Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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

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Posts Tagged ‘Online Detective Sites’

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for contact information for a missing loved one on the Internet, and eye and magnifying glassyou’re only finding out-of-date addresses and phone numbers, resist the urge to pay an online detective site.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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Online Detectives Sites: Don’t Waste Your Money

Posted by Writing PIs on December 13, 2009

You want to find someone (a long-lost relative, friend, business acquaintance, etc.).  Or maybe you want to do a background check on your nanny, see if  your applicant has a criminal history.  Or perhaps it’s for a more personal reason–you’re dating someone special, want to make sure she/he is really who they say they are.  You’re tempted to use one of those advertised online detective sites that promises to get you that elusive address, background history, phone number, email address, whatever.  Seems so easy, and best of all, you can do it from the comfort of your own home.

Don’t do it.

We know, it’s only going to cost you $19.95 (or $29.95 or $35.95 or more), but odds are you’ll be wasting your hard-earned money if you pay for their data.  Why?  Let us count the ways:

1.  Instead of access to the information you want, many of these detective web sites only offer links to other databases or websites (that cost more $$) for the information.   This sets you up for a lot of time, frustration, and money trying to find the information you want.

2.  Online detective databases advertise “timely” and “accurate” information, but you, the buyer, don’t know how often they update their information, or even if it’s accurate (after all, it was originally human fingers that typed in data–and being human, mistakes happen).  Maybe they purchase their data from yet another online database, and who knows how accurate that third-party vendor’s data is?

3.  Online detective databases are just that: online and impersonal.  There’s no live person interpreting the results or answering your questions.  You’re left with a chunk o’ data, and no one to tell you what’s relevant, if that “Sally Jones” address is actually the same Sally Jones you wanted to find, if the phone number you got is actually ported and although it once belonged to Sally, it now rings to Harvey Duncan, etc. etc. etc.

4.  Some statistics claim 97% of all detective web site offer little in the way of actual information, and that their information has been obtained through other outdated database and directories.

In summary, although it’s not impossible to find correct information on the Internet, it’s not a wise option.  Far better to cut the “middleman online database” and go to a reliable, expert source, such as a private investigator who can do the research, verify the accuracy of the information, and answer your questions.   Not sure how to find a qualified PI?  Check your state’s professional private investigator organization, ask a friend or ask your attorney for recommendations.

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