Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Posts Tagged ‘expectation of privacy’

During the Holidays, People Turn to PIs to Help Find Missing Relatives

Posted by Writing PIs on December 19, 2013

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The holidays are a time of celebrating with friends and family, a time when people often grow nostalgic about those with whom they’ve lost contact.  Sometimes people try to look up missing loved ones on the Internet (who aren’t always missing, by the way — sometimes their contact information fell through the cracks years ago), but there’s little or no information about their whereabouts online.

Online Detective Sites: Save Your Money

If you’ve been searching for contact information for a missing loved one on the Internet, and eye and magnifying glassyou’re only finding out-of-date addresses and phone numbers, resist the urge to pay an online detective site. A lot of their Internet ads promise to locate people for $19.95, $24.95, or more, but unless that person has stayed put, living in the same residence for at least two or more years, those Internet databases probably aren’t going to help you. Instead, you’ll end up paying good money for old, wrong or irrelevant information.  Unfortunately, if you have a question about the search results, there’s no live person to help you out.

Hiring a P.I. to Find Someone

Often, a qualified private investigator can locate a person efficiently and quickly.  Of course, there’s a lot of different variables that come into play when trying to locate a person — it can be more difficult to find someone, for example, if they have a very common name (e.g., Jane Smith), or there’s scant data about the individual, or the person has taken steps to not be found, etc.

One avenue of research P.I.s use to find people is through proprietary databases. But there’s more to their use than simply plugging a name or other identifier into them — an experienced P.I. is skilled at sifting through search results (sometimes reams of it), pinpointing relevant data, and often using it as a basis for further research.

What Are Proprietary Databases?

These are privately owned, password-protected online databases that are not available to the public. The proprietary databases we use cull their information from many different public records.  We once asked a customer rep if she knew exactly what public records her proprietary database pulled from, and she said, “There’s so many, it’d take me a day to tell you just some of them.”  One proprietary database advertises they pull from billions of public records.

Our proprietary database companies’ clientele includes private investigators, law enforcement, law firms, collection agencies and others who are professionally qualified. All clients of such databases, including the authors of this blog, have gone through background checks by these companies before they are allowed to access information in the databases.

Researching Public Records

Writing PIs: A Couple of Private Eyes Who Also WriteA qualified P.I. is also knowledgeable about searching public records, many of which are online, to locate someone. Below are a few examples of such public records:

County assessors’ sites.  These contain lists of owners of real property, along with information about the assessed value of that property

Privately owned cemeteries and mortuaries.  Here can be found burial permits, funeral service registers, funeral and memorial arrangements, obituaries, intermediate orders and perpetual care arrangements.

Court records. In reviewing these, a P.I. might find addresses, phone numbers, relatives’ names, places of employment, and more.

Additional means a P.I. might use to locate a person are through interviews, Internet research, investigating social media, surveillances and trash hits (searching garbage).

How a P.I. Handles Others’ Expectation of Privacy

If you contact a P.I. to help you find a missing relative, keep in mind that a professional investigator won’t simply hand over the found person’s private contact information to you.  Instead, after the P.I. locates the relative/loved one, the investigator will:

  • Inform the found person (through a phone call, letter or in person) that he/she has been hired to locate them by a client, and provide that person’s name.
  • Provide means for the found person to locate the client (through a phone number, address, email address, etc.).

These precautions are critical to protect others’ privacy. Unfortunately, there have been cases where criminals and others with questionable motives have hired P.I.s to find people.

Initial Screenings of Clientshat and magnifying glass on computer

Prior to accepting your case, a P.I. will likely conduct an initial screening to verify your identity, review your criminal background and check the legitimacy of your request.  You’d want the same privacy protection and options if someone was wanting to locate you.

It’s our experience that most “missing” family members are delighted to have been found by their loved ones.  And it’s rewarding to the investigator to have brought families together again.

Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Colleen Collins wrote about a particularly difficult “locate” in her article “Hired to Find a Long-Lost Love: A Case with a Surprise Ending.”

Happy Holidays, Writing PIs

To go to book's Amazon page, click on cover

To go to book’s Amazon page, click on cover

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Expectation of Privacy: Why Is It So Important for Private Investigators?

Posted by Writing PIs on March 15, 2011

This article now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle and Nook.

Posted in Expectation of Privacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Bored to Death: Jonathan was smart in that closet!

