There are two types of people Private Investigators are often asked to locate: The ones that have no reason to believe that anyone is looking for them (such as lost relatives or friends); and the ones who suspect that someone is actively trying to find them (such as a former spouse who stopped paying support or a debtor who skipped on payments).
The former will continue to live their lives in a normal manner and pay little to no attention to what clues their physical and online activities leave behind. Private Investigators are rarely called for such cases as most of the information can be found with a simple open source or social media search.
The latter, on the other hand, will be trying to carefully cover their tracks and will rarely post their location or any useful information online in order to reduce their social media and database footprints to avoid detection.
When someone wants to disappear they may try to:
Despite those efforts, it is still possible to locate someone since in today’s information age, it is difficult to avoid leaving some sort of a clue behind one’s activities regardless of how much precautions a person is taking. There is always someone who saw something, knows something, or heard something that can point the investigator in the right direction.
A successful skip trace is possible even under the most difficult circumstances, however, the outcome is often limited by the time, effort, and resources that people are willing to allocate to such cases that may require fieldwork, advanced research techniques, interviews, and surveillance.
When such methods are called for, a Private Investigator may undertake the following steps in order to locate someone:
Apply advanced research techniques to conduct in-depth Open Source searches that go above and beyond the simple Google and social media queries. Numerous metasearch engine exists that compile information from several sources not typically used by the average web user. With knowledge and understanding of search terms and page indexing, the investigator increases the chances of zeroing in on the right information and can filter through thousands of pages of results efficiently.
Perform deep and dark web searches that require secure connections, special browsers, and most importantly knowledge on how to safely navigate within those environments that are structured differently from a normal web browsing experience most people familiar with. Those sites contain information that is difficult to access, making them a perfect platform for people who are trying to hide their activities and reduce their digital footprints.
Verify databases that are not well known outside legal and investigative professions. Due to strict privacy laws in Canada, very few databases exist that can provide clues regarding the whereabouts of an individual. The few databases that do exists are mostly used by legal and investigative professionals, meaning that very few “outsiders” know about them, and even fewer know how to access and use them. Additionally, some of the databases are subscription only and are not cost-effective for the occasional user to have access to. Private Investigators who are familiar with those databases are most likely already subscribed to their services and will have the ability to quickly verify information that is available there.
Conduct an analysis of photographs that were posted by an individual. Despite trying to remain hidden, some people may continue to post on social media but only after taking precautions as to not give away their location or expose any information that can be used to find them. Despite those precautions, people often underestimate the advances in technology and the capabilities of photo/video analysis tools that are currently available. For example: through special software, it is possible to enhance blurred out areas or zoom into a piece of paper or a computer screen that was barely visible in the background of a photograph, thus allowing to get additional clues on the possible whereabouts of a person.
Use GeoTags to triangulate a location. With platforms like Twitter, for example, it is possible to identify the distance from specific coordinates from where a message was posted. If the subject is an active user, by collecting data from different messages posted at different times, and mapping their coordinates using the triangulation method, it is possible to find the approximate area from which the messages were sent.
Canvas the area of last known whereabouts of the individual to gather information regarding their possible present location and/or activities. By going door to door and interviewing neighbors, nearby store owners, and other people who could have had interactions with the subject and who might have heard something or know something about the person in question, the investigator may get additional leads that can help move the case forward.
Analyze and review social media pages of known family members, friends, and associates. While the person who is actively trying to hide may take extra precautions regarding their social media activities, people in their entourage may not be as careful. By reviewing posts, photographs, and comments (especially those related to family events, such as birthdays or other gatherings) some information will likely be unintentionally revealed that can lead to the subject’s location.
Gather information and analyze all known details on the subject. No detail is too small when trying to locate a person. Even an insignificant, at first glance, information such as a favorite obscure metal band, for example, can turn out to be a solid lead if the subject is known to attend every show of their beloved artist. Knowing their favorite activities and researching the corresponding events, can lead to a possible location where the subject may appear.
Conduct surveillance to confirm the current address of the subject. Not only that the leads found in the previous steps can be inaccurate or outdated, but they can also be purposely misleading. For those reasons, it is important to place the individual at the actual location and confirm the accuracy of the information by following them and seeing them at the address in question.
There are situations in which a person may conduct simple Internet searches and locate someone they are looking for. There is an abundance of information openly available for everyone to see. But when situations become more complex and the subject is actively trying to remain hidden, the services of a Private Investigator with experience in conducting fieldwork and advanced research is the most effective way to get results.