The Myth of Internet Investigations

How many times have I heard this coming from a law office or other potential client, “I’m pretty good with the internet?” More than a few times, and I’m sure you are quite adept.

I have also seen the Craigslist ad telling people “the 7 things private investigators don’t want you to know” and the promises of “finding out everything about anyone” for $20.99. You get what you pay for.

Of course, you can find tons of information in internet databases, social media sites and documents galore. And, given the time, you could rewire your house, fix that sewage system and install new brakes on your car. Sarcasm aside, use a professional private investigator for results. Because this is what we do for a living daily, we tend to be very efficient pulling information together and summarizing it. We know what’s relevant and what’s not, and we know where to look.

Commercial and free databases are useful in most cases. But I will give you a local loophole that most people don’t know: You can’t access criminal records online in San Francisco and Alameda counties. We are at the computer center of the world yet San Francisco still has an archaic records system. Another aspect of searching for records is what years or time span do the online searches cover?

Professional investigators know to check all the little name variations. Is it Hanson or Hansen? Carl, Carla or Karla? Do the dates of birth match-up and do the addresses match? Anyway, those are some of the quirks of which you need to be aware.

I have had a rash of criminal defense cases lately where precious little is available online on the witnesses. Many databases are based on information that the consumer provides to the major credit bureaus. Those with little money don’t apply for a whole lot of Macy’s or other credit or charge cards. Someone having a rough go of it will live with a family member or keep using an old P.O. box. They maybe won’t even have a cell phone or utilities in their own name.

There are no guarantees when it comes to locating people. The more transient, the harder they can be to find. My one witness still uses an old address every time police stop him. He is homeless so I will have to keep scouring the park where he stays. I will find him. There is no substitute for “on the ground intelligence.” It just costs more.