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We are often asked about how to find certain pieces of information about someone. Like whether they are married. Where they live. What date they were born. Whether they have any money. Where they work. What kind of person they are. Or what they are up to.

Which got me thinking.

What if you wanted to find out everything about someone? Literally everything, including what they ate for lunch yesterday.

Would that be possible?

I often tell clients that anything is possible. Any motivated party can find out (just about) anything about someone. But everything?

Absolutely.

This, of course, means sticking to all legal and ethical boundaries that we have. I am sure some other people might have some more nefarious methods, like hacking into someone’s computer or phone, either of which is pretty much the hub of all personal information (if you don’t believe me, just ask the FBI).

So here we go…

Public records

No public record would be too small, including criminal records, civil lawsuits, judgments, liens, bankruptcies, property records, motor vehicle records, watercraft records, U.S. Tax Court and U.S. Court of Claims filings, professional licenses, voter registration records, corporate records, fictitious business name filings and even Uniform Commercial Code filings.

Not only would I conduct research through multiple database aggregators, such as Lexis Nexis and Westlaw (duplicating wherever possible) and direct sources (county clerk websites, court websites, etc.), I would also send people to the individual courts, secretaries of state and clerks’ offices to pull every single piece of paper that has the person’s name on it.

Every. Single. One.

I would even go to the extent of contacting every police department in each town/city the person lived in, checking by name, aliases and addresses to see whether they ever had any run-ins with the law, regardless of how minor they were (jaywalking included). I learned my lesson recently when doing some research on a person who seemed like a perfectly nice gentleman, until I found out that he had been harassing his neighbors for the past 15 years.

And I would go back to every town, city, county and state that the person had lived in since turning 18 (most everything before that would have occurred when a person was a minor, which in most states means the information is off limits).

Open source searches

Next I would tackle open source searches. This means anything that may not necessarily fall within public records (e.g., some type of government document), such as historical news media, employment history, education history and professional affiliations.

I would even go to the local libraries where the person had lived and scour the local newspapers for anything I could get my hands on. College newspapers too. High school and college yearbooks also might be a good source. I’d be looking for not-so-flattering information, gaps in employment history, downright lies or ties to nefarious characters.

Our open source searches would include various Internet searches. You don’t want to just Google a name. And you would want to make sure you go to at least page 2 of Google results. After all, you do want to find out everything, right?

Make sure you use multiple search engines, like DuckDuckGo and Bing. And make sure that you search under name variations, handles, alter egos, email addresses, etc.

All this information would be crafted in a running time line, making sure that every single hole in the person’s life was filled, from the moment they were born through grade school, secondary school and their professional career, up to the moment you started looking into the person. I’d also be keeping an eye on anyone in their immediate family, close friends and colleagues.

Social media

Next, I would dive into social media. Whether or not the person is active on social media, chances are they are somewhere out there; you just need to find them or their footprint.

First, I would start with some of the big ones like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, making sure that I uncover every nook and cranny to find their profiles. If I can’t find them (after all, not everyone is on social media), I would dig through family and friends’ profiles to see whether I can backdoor my way into some information.

Once I found their profiles (or their friends/family’s profiles), I would download and save snapshots of every single page I come across for future reference (you never know whether the posts/photos will be there the next time you check). Once I found these profiles, I would review and analyze every single photo, mention or post for clues about the person’s close family and colleagues, likes and dislikes, and even enemies.

You would want to spend extra time mining places like Facebook – not only because a site like Facebook has oodles of data that is behind the scenes, but because it’s got over 1 billion people on it. It’s more than likely that the person’s picture is on there somewhere, even if they don’t actively participate.

And don’t forget about the hundreds of smaller social media sites. They might be more niche, but they can provide a wealth of information. Make sure you plug the person’s username or handle into a database like Knowem to search hundreds of social networks to see whether their name has been used somewhere.

The Internet

Everyone can do a Google search. But at this level, you will need to go beyond simple search engine searches. You need to scour the depths of the Internet to find fake profiles that the person might have created or identify them on lists they shouldn’t be on (Ashley Madison, anyone?). Maybe they posted on some historic message board under one of their various alter egos or handles.

Don’t underestimate the power of the Internet.

So far, we have spent a lot of time sitting behind a computer. Some investigators think that focusing on information on the Internet is “disgusting.”

Personally, I think it’s smart, in part because everything I have done up to this point has been completely discreet. As long as you have been careful, the person you are investigating will never know what you are doing.

Now, let’s get into the not-so-discreet stuff.

