How To Locate A Person
Tips From A Private Investigator
Regardless of the purpose of the investigation, private investigators primarily locate people by conducting database searches. Whether the subject of the investigation is a defendant, debtor, witness, beneficiary or loved one, the approach is effectively the same. Other types of inquiries are also possible but, when working with limited or dated details for the subject person, databases are the best place to start.
Searches of public record databases
Investigators predominantly search what are termed public record databases. These are databases that store personal details for persons resident in a particular jurisdiction and are accessible to anyone. An example of a public record database is the ABN Lookup, “the public view of the Australian Business Register”. According to the site, “It provides access to publicly available information supplied by businesses when they register for an Australian Business Number (ABN).” It is possible to search this register under the name of a person or a business for free.
If there is a listing on the ABN registry, you might get bits and pieces of information about the registrant that can include name, postcode, trading name, business name and an indication as to when such details were current. The registry occasionally reveals the actual, current place of residence of a person but, if there is a listing, usually just gives an investigator a piece of the puzzle. A thorough investigator will typically search through roughly 10-15 or so databases, some of which are free and some of which require subscriptions and payments. It is usually necessary to cross reference the information obtained from each database to intuitively build a profile of the person sought as no one source can be considered definitive or comprehensive.
The Australian electoral roll
Let’s bring in another example of a database to show how one attempts to intuitively cross reference information from multiple sources. The current Australian electoral roll can be searched for free at an AEC office or via a paid search online through Infotrack. It shows the registered address of an eligible voter and is supposed to be quite up to date. It might surprise you how often the electoral roll is not up to date, however, and in certain circumstances it can show an address that the subject in fact left over five years prior! Additionally, like any other database, the electoral roll does contain incorrect information (whether by design or by accident).
Now, let’s say the ABN postcode data reveals that a subject was resident in a particular region for a decade or two and then shows that he or she moved to a new region. If the electoral roll lists an address in the old region, it’s probably outdated. If the roll lists an address in the new region, it’s probably more recent and possibly current. Sometimes, the meaning of a data set will be unclear, for example if the ABN data reveals a subject moved and then moved back to the original location (perhaps the new job didn’t work out). In this example, if the roll lists an address at the original location, one must ask whether it is the new or old address (if they are indeed different).
Additional database resources
As one builds a basic narrative about a subject’s life from sources, one must test that narrative by considering its veracity in the light of as many sources of information as possible. If the narrative survives, you may well have found your subject.
In addition to the ABN and the roll, some free databases one should consider include:
- www.austlii.edu.au – a court judgment database
- www.ryersonindex.org – a death notice index
- www.whitepages.com.au – a very up-to-date phone number database
None of these databases should necessarily be considered comprehensive. There are also multiple paid databases such as land titles registries, RP Data and the ASIC registry.General public record databases are often the most useful resource and they include:
How to search Google, effectively
One should not discount the web – Google grows more useful every year and those who know how to search Google carefully can often glean a great deal of information about a subject from searches. Simply Googling the subject’s name will often produce pages of results which should be examined and screened for their relevance to the case. Of course, a common name will produce a far greater number of results than a distinctive name. For this reason, it can be useful to narrow the scope of the search by Googling the individual’s name (with and without a middle name) within quotation marks. “John Smith” for example. This limits the results to only those websites which list the precise quoted phrase. One can add relevant words associated with the subject outside of the quotation marks in the search to further narrow the results, for example the name of a wife, employer or last known location. Furthermore, in the Settings tab beneath the Google search bar, the “Advanced search” function allows one to refine the results pages by the region in which they were published, among other filters.
Unfortunately for the layman, learning how to properly search the databases and developing the level of intuitive judgment required to interpret the data takes years of practice. That being said, anyone with the time or the inclination can examine the above resources (and any others they find useful) in search of listings relevant to a subject. Although most database investigations are not straightforward, it may be that relevant data can be extracted by a patient novice. Once in possession of the relevant data, the real work begins in determining what is reliable, what is incorrect, what is current and what is not. All data should be considered questionable or dated until it is verified by a second or third source. And once the database searches have been completed, one can turn to other inquiries such as field calls or surveillance to endeavour to confirm definitively a subject’s current place of residence.