The Locate Two-Step

I receive many calls from people wanting to find people. In the PIĀ  business these are known as “locates” or locate assignments. The first question is almost always: how much will it cost?

I then ask a few questions of the client:

  • What is the reason for the search? Is it associated with a legal case? I am trying to assess whether there might be a restraining order involved. If a potential client has a restraining order against them or they are doing the search on behalf of a restrained person, I am not taking the case.

  • What type of person are they? The degree to which a person is moving around, trying to hide or maybe out on the streets affects strategy, time commitment, pricing. In this business for about 20 years I have found 90-percent of people for under $500. I have written about the different types of locates in a previous blog.
  • Why is it that they have not contacted you? I ask this when it’s not for a legal case or my senses tingle because it’s a guy trying to find his ex, a flame, a love interest, etc. I almost never take long lost love cases.

It takes two steps to find someone. The first is obtaining a possible address and the second is the action to confirm it’s a good address. The time to confirm whether it’s a good address increases the cost but it’s an essential step. Even in the digital age, you still need shoe leather and field work to see what’s what.

In a case where you might be looking for a stable person with an unusual name, the confirming part might be easy. Maybe they owned a house, sold it and bought another one. I look at the address history that a database provides. The database typically relies on “credit header” information from the three major credit bureaus. The databases that we use as private investigators are generally better than the public and free databases. If you see someone sold a house and recently bought another, with no other addresses appearing, you can readily assume the person will be at the new house.

In many instances people have financial problems. They lose a job, get divorced, have to sell a house or move in a hurry and start bouncing around. Databases might show two or three addresses AFTER the last known address. I try to look at the addresses and weed out what might be a private mail drop such as a UPS Store.

I want to know the name of their spouse or significant other. If one is a credit disaster then the person is likely using the spouse’s name and credit to rent the next apartment or get utilities.

I had a case a few months ago where my database search popped up an address in a bad part of Oakland. The client needed an address for serving divorce papers. Fortunately, the client knew the car the ex was driving and it’s license plate. I cruised by the address at about 11 p.m. on a Tuesday night, saw the car parked in front and could only conclude it was a good address.

Little details, known as “identifiers” are huge. These identifiers could be:

  • A middle name or initial. Or a maiden name.
  • An exact date of birth, Social Security Number or even a good age range.
  • Part of the country or state where grew up.
  • A past employer.
  • A physical description.
  • Make and model of vehicle they drive. A license plate is great.

A licensed private investigator in California has legal authority to serve almost any type of legal process except for maybe a writ or a levy. You might want to consider having the private investigator do the serve since he or she is going out to the possible address to confirm it’s a good one. The worst case scenario on a tough serve is sending a not-so-swift private investigator or process server to the door of someone who is likely trying to hide.

Sometimes I am able to confirm an address by talking to a landlord or doing a pretext by phone of the subject or of a neighbor. But usually, going to the place in person– if it’s not too far away– is the best step.

You might only get one chance at the serve. Let a qualified private investigator do the research and give it his best shot. Quality work always costs a bit more.