Surveillance

Everything we have done up to this point provides a pretty good picture about someone. But when you want to find out everything about someone, you need to know what they are up to right now. What their routines are. Where they shop, work and bank. And of course, who they meet up with.

Surveillance is meant to be discreet. But sometimes, things don’t always go as planned. So just be careful. Use several people to conduct surveillance. Rotate surveillance vehicles and surveillance operatives. Get close, but not too close. You don’t want to get burned.

Track their habits. Know where they go. Who they meet. And of course, find out what they eat for lunch.

Dumpsters

This may get dirty, but you can certainly find out quite a bit about a person through their trash. When a person throws something out, that item is now in the public domain. Effectively, if you put out your garbage on a public street where it is accessible to members to the public, it’s open for anyone to take. (If you go on private property, though, that’s a whole different ball game.)

What kind of information might one find?

Certainly what they ate for dinner. And probably quite a bit of junk mail.

But think about what else could be in there – personal documents, bank statements, medical bills, tax documents, etc.

The list of possibilities is endless.

Human intelligence

Human intelligence means identifying and interviewing people who are familiar with a person. They include friends, colleagues, family members, business partners, neighbors, investors, investment partners, etc. You want a good cross-section of people from various points in the person’s life that encompasses their personal and professional past.

But you also want to find opponents in litigation, or people who they have had disputes with. They say that you find out a lot about person when they have their back up against a wall.

You don’t want to skimp on this. And with each person you talk to, you want to make sure that you get at least three good referrals of someone else to speak to.

You need to be careful. At this point, things are probably going to get back to the person you are looking into. It’s just inevitable.

Conclusion

There you have it. How you can find out everything about someone. Of course, this all comes at a price. Like around $100,000 or so.

Email us for our bank details to wire us the money.

;)

Guide to Hiring a Private Investigator

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Here’s a question that pops up so often, I figured I would share it with everyone:

How much does it cost for a private investigator to find a person?

At this point you have probably spent countless hours scouring the Web. Maybe you spent some money using one of the many online databases, reached out to everyone you know and have searched Facebook until you turned blue in the face.

You may have even used some of our tips in How to Find Someone on the Internet.

But you are stuck. Every lead you have found has ended up a dead end.

So now you are considering getting some professional help and may just want to hire a private investigator.

Of course, one of the questions that everyone has when they want to hire a private investigator is how much does it cost to find a person. The problem with answering this question, though, is that there are so many possible scenarios that the answer is not so simple.

I am going to do my best here to give you some realistic price ranges, but keep in mind that every situation is unique. There are literally hundreds of factors that can change things.

For example, the amount of information you have (full name, date of birth, etc.), the commonality of the person’s name (hint: finding John Smith is not going to be easy) or trying to find a person living completely “off the grid” may require investigation outside the scope of what is offered here.

Below is a quick rundown of how we approach it with our clients. However, keep in mind that this may not be the way every private investigator does it.

What Do We Do?

After gathering some initial information and before even taking your case, we will conduct a 10- to 20-minute phone interview, gathering as much information as we can in order to find the person.

After obtaining all the information, we will conduct some initial research to determine whether finding the person will be realistic. Only then are we willing to take on the case.

What Will It Cost?

We presume that you have searched Google and done all of the “normal” things to find the person you are looking for. If you haven’t tried tips in How to Find Someone on the Internet, go ahead, we will wait …

For a first phase, we charge a $1,000 flat fee (plus tax if applicable). This covers our time and effort, database costs and any other costs associated with finding the person during the first phase.

Keep in mind that it may take some additional work after the first phase if the person is difficult to find (see below), but we have a strong track record of finding the person in the first phase.

What Will Be Provided When the Investigation Is Completed?

At the conclusion of the case, in addition to providing information about the person’s address and phone numbers (if available), we will also provide some details that came up during the course of the investigation. For example, if criminal records, a bankruptcy record or court documents were identified during the course of the investigation, we will provide that to you.

How Long Will It Take?

Typically, it will take approximately five business days to complete the search.

Do You Guarantee Results?

I know that you probably want some sort of guarantee, but unfortunately, there are too many possibilities to guarantee anything. There are an infinite number of possible reasons that things may not end up the right way, factors that are completely out of anyone’s control. The person may be dead, may never answer your phone calls or letters, or may have moved halfway around the world and is living in the woods.

Every situation is unique and it’s impossible to guarantee that the person will be found immediately. In some instances, additional research or on-the-ground investigation will be needed to find the person.

