Private investigators are known to be a pretty secretive group. Kind of like the photo you see above.

While some investigative firms like to perpetuate the “cloak and dagger” image, we are not one of them.

So let’s turn back the curtain on some of those not-so-secret weapons.

Social Media

If you haven’t figured it out already, people will say and do the darndest things on social media. Like these two geniuses who posted selfies with stolen money and ended up being arrested. Or the Montana man who got arrested after liking his own mugshot. And then there’s the story about the 103 gang members who were indicted after leaving a long trail of incriminating Facebook messages.

Not everyone is that senseless. But it’s amazing what kind of information you can glean from social media – information that either you could never have gotten otherwise if they didn’t tell you, or would have taken tens of hours to find.

Most people do not understand and cannot fully harness the power of social media, like finding hidden Facebook photos, so before you dismiss it, know that there is a lot more to it than just plugging a name into Facebook.


Ahhh…Google. It’s become so popular, it’s become a verb (go Google it!).

Most people use Google in its simplest form, but there are so many advanced features that nobody even touches.

I use a number of its tools, such as Google Keep for keeping track of notes, Google Alerts to monitor cases I have worked on and Google News for keeping up with the latest industry trends (you can personalize Google News to include almost anything).

I also use Google Apps for Work, which has some incredible enterprise-level tools for sharing, collaborating and security.


A smartphone is a modern-day Swiss army knife. It can replace a number of tools that an investigator would have had to carry around. It can take photos with a time and date stamp, take an undercover video, easily record in-person conversations or a phone conversation, and, of course, it can get you where you’re going with a GPS and even scan documents.

The best thing about a smartphone is that (nearly) everyone has one, so if you need to be a bit clandestine when taking a video, photo or recording a conversation, nobody will even notice.

Public Records

Public records are one of the most incredibly rich sources of information that most people either don’t think about or completely dismiss.

Public records can determine how much you bought your house for, how many building permits you have on your house, whether you have ever been sued or been charged with a crime, if you have filed for bankruptcy, if you owe back taxes, or if you inherited money from Uncle Leo.

And so much more…

Investigative Databases

Investigative databases such as TLOxp and Accurint are powerful tools that combine public and proprietary data to help investigators find people as well as to research connections and assets by searching millions of data points. They have completely changed the game for investigators by centralizing millions of records into an easily searchable and powerful database.

They do have their limitations. And far too often, investigators rely on them way too much, as they are not comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination, especially when it comes to criminal checks – but they are an incredible weapon.


I get a lot of people who come to me with the same certain problems. For example, I often deal with people who say, “I need to prove that my business partner is a fraud.” In some cases, they will recommend some kind of easy way of proving fraud, like hacking into their partner’s email account, or getting their bank account details or phone records by using some sort of shady or illegal tactic.

After “talking them off the ledge,” I can offer some perfectly legal alternative that would not only help them get some answers, but would keep them (and me) out of jail.


Throughout my life, I have never been the smartest guy in the room. But I know quite a bit about a lot of different things. Most importantly, I am fully aware of my own limitations and the fact that I don’t know everything, so I know when to rely on other people’s brains.


I received a call from a prominent Pennsylvania law firm a few weeks back. Their client was about to be awarded a multimillion-dollar judgment from a U.S.-based corporation, and they were interested in seeing what kinds of assets the corporation held here in the U.S. Their paralegals had already identified hundreds of real estate holdings, but determining the value of these properties and whether they were worth pursuing was not so easy.

They thought we would have an easy answer for them, but I didn’t.

Everyone is looking for an easy answer, but sometimes the answer is that you just have to put in the work.

It can be tedious and boring, but sometimes that is the only answer.


A few years ago, lawyers on opposing sides fought for weeks about serving a Notice of Deposition to an employee of a third-party company. The defense attorneys would not confirm or deny that the person was an active employee at this third-party company; the plaintiff’s attorney saw the LinkedIn profile of the individual, which stated that he was at the company, but couldn’t confirm that it was true.

So the plaintiff’s attorney called me and asked me if I could “work my magic” and determine if the individual was currently employed by the company.

I called him back about 15 minutes later, and told him that the employee had left about four months ago after taking a job at another local company.

“Incredible! How did you find that out so fast?” the attorney asked.

“I called them and the secretary told me,” I said.


