Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A blog for PIs and writers/readers of the PI genre

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Answering Writers’ Questions: What Records Can PIs Get via Databases or by Phone?

Posted by Writing PIs on March 20, 2012

Writer’s Question: I know private investigators have access to both proprietary and public online databases. What about obtaining a birth certificate? In my story, I need to reveal that no father was listed on suspect’s birth certificate, but from what I’ve read, these certificates are hard to get. Is that true? Maybe a private investigator could purchase one through a database or make a phone call to request one?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: No, one cannot get birth certificates through proprietary/public databases or by phone. One needs to have permission (power of attorney) from the parents or from the individual. Or, permission via a court order.

Writer’s Question: What about employment records? My amateur sleuth wants to compile another person’s work history — is there a way to do this?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Answer: Well, it’s possible to piece together some work history via proprietary/public databases, but this is getting more and more difficult due to identity theft legislation. There are some PIs who specialize in employment work histories (or they advertise they can retrieve such histories) but we’re not sure a legal means exists to get a complete work history. On the other hand, many people’s LinkedIn profiles (for example) reveal partial (sometimes full) work histories.  Sometimes other social media sites, such as Facebook, also show people’s work histories (that is, whatever the people wish to share via those sites).

Writer’s Question: Is it easy for PIs to find out what degrees a college graduate earned?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Answer: Colleges & other educational institutions will provide the dates and degrees earned for an individual. Anyone can call and request this information. Same with accreditation. Professional organizations will release (via phone call) the type of accreditation a person earned and the dates the person belonged to the organization.

Writer’s Question: I understand police records are generally only available for a brief time after an incident, which is when the press gets them. True?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: False. Most police agencies now keep records for a minimum of 5-7 years. Sometimes we have found that when a case is currently open, a police department might not release those records to us. However, recently we were able to obtain (via a written request…these forms are often online within the PD website) records for a case that was open.

Writer’s Question: I also understand that a PI can get only convictions, not arrests. True?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: False. Many state police agencies keep records of arrests and release them to the public upon request and fee payment. However, these records caution that they are not to be relied on as any indication of conviction.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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