But here is what we can tell you:

  • Our reputation is based on providing our clients with results, not giving false promises. We will do everything in our power to find the person, but we can’t make any guarantees.
  • Before retaining us, we will provide you with an open and honest assessment as to whether we think the person can or will be found.
  • We are realistic about our possibilities; we don’t take on cases that we don’t feel we can help with (frankly, we turn away more cases than we accept).
  • We have a very high success rate in finding people (you can check out our recent case study Finding a Biological Father).

Final Thought

We have outlined some general guidelines as to how much it would cost to find a person. We haven’t covered everything here, so if you have some additional questions, feel free to set up a time to talk to an expert in finding people.

Guide to Hiring a Private Investigator

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Below, we have put together a short list of things a private investigator can do.

The fact of the matter is that each case we get is different and needs to be approached differently, so it’s difficult to describe what a private investigator can do in a short sentence.

Ultimately, what we find is “information” or “facts” but that’s not nearly as entertaining as #101 on our list; “We will tell you what those bastards are up to!”

101 Things a Private Investigator Can Do

    1. Find a current address
    2. Find historical addresses
    3. Find a date of birth
    4. Identify known aliases
    5. Identify and/or confirm a Social Security number
    6. Locate birth records
    7. Locate death records
    8. Locate marriage records
    9. Locate divorce filings
    10. Dig through someone’s trash
    11. Locate a beneficiary for a probate proceeding
    12. Research current and / or historical property holdings
    13. Identify mortgage information
    14. Identify secured lenders
    15. Identify related party property transactions
    16. Determine current market value of real property
    17. Locate bankruptcy filings
    18. Retrieve and analyze bankruptcy records
    19. Uncover improper relationships
    20. Locate federal civil lawsuits
    21. Locate federal criminal records
    22. Retrieve and analyze federal civil and criminal records
    23. Retrieve mug shots from arrest records
    24. Provide independent analysis
    25. Locate state and local criminal arrest records
    26. Retrieve and analyze review criminal records
    27. Provide peace of mind
    28. Locate home phone numbers
    29. Locate cell phone numbers
    30. Identify owner of home or cell phone number
    31. Determine owners of corporation
    32. Retrieve and analyze corporate records
    33. Locate current or former executives
    34. Interview current or former executives
    35. Find and retrieve judgment and lien filings
    36. Research familial history
    37. Connect the dots
    38. Locate witnesses for a civil or criminal lawsuit
    39. Interview witnesses for a civil or criminal lawsuit
    40. Find assets
    41. Find current or historical boat registrations
    42. Find current or historical aircraft registrations
    43. Search for hidden assets
    44. Conduct business intelligence
    45. Discreet intelligence gathering
    46. Determine connections between parties
    47. Locate bank account information
    48. Locate current or former employees of a company
    49. Interview current or former employees of a company
    50. Locate significant inheritances
    51. Show you the big picture
    52. Identify a will for an estate
    53. Locate probate records
    54. Identify foreign assets
    55. Locate regulatory records
    56. Identify regulatory actions
    57. Identify professional licenses
    58. Determine prior disciplinary records for professional licenses
    59. Analyze state and federal political contributions
    60. Analyze state lobbyist records
    61. Analyze federal lobbyist records
    62. Identify potential whistleblowers
    63. Vet expert witnesses
    64. Interview industry sources
    65. Gather competitive intelligence
    66. Identify related party business transactions
    67. Retrieve and analyze non-profit financial filings
    68. Knock on doors
    69. Obtain and analyze Department of Labor Form 5500 Filings
    70. Submit FOIA / FOIL requests to government agencies
    71. Obtain driving record history (in applicable states)
    72. Find current vehicle registrations
    73. Find historical vehicle registrations
    74. Make you look brilliant
    75. Determine current market value of motor vehicles
    76. Assist with jury selection
    77. Background checks on prospective jurors
    78. Analyze documents for potential fraud
    79. Identify Risks
    80. Identifying corporate relationships
    81. Give you a competitive advantage
    82. Identify Uniform Commercial Code filings
    83. Foreign corporation research
    84. Help you manage sensitive situations
    85. Overseas litigation research
    86. Identify stock ownership
    87. Find facts
    88. Locate online resume
    89. Identify online networking profiles
    90. Locate historical video or news footage
    91. Conduct historical newspaper research
    92. Conduct mobile or stationary surveillance
    93. Perform clandestine operations
    94. Find undisclosed ties
    95. Identify and retrieve U.S. Tax Court cases
    96. Locate a missing person
    97. Identify and confirm education history
    98. Identify and confirm previous employment history
    99. Scour the Internet
    100. Research presence on social networks or message boards
    101. We will tell you what those bastards are up to!

