so far. If you need more, consider a professional's help. He says private investigators have resources that aren't available to the public that even he has used while raising a daughter.
"She probably doesn't know this, but I did some checking on some persons," Gibbins said.
These resources are not just for singles. You can use them to check the backgrounds of babysitters, nannies, or anyone else.
How to background check your online dates for free