Posted by Writing PIs on October 4, 2010

Last night’s episode of Bored to Death (HBO, Sundays, 10 p.m. EDT) had us laughing so hard, we were crying.  Jonathan, the wannabe private eye who’s launched  his illegal investigative career (he’s not licensed) by advertising in Craiglist ads, ends up in his client’s bedroom closet, on surveillance to catch a cheating spouse.  To Jonathan’s surprise, he catches…no, we won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.

Let’s chat about that bedroom-sleuthing scene.

Was it legal for Jonathan the PI to hide in the bedroom closet? Yes.  The unsuspecting wife had no expectation of privacy, unfortunately, because her husband had given Jonathan permission to hide in the bedroom.

Was it smart for Jonathan to respond to his client’s text messages while on surveillance? No.  Sorry, Jonathan, but it’s a good rule of thumb to not be real-time interactive with clients while on surveillance.  You need to be watching the locale/person, not distracted by text messages, phone calls, reading a book…you get the picture.  It can take only a few seconds to miss what you’re hired to be surveilling.

Was it smart for Jonathan to text back to his client that nothing was happening? The issue of texting aside, YES!  Especially when you’re working a surveillance case where emotions run high–which they usually do in a suspected cheating spouse case.  The last thing a PI needs is an upset, hysterical client barging onto the scene.  Remember the woman in Texas who ran over her cheating husband THREE TIMES in a parking lot?  Guess how she knew her husband was there–the PI she’d hired called her from the hotel and told her.  Which is why we make it a rule that we do not converse or otherwise communicate with clients during the course of a surveillance.  Instead, they receive surveillance reports afterward.

No PI in New York would get by working as an unlicensed PI this long, so we’re hoping Jonathan gets caught soon, which could be a very entertaining premise.  But Bored to Death isn’t about gritty realism and rules.  It’s a funky, funny, sometimes surreal show that is getting better and better.  We can’t wait for next Sunday’s episode.

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Answering Writers’ Questions: Finding heirs, expectation of privacy

Posted by Writing PIs on May 16, 2010

Today we’re answering some writers’ questions about finding heirs and expectation of privacy when searching for an adopted child.

Writer’s Question: Maybe this is a question you can answer.  Let’s say a couple are married and the husband makes out a will.  If the wife is aware of how the estate is to be distributed and does not like that an estranged child from the husband’s first marriage is to receive money, could she pretend there is no will?  (Let’s say the child would not know the father died, so doesn’t know he/she inherited anything.)  Or when someone dies, how would it be made known if that person had a will or not?  Attorneys would not automatically be notified if a client died, so therefore would not intervene in the distribution of assets.  Could you be hired to find out if there actually WAS a will?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: Could the wife pretend there’s no will?  Yes, the wife is welcome to pretend there is no will, however, should one of the heirs find that out, they can enforce the will.  When someone dies, how would it be made known that they had a will?  Generally, they have already informed an attorney or an executor of their estate or their will that they have this will.  Could we, as PIs, be hired to find out if there actually is a will?  Yes.  We’d first check with the county clerk of court where the decedent lived.  Frequently, a will is lodged with the clerk of court.  But, if the will isn’t found there, we’d interview whoever might know who the attorney was that drew that will up, and then we’d contact that attorney.  If that even failed, we’d look for records of trusts in the county clerk and recorder’s office where the decedent last lived.  Frequently trusts are established by the same people who draft wills, and we would then have a good chance of locating that attorney through the trust documents on file with the county clerk and recorder.

Writer’s Question: This is a question about a client hiring you to find a child given up for adoption–if you found the child, would you tell the child that  someone asked to have them tracked down?  Does it depend on the child’s age (very young as opposed to a teenager)?  Or would you have to advise the child’s guardian that someone hired you?  Would the situation be different if it wasn’t a child given up for adoption, but a child who belonged to a family member?  For example,  a sister’s child who remains with the husband’s family after the sister dies and perhaps the husband moves away and loses contact with the sister’s (his wife’s) family.

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: We cannot talk to children under the age of 18 about adoption issues.  We would speak to the adoptive parent/guardian and they would make the decision whether or not the child would be informed, and if yes, they would do the informing.  The situation wouldn’t be different if it was a family member because the law considers a child who is residing with a relative on a long-term basis the same as a child in foster care or in an adoptive relationship.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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