Guide to Hiring a Private Investigator

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At some point, most of us want to know how to find someone on the Internet. There are literally hundreds of ways to find someone on the Internet; we have compiled a list of some of the most effective.There are too many sources to even count to find someone on the Internet, so by no means is this a comprehensive list, but here are some sources that we have found to be the most helpful and they can get you started.

First Things First

Before you start “googling” away, the first thing you need to do is write down everything you know about the person you want to find, no matter how minute the detail may be.

Where the person’s family is from, middle name, sibling’s name, friend’s name, neighborhood he or she grew up in, month/day of birth, school name, college name, former employer, or address from 40 years ago may each be a valuable piece of information when you’re trying to find someone.

The fact of the matter is, you never know what that one critical piece of information could be.

1Search Engines

In addition to Google, there are a number of search engines, including Duckduckgo and Bing. This may surprise you, but each search engine could provide different results. In addition to conducting some basic searches by typing the person’s name into the search engines, you can use a number of advanced search features to search Google like an expert – features that most people never use (or even know exist). Get creative with your searches; look for friends, family members or anything else you know about the person to find someone who may know the person.

2News Articles

News articles are a fantastic source of information and there is no better free and easy-to-use option than Google News Archive. Although Google stopped its historic newspaper archive project, the Google News Archive has publications going back 200 years and more than 2,000 historic newspapers from around the world. For a more comprehensive search, visit your local library and search LexisNexisFactiva or Proquest, each of which has a vast array of news publications not widely available on the Internet or through Google.

3People Search Engines

 While search engines such as Google and Bing are great for finding out information about topics, a number of search engines have cropped up that that are specific to finding information about people. One of the best is Pipl, which will not only identify some specific information about people, but will search the deep Web, which contains information you can’t readily find through a Google search.

4Social Networks

Social networks are all the rage; there are more than 800 million active users on Facebook and more than 100 million active users on Twitter. In addition to the most popular social networks, there are hundreds of other niche social networks, such as LinkedIn for professional business people; Athlinks.com, a social network for endurance athletes; and Ravelry, for knitters (who knew?). If you know the person’s interests, why not try to find a niche social network that he or she may be actively involved in?

5Meta Social Network Engines

With the huge growth of social networks and the number of niche social networks that have appeared on the scene, it is hard to keep track of them all. The solution: Utilize a meta social network engine that will search a vast array of social networks. The most useful that we have found is Spokeo, especially if you have an email address. While it may cost you a few bucks to join, it may be just what the doctor ordered.

6Image Search Engines

Have you found an online picture that the person you are looking for likes to use as a social profile pic? There are a few image search engines that will scour the Web for a duplicate picture. Tineye and Google Image search are among the most user friendly and comprehensive image search engines.

7Ancestral Sites

If you are trying to find some familial history, one of the several ancestral sites may be your answer. Ancestry.com offers a vast array of ancestral research including old census records, historical phone books and archival documents that are not available anywhere else.

8Public Records

There are so many free public records available that we could not even to begin to go through all of them. Records are typically broken down by state or county, so if you know where the person lived, you may find a property record, lawsuit or criminal record that can lead you to him or her. BRB Publications has a great portal for free public records.

9Alerts

If you’ve completed all the steps above and still have been unable to come across what you are looking for, why not set up an alert to scour the Web and have Google do the work for you? Google Alerts can be set up on just about anything and can alert you when anything gets published on the Web concerning the person you are looking for.

There are many resources that you can utilize to find someone on the Internet. Of course, if all of your efforts have hit a dead end, your last resort may be to hire a private investigator to find a person or a witness.

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If you are looking for investigative services, one of the burning questions is “How much are private investigator fees?” The answer is not so simple.

In general, private investigators typically charge fees at an hourly rate. While some firms may offer flat-fee packages for a background check or surveillance matter, for the most part every case is different, and it’s difficult to put a standard flat fee on anything.

Like any other line of business, the hourly rate differs, based on various factors. Below, we have outlined below some important factors that determine private investigator fees.

Complexity

Just like any professional service firms, the rates of different investigative firms will vary depending on the complexity of the matter.

A private investigator retained for a complex legal matter with hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake will cost you more than finding an address for a long-lost friend.

Objective

Are you trying to find out if an individual has a criminal record, or is there something in a person’s past that could potentially discredit that person?

Logically speaking, if you are seeking any piece of information to discredit someone, you may have to dig deep. Needless to say, the deeper you want to go, the more expensive it will get.

Location

Rates vary depending on specific area of expertise and the jurisdiction in which the case is being worked.