I guess he wanted me to tell him something much more exciting.

Sometimes you need brains, patience and experience, and other times you need some social media, investigative database and public record expertise.

But other times, you just need a bit of guts.

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In July 2014, hedge fund billionaire Raj Rajaratnam’s younger brother was acquitted of insider trading charges, breaking a streak of 85 cases without a single defeat, making it quite clear that white collar criminal defense attorneys have an uphill battle.

Nobody likes losing.

Here are eight ways that a private investigator can help you come out as the winner in the battle.

1Vetting Expert Witnesses

Expert witnesses can play a key role in the outcome of a white collar criminal defense case. There is nothing more exciting than punching holes in the background of a purported “expert.” There are a number of experts who have embellished and completely falsified professional and academic backgrounds – like the expert lip-reader with the fake degree.

2Vetting the Defendant

Rest assured, the prosecutors are going to dig up every last detail they can about the defendant. It’s critical to get ahead in this game and gather as much intelligence as you can so you are not caught playing catch-up.

3Vetting Key Cooperators

Because of the complexity of white collar criminal defense cases, government cooperators can play a critical role for the prosecution. Not-so-reliable cooperators or witnesses can be just the narrow opening you need to bring into question character, bias and credibility issues to sway the jury.

4Conducting Interviews

Interviews with key parties, character witnesses, fact witnesses, supporting witnesses, reluctant parties or eyewitnesses can play a crucial role in any white collar criminal defense case. While gathering details and information to support your case is crucial, so too is understanding what may not be so helpful.

5Vetting the Jury

Even the avid experts on jury selection will tell you that picking a jury is a complete crapshoot. But obtaining critical details relating to the background of these jurors can help you make a more informed decision or may help you dismiss an undesirable juror in voir dire.

Secondly, an attorney’s job during a trial is to win over the jury. While that seems easier said than done, wouldn’t it be valuable if you knew their pain points?

6Reviewing Documents

Documents have become an integral part of any white collar criminal defense and, in some cases, that trail of paper can be overwhelming. While in most cases it might be more effective to hire a team of contract lawyers to review documents, investigators can conduct targeted inquiries based on information developed during the course of their investigation.

7Corroborating Facts

An attorney once told me that lawyers go to law school to learn about the law and that private investigators are trained to obtain facts. A private investigator can find difficult-to-find facts, witnesses or information to help support the defense while lawyers concentrate on the legal aspects of the case.

8Providing a Different Point of View

Having worked on several white collar criminal defense cases, one thing’s for sure: attorneys and private investigators think differently. Having someone on your team who can provide a different point of view might be the difference between success and failure.

Sometimes, the people who bring a different point of view are the ones people want to listen to.

Guide to Hiring a Private Investigator

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For a lawyer to build a strong relationship with a private investigator, there needs to be an honest, open dialogue about things such as chances of success, billing arrangements and availability.

But there are certain things that a lawyer never wants to hear come out of a private investigator’s mouth.

“I guarantee …”

Making any absolute guarantees about anything in the investigative business is simply in poor taste and a poor business practice. As with most things, there are so many variables and factors that are out of an investigator’s control. Too many to even count.

Instead of guarantees, an investigator would be better advised to provide an honest assessment of the case along with reasonable odds of success to allow the lawyer to make a better determination of where he or she should devote time and resources.

Of course, things don’t always go as planned, and it’s important to communicate any developments (good or bad) to avoid any nasty surprises.

“I can get it for you, but I can’t tell you where I got the information.”

For a lawyer, obtaining information that may have come from sources that are not “aboveboard” may not only be useless in a court of law, but it also may open the lawyer up to liability. If acting under the lawyer’s direction an investigator obtained information through illegal means, it may open the lawyer up to potential liability issues (think bank records and telephone records).

One may argue that critical information obtained through illicit means (bribes, illegal sources, etc.) can still be valuable, even if it can’t be used in a court of law. While that may be true, it certainly brings up ethical issues.

“I’m too busy.”

We all lead busy lives. Lawyers and Investigators have to juggle multiple clients, matters and deadlines at the same time. But that’s never an excuse for an investigator to ignore an attorney or to say that you don’t have time for a matter. Nobody ever wants to hear that he or she is not a priority.

A better way to address the situation is to work out a schedule that is beneficial to everyone. And while everyone always needs everything “as soon as possible,” the reality is that the truth is usually far from that.

