Some of the best things in life really are free.
Here are a few of our favorite research tools…with no pesky fees. (And they’re so easy, Otis the Cat could use them.)
In the new world of social media and 15-second viral fame, everyone’s an exhibitionist. Bully for us investigators! That makes even the most reticent witness or skip a whole lot easier to find, even if he believes he’s under the radar.
I’m pretty sure my cat Otis could find some of these folks…assuming she had the proper resources. One problem: Otis doesn’t have access to the company credit card, so she has to content herself with free search tools. Here are some of her favorites:
5. BING – Move through Google and out the other side. Bing Social can find mentions in Facebook and Twitter. Google, not so much. We once used this to track a 23-year-old reluctant witness. She didn’t return our calls, but she was addicted to Twitter. Our “missing person” generously tweeted flight number and arrival time at the local airport. Our gratitude was immeasurable! Successful surveillance without ever leaving the office.
4. You Tube – We’ve used the handy little search box at youtube.com to locate video evidence in insurance fraud cases, domestic cases, and to find embarrassing video of our friends. Refute that.
3. Tineye – Found a picture and want to know whence it came? At Tineye, you can find out how many places the same image shows up online. Also, you can (on occasion) use Exif metadata to tell where and when a picture was taken. Okay, so number 3 is actually a two-fer. Any time you find a photo on line, strip it for information.
2. GIS Searches – Most counties have some kind of online geographic information system in place by now. If you can find the gateway to your county’s GIS system, use it. Maps, aerial photos, tax records, deeds, zoning information—all for free, all online. It may take a little bit of snooping to find your county’s GIS portal, but hey— that’s what we do, isn’t it?
1. Wedding Channel – This little gem tops my list of under-appreciated resources. If your subject, skip, or witness has registered for wedding presents at Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, etc., you can likely find him/her at weddingchannel.com. Check it out! But if you can’t send a gift, a tasteful card will suffice.
For introducing me to these handy tools (especially the #1 pick), my thanks to Cynthia Hetherington over at The Hetherington Group for her unmatched expertise in the realm of open-source intelligence. She is a librarian and a PI—a lethal combination. Thanks also to the ACFE for hosting her at the 23rd Annual ACFE Fraud Conference—a highly illuminating presentation.
This story is adapted from the [FIND] Investigations blog, which you can find here.