For example, a surveillance investigator in “Anywhere, U.S.A.” may charge half the rate of a metro New York-based surveillance investigator who is conducting exactly the same investigation but charging upwards of $150 per hour for each investigator.

Skill

Investigators who are trained to conduct a complex asset investigation will demand higher fees than investigators those who conduct surveillance.

The most prominent New York investigative firms charge more than $500 per hour.

Closing

Rates for private investigators vary widely, from less than $75 per hour to more than $500 per hour.

The old adage “You get what you pay for” applies to the investigative business, just as it does to almost anything else.

Ultimately, private investigators are hired to find information to help you make more informed decisions and need to be comfortable with the information you are getting and the people with whom you are dealing, regardless of what fees they are charging you.

[Want to find out more about our fees?]

Other Resources:

Guide to Hiring a Private Investigator

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There are a number of misconceptions about what a professional private investigator can legally obtain. These myths may begin with your matrimonial client’s insistence that her husband has secret bank account, or your colleague has boasted about how his investigators found the smoking gun in the opponent’s phone records, or it’s possible that you picked up some ideas from the latest corporate espionage page-turner…

No matter what the reason, you need the information and you need it now! So why can’t your private investigator get it for you?  Typically, there are two reasons for this:

  • First, the information may be private and protected by either state or federal statute. In this case, your investigator may be able to identify where the information is located. Location is extremely useful information for leverage in negotiations, future subpoena requests, or discovery motions. In some cases (e.g. employment or insurance fraud investigations), you may have a previously-signed release from the subject that will allow you to access this private information.
  • The second reason is that the information simply doesn’t exist. The information may not be compiled into a single database or a comprehensive format. An investigator may ultimately be able to obtain the information, but the process isn’t as simple as you might think.

The 5 biggest misconceptions by clients involve private investigators’ access to the following:

1Banking and Financial Records

There are two things to consider here – where are the accounts and can we gain access to account-specific information?

First, there is no comprehensive registry of bank accounts in the United States and identifying undisclosed or hidden accounts is no small feat.

A seasoned investigator may be able to identify accounts linked to an individual through interviews, public records searches, or other legitimate investigative techniques. Once accounts are identified, legally obtaining account-specific information is nearly impossible without a court order or the consent of the account holder.

The Gramm-Leach Bliley Act, passed in 1999, imposed strict penalties for individuals who obtain information about a third party account through pretext or deceit.  Check out Fred Abrams, Esq. post on Violating Federal Law In Asset Search for a great case study.

Dig Deeper: Can a Private Investigator Get Bank Records or Account Information?

2Telephone Records

Telephone records are private and third party access is restricted by a host of state and federal statutes, including the Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006.

Similar to bank records, an investigator can use legitimate tools to try to identify the telephone carrier for a particular phone number or individual.

There are a number of online tools that allow you to input part of a phone number to determine the carrier (e.g. www.phonefinder.com). However, those cannot be completely relied upon for accurate information, particularly in today’s age of portable cell phone numbers, Skype, and Voice over Internet Protocols (VoIP).

Dig Deeper: Can a Private Investigator Get Phone Records? or Can a Private Investigator Get Cell Phone Records?

3Credit Information

In recent years, the federal government has placed a number of restrictions on the ability of third parties to access and use credit information.

Most important here is The Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) and subsequent amendments.

FCRA not only restricts how a third party can obtain credit information about an individual, but it also places requirements on third parties to make certain notifications to individuals when certain actions (including employment decisions) are taken using that information.

Dig Deeper: Can a Private Investigator Get a Credit Report?

4Nationwide Criminal Records

The closest thing to a nationwide criminal records check in the United States today is the National Criminal Information Center (“NCIC”) database.

Access to this database is strictly limited to law enforcement agencies and authorized criminal justice organizations; private investigators and information brokers do not have access to its contents.

Dig Deeper: The Truth About Access to National Criminal Records

5Comprehensive Individual Profile

Type “background investigation” into Google and you’re sure to be bombarded with claims of “Only $19.99 for a complete background check!” or “$14.95 for instant background investigations!”

Such claims are dangerously overstated – it’s virtually impossible feat. Buyers beware…these bargain sites generally just pull together information from various online sources.

They are not comprehensive and miss many online public records (not to mention those records that haven’t yet made it out of the courthouses and onto the web!).

Whatever information is provided in the “investigation” is frequently filled with inaccuracies and extraneous details.

Dig Deeper: Professional Background Check v. Free Background Check

Guide to Hiring a Private Investigator

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