Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Answering Writer’s Question: Finding Someone’s New, Bogus Online ID

Posted by Writing PIs on July 30, 2015

A writer asked, “I’m trying to figure out how a PI would discover the identity of someone who has intentionally (but not through legal channels) ditched a previous identity and assumed a new one. This person claims to be an immigrant from IT but is American.”

It appears this writer would like a PI character to detect the new identity based on the old one. We have a few ideas. But first, a few caveats:

We’re limiting this search to a possible new online ID.  After all, assuming a new ID in a broader context — new home address, new driver’s license, and so on — is a large topic, one entire books have been written about. We’re not recommending any of the following books, just noting they exist: How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trials, and Vanish Without a Trace by Frank Ahern; How to Be Invisible: Protect Your Home, Your Children, Your Assets, and Your Life by J.J. Luna.

As to the individual claiming he’s an immigrant from IT: We’ll assume for this post that IT = Italy. While a PI is conducting his/her search on the new ID, they would keep an eye out for any Italian references, names and so forth in the results. Of course, based on the writer’s scenario, the guy isn’t really from Italy, but if he’s pretending he is, such a reference might pop up.

We’re providing these ideas for the sake of a story. However, in real life we’d recommend a person retain the services of a professional PI who specializes in locating people (AKA skip tracers). To find a skip tracer, contact your local state professional private investigator association: Private Investigator Associations by State (PINow). For example, a PI can run a person’s SSN in a proprietary database and learn a lot about the individual no matter what online IDs this person is juggling.

Now let’s look at three free online ways a fictional PI (or even a non-PI) might try to discover the identity of someone’s new online ID based on their old (ditched) one. For our example, we’ll call the old ID “Joe Smithy.”

1. What phone number did Joe Smithy use?

We once had a case where a man had been operating as multiple IDs on different dating sites, often ditching one ID and creating another to fit his needs. Except he kept the same phone numbers! Which we discovered when we ran a single reverse on a number he had provided our client (before he “disappeared” online) — and we discovered he was still using that old number.

modern cell phone

Yes, from a single reverse phone number search on Google, we got a listing of his interactions & IDs on different dating sites. Our poor client was devastated — she had never heard of a reverse phone number search before…but after learning how easy it is to run one, she saw for herself how busy this guy had been elsewhere. For more info on reverse number searches: How to Reverse Search Phone Numbers.

2. Did Joe Smithy have a photo?You can run a reverse photo search on Google

Google has a comprehensive reverse photo search option where anyone can plug in the photo and run a search on it…it’s possible Joe Smithy’s photo is appearing under his new ID. To learn more about running a reverse image search on Google: Fast and Easy Google Search Tips (scroll to Trick #2: Use images to search for photographs, illustrations and other graphics). Another free reverse photo search engine is TinEye.

3. Know Smithy’s hobbies, nicknames, etc.?

Run them in a social media search engine and see what pops up. For example if Joe Smithy was an avid online poker player, run “Joe Smithy poker” and see if a new ID is popping up on sites where Joe’s used to. We wrote about these search engines here: Free Social Media Search Engines.

Related Articles

“When Your Lover Is a Liar” by Philip A. Becnel (Pursuit Magazine). Excellent article by a private investigator on relationship fraud and bogus IDs.

Made in China: Fake IDs (New York Times). According to this 2015 article, the number of U.S. counterfeit IDs from China is on the rise.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

(As the Writing PIs are currently working other cases, as well as completing writing projects, we are unable to accept any new questions at this time. Thank you for your understanding.)


All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. 

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