How to Find People
Whether you’re skip tracing or serving papers, you can’t rely on the Internet to do all the work for you.
There are many reasons a private investigator may need to find someone. Nowadays, a people search often begins on the computer. But private investigators cannot overlook the fact that we have to hit the streets from time to time—to locate missing persons, interview witnesses, serve subpoenas, and find information that exists in the streets, not online.
When I was a rookie patrol officer, I found that serving arrest warrants not only kept me busy, but it was exciting. It was not uncommon for me to track down and arrest three or four people during any twelve hour shift. (My record was six.) I thought I was just extremely lucky to have that kind of success, but over time I started to wonder if it wasn’t just luck.
I think part of my success came from determination. I set goals and decided that I would not give up until I had found the person. It was never about making an arrest, but the excitement that came with accomplishing something difficult. There are no words that can explain the exhilaration one feels after you see someone you’ve just spent several days searching for.
Step One: Log On
So how did I do it? I started off by doing a little research on my target. I would look up the most recent and last few addresses, their employer, and criminal history—I wanted to know what I was getting into.
Step Two: Log Off and Start Knocking
I would first check the most recent address—in person. If they weren’t there, hopefully there was someone else there I could talk to. I found that talking to people provided me with the best information. An ex-girlfriend/boyfriend, roommate, family, and neighbors are all great resources.
Never overlook a landlord. I once spent an entire shift searching for a murder suspect. I went to several different addresses, and met his family and friends, but it was talking to a landlord at the first address that later paid off.
The first address had been at an apartment complex. I stopped in at the leasing office and talked with one of the property managers. She had no information on him, but asked for my phone number in case she saw him. Later that evening she called me. She found out the suspect had a brother who worked at Taco Bell, and the suspect would pick him up from work every night in a green mini-van.
I would like to say it worked out, but the suspect turned himself in before I could follow up with that lead. I like to think he gave in to the pressure I had been putting on him all day.
A lot of landlords won’t talk to you for privacy reasons, but many will, especially if they don’t like their tenant very much.
Step Three: Knock on More Doors
If the first house didn’t provide any results I went on to the next. What I found out about checking addresses is that at least one usually had a family member living there. Another thing I found out is that people often gave out a false address that was near their real address. Usually it was the same street, but with a different house number.
If no one at the house knows your target, then knock on the neighbors’ doors. If you have a street number of 119 then check out 191.
Step Four: Try Transparency
Another technique I sometimes used was calling the target, telling him/her what was going on, and explaining that it wasn’t going away. I then asked if we could meet on their schedule. Most of the time, people were happy they had some control over the situation, and they would set a day and time to meet.
I realize that people feel more inclined to talk with a police officer than a private investigator, but there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for a successful conversation:
- Dress professionally.
- Be polite and respectful.
- Never be confrontational.
- Hand them a business card right away (unless, of course, you are using a pretext).
And as a final thought: You can also use some elicitation interview techniques. I would sometimes talk as if I knew the target a little, and say something like, “Did he ever get that job at the ABC Factory?” The person you are talking to might respond with, “No, he is still working at Frank’s Auto Shop.” You just never know until you try.
About the Author:
Christopher Borba owns Emissary Investigative Services, a Roanoke, Virginia investigative agency specializing in due diligence, corporate investigations, and executive background profiles. He served as an infantry paratrooper with the U.S. Army in Kosovo and Afghanistan. He also worked as a patrol officer and a detective with the Fayetteville, NC police department.