“I can’t tell you how much this is going to cost.”

Nobody ever wants to hear that something requires an open-ended budget. Imagine having your taxes done by your accountant every year only to find out at the end how much they cost you.

While there are numerous cases where the ultimate cost of something really is not clear, it’s important to establish a baseline for a budget or a range. And it’s critical for both parties to be totally abreast of the billing situation. While nobody likes being billed thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, it’s worse to be surprised about being billed tens of thousands of dollars when you thought it was going to be thousands of dollars.

“I don’t think you have a chance on this.”

I’ve worked on a number of cases over the years in which the law firm that I was working for was involved in a case where it was a massive mountain to climb to ultimately have success on the case. When I mean massive, I mean like Mt. Everest, times two.

Especially when it comes to the white-collar criminal defense area. It’s just the reality of things when the conviction rate is over 95 percent. It’s one thing to think that the case does not have a chance, but it’s another thing to say it.

An investigator’s job is to serve the client as best he or she can, regardless of what the investigator thinks the outcome is going to be. Besides, not being on board with your client is a potential recipe for a disastrous outcome, which helps no one.

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As an attorney, you probably wear many different hats: legal advisor, counselor, psychiatrist, negotiator, accountant and manager. But at one point or another in your legal career, you will need to put on your fedora.

Unlike the days of Sherlock Holmes, you are no longer bound to quick wit and sharp observational skills to gather information. And you don’t need a legendary intuition or trademark instincts either.

In today’s day and age, you can utilize the power of the Internet to gather facts and information, in a fraction of the time it took Mr. Holmes to make his own deduction.

Without further ado, here’s our list of 81 research links for attorneys to summon their inner Sherlock Holmes:

Court Searches / Public Records

Court records and public records can provide valuable insight into the character of a witness, expert witness or even your own client.

1. TLO ($): While this tool is used extensively by law enforcement, financial institutions, government and licensed investigators, attorney’s may not know that they can access this powerful database as well. TLO offers a wide array of asset information, phone numbers, addresses, and it’s surprisingly simple to use and effective.
2. LexisNexis ($): LexisNexis is a staple at nearly every law firm, but aside from its vast catalog of case law, there there is a vast source of public records and other information that you are probably not using.
3. Westlaw ($): Like LexisNexis, Westlaw has an incredibly powerful database of public information and historical periodicals, which you may or may not have access to.
4. LexisNexis CourtLink ($): CourtLink provides docket research and access to the one of largest collections of federal, state, and local court records (not just case law).
5. PACER ($): This is probably not new to you, but Pacer provides civil, criminal and bankruptcy case and docket information from federal appellate, district and bankruptcy courts.
6. BRB Publications, Inc.: BRB’s has more than 3,500 vendors who maintain, search or retrieve public records directly from the court.
7. Search Systems: You may be able to access one of the more than 55,000 links to free public record databases online by type and location.
8. The United States Tax Court: If the IRS has determined that an individual has a tax deficiency, the taxpayer or his / her attorney can dispute the deficiency in US Tax Court.
9. Search Systems Criminal Record Search ($): Provides searches to more than 450 million criminal records in the U.S.
10. Secretaries of State: Find officers, directors and shareholders information from any corporation or LLC.

State Specific Courts

Don’t be confused – none of the court databases cover all of the jurisdictions in the United States. What better way to search for court records than at the source itself?

11. Los Angeles Superior Court ($): Provides an index of defendants in criminal cases as well as searches for Civil court matters in the Los Angeles Superior Court.
12. Connecticut Courts: Access Superior Court records for Connecticut dating back 10 years.
13. Court PC of CT ($): Third-party resource for Connecticut Court records dating back to the 1980s.
14. Virginia Courts: Access the General District and Circuit Court records for Virginia
15. Wisconsin Courts: Access to the Wisconsin Circuit Courts
16. Maryland Courts: Maryland judiciary case search
17. Missouri Courts: Case management system for Missouri state courts
18. Texas Secretary of State ($): Texas corporate records and UCC filings are available to lawyers on the Texas Secretary of State Website.
19. Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County: Access to Civil, Law, Chancery, and Domestic Relations in Cook County, Illinois (Chicago)

Search Engines

While you may think that all search engines are created equal, they aren’t. While Google is the 1,000 pound gorilla, there are a few specialized search engines and new up and comers, that (this may surprise you) provide different results than Google.

20. Google: Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and it is a pretty good place to start any research.
21. Bing: Not every search engine is created equally. Bing provides alternative search results, so be sure to search here.
22. DuckDuckGo: For anonymous searches and unique search results, DuckDuckGo is a great source.
23. Google Search Operators: Because typing a straight search string is not enough.
24. Spokeo: The people search engine organizes whitepages, public records and social media networks all in one place.
25. TinEye: Interested in seeing if an image has been used or published on the Internet?

Financial and Government Regulatory

If you are dealing with any individual or company in the financial industry, here are a few places to start.

26. FINRA Broker Check: If you’re a looking into the background of registered investment professionals, this is where you want to start.
27. Investment Adviser Search: Information about current and certain former Investment Adviser Representatives, Investment Adviser firms registered with the SEC and/or state securities regulators.
28. FINRA Arbitration & Mediation: Current and historical arbitration and mediation awards for FINRA Cases can be searched in this database.
29. North American Securities Administrators Association: Did you know that some historical (and even some current information) about brokers and investment advisers can only be obtained through the state?
30. National Futures Association: Another self-regulatory body for the financial industry that oversees the U.S. Futures Industry.
31. Governmentattic: Provides electronic copies of thousands of interesting Federal Government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Political Contributions

Would it be interesting for you to know that the witness you are about to cross-examine or the person sitting across from the deal table is politically connected?

32. Open Secrets: This third-party resource includes an extensive collection of political contributions and lobbyist records dating back to the 1990s.
33. Federal Election Commission: Federal political contribution records directly from the source.
34. Follow The Money: Search state political contribution records to confirm where plaintiffs, defendants, witnesses or even opposing counsels affiliation may be.

New York Specific Links

We are probably a bit bias, but we are based in New York and it just so happens to be the financial capital of the world.

35. New York City Department of Finance – Office of the City Register: Property records for the five boroughs of New York City.
36. New York City Property: Provides up to date tax information for properties in the five boroughs of New York City.
37. New York State – Department of State Division of Corporations, State Records and UCC: Search for New York State business and not-for-profit corporations, limited partnerships, limited liability companies and limited liability partnerships, as well as other miscellaneous businesses.
38. New York State Campaign Financial Disclosure: New York State political contribution records.
39. The New York City Campaign Finance Board: New York City campaign contribution records.
40. The New York Unified Court System (UCS): Access to eCourts, which provides access to information on future court appearances in New York and limited historical cases.
41. New York Inmate Locator: Searches New York State Department of Correction records.
42. New York State Supreme Court and the County Clerk of New York: Online access to County of New York Supreme Court cases.
43. Westchester County Clerk ($): Access to legal records and land records for Westchester County, New York.
44. New York Attorney Search: Verify the license of a New York attorney.
45. New York Professional License Search: Search for professional licenses in the State of New York, like doctors, accountants and architects.
46. New York Department of State, Division of Licensing Services: Search for other professional licenses including notary public, security guard and private investigator.
47. New York Real Estate License Search: Verify a New York real estate license.

State Criminal Record Checks

Criminal records are always a good place to check when you are trying to dig up a little “dirt” on someone.

48. Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Computerized Criminal History (CCH) ($)
49. Connecticut Department of Public Safety ($)
50. Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Criminal History ($)
51. Georgia Felon Search ($)
52. Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center ($)
53. Idaho State Police Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) ($)
54. Illinois State Police ($)
55. Indiana State Police Limited Criminal History Search ($)
56. Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Criminal History Record Check ($)
57. Kentucky Court of Justice, Administrative Office of the courts ($)
58. Maine Criminal History Record ($)
59. Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS), Criminal Offender Record Information (iCori) ($)
60. Michigan State Police Internet Criminal History Access Tool (ICHAT) ($)
61. Missouri Automated Criminal History Site (MACHS) ($)
62. Montana Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation ($)
63. Nebraska State Patrol Criminal Identification Division (CID) ($)
64. New York State Office of Court Administration criminal record search ($)
65. Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation ($)
66. Oregon Open Records ($)
67. South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), Citizens Access to Criminal Histories (CATCH) ($)
68. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Open Records Information Services (TORIS) ($)
69. Texas Department of Public Safety Computerized Criminal History System (CCH) ($)
70. Vermont Criminal Information Center Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Justice Services ($)
71. Washington Access To Criminal History ($)


72. Internet Archive: Like a paper library, the Internet Archive is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. An absolutely priceless tool.
73. Domain Tools ($): Interested in getting historical information about the owner of a domain? Domain Tools not only offers information about current domain registrations, they also house an entire database of historical information, so you can track any changes that may occurred.
74. The U.S. Department of Justice: National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW): National source of sex offender data.
75. Federal Inmate Locator: U.S. Bureau of Prisons inmate locator
76. Guidestar ($): If you are ever in need of information relating to to non-profit organizations, this is a good place to start.
77. Tape Recording Laws: Tape recording laws for all 50 states
78. Ancestry.com ($): There are hordes of genealogical sites out there, but Ancestry.com has the most robust database of historical ancestral records.
79. SpyDialer: SpyDialer lets you find out who is behind a cell phone number by stealthily capturing a voicemail recording.
80. Historical Military Records: Verify historical military records.
81. Active Military Status: Verify active military status with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) Website.

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A private investigator can help an attorney leverage your position and find creative and efficient ways to come out ahead of your adversary.

Here are 10 ways that private investigators can help:

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An attorney may think that they do not have any need for an experienced private investigator because of the variety of skills and resources that they employ.  But have you ever found yourself staring at a computer screen and asking:

I know the answer is out there…Where do we go from here?

Although law school and career experience provide an attorney with a number of useful research techniques and litigation skill, they do have limits.

Consulting with a professional private investigator can help attorney’s to leverage your position and find creative and efficient ways to come out ahead of your adversary.

Here are 10 ways that an attorney can use a professional private investigator:

1 Locate People

It may be a witness or an heir. Perhaps it’s a former employee who can shed light on corporate misconduct. Or maybe you need to locate a witness in possession of the proverbial “smoking gun.” Whether you would like to interview, serve, or investigate someone, an investigator can help you to identify and locate the individual.

2 Locate Assets

Investigators are skilled at locating assets such as real estate, valuable property (artwork, antiques, collectibles, etc.), and vehicles (motor vehicles, aircraft, vessels, etc.). An investigator can also help attorneys to identify the location both domestic and offshore bank accounts (though the details of these assets may not necessarily be disclosed by banking institutions without court order or permission from the account holder – see our post 5 Myths: What a Private Investigator Cannot (Legally) Get.

3 Leverage for Negotiations

An investigator can pull together key sources and intelligence to inform your side during litigation, an M &A deal, internal investigation, or any other adversarial situation that can make the difference between a favorable settlement.

4 Enforce Judgments

A judgment is only useful if you are able to enforce it. An investigator can help attorneys to identify current assets and any efforts to hide or misrepresent them through the transfer to family members, friends or other parties.

5 Connect the Dots

Investigators can help you to know who is actually sitting on the other side of the table during litigation or a potential business deal. You can gain immeasurable negotiation power by identifying who is actually behind a faceless corporation or tying together undisclosed connections.

6 Predict Your Opponent’s Next Move

Through an investigation, you can learn your opponent’s history and patterns of behaviors so as to best predict how they will react under pressure. This will help you to be successful in litigation strategizing, during cross examination, or at the deal table.

7 Prep For Cross Examination

During preparation for a deposition or courtroom testimony, an investigator’s report detailing your witnesses’ weaknesses, background, and behavioral tendencies may be one of your most valuable tools. This can also be useful in identifying information against your client, so you can be prepared for what may come up during the course of the litigation.

8 Collect and review electronic evidence

Whether it is an adversarial matter or an internal investigation, investigators may be used to efficiently recover electronic files – including those that a subject believes he or she has successfully deleted. Investigators are frequently used to identify and analyze a subject’s emails, documents, or other files.

9 Trademark and Intellectual Property Monitoring

Investigators can be used to successfully police a company’s products throughout the world. Counterfeiting and improper diversion of products onto the grey market are just two of the most common areas where an investigator can provide intelligence and assistance.

10 Reconstruction

A historical reconstruction may be helpful in a number of different areas. Perhaps you need to review the history of a family to locate heirs. It could be a corporate history or a chain of title issue in a real estate matter. Whatever the issue, an investigator can help to identify and piece together long lost documents, facts and witnesses.

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