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  • Diligentia Group is a boutique investigative firm dedicated to providing law firms, financial institutions and decision makers with comprehensive background investigations, due diligence investigations and legal investigation services.
  • Private Investigator Tips: How to Find Information About Someone

    by Brian Willingham

    Post image for Private Investigator Tips: How to Find Information About Someone

    “We are only investigative superheroes; we’re not demigods.” ~VP

    As private investigators, we wish we had superhero powers; sadly, we don’t.  We rely on some tools, certain databases, instinct and know-how to find information about someone.

    They certainly do not involve magic, but here are 10 places private investigators go to find information about someone (in no particular order).

    1 ) Investigative Database
    Investigators have access to professional-grade investigative databases that compile public records, credit header information, telephone information, social network information and other information about people and businesses. There are a number of high-quality databases – available only to licensed private investigators – including MerlinAccurint and TLO that compile information from wide variety of sources.

    2 ) Court Records
    Current and historical court records provide an array of information about a person’s or even a business’ past. While criminal records might be the holy grail of relevant information, don’t overlook the value of civil lawsuits. Disputes with employees, litigiousness and sexual harassment allegations can tell a lot about a person’s character.

    3 ) Public Records
    In addition to court records, a vast amount of public information is widely available in the U.S., including records relating to property transactions, corporation records and various government records. The problem is that the information is fractured and not quick and easy to search and review. That is why investigators use services such as LexisNexis and Westlaw, which gather millions of public records into searchable databases.

    4 ) Social Networks
    Whether you like them or not, social networks are gaining popularity every day. There are more than 800 million active users on Facebook and 100 million active users on Twitter, and 40 million people joined Google Plus, released earlier this year. In addition to the most popular social networks, there are hundreds of other niche social networks. Although users of social networks are becoming increasingly cautious about the information they post, social networks continue to be a treasure trove of information.

    5 ) News Archives
    Despite what people think, most historical news coverage is not available on the Internet without paying a hefty fee. Millions of current and historical news items are available through services like LexisNexis, Factiva and Proquest, each of which has a vast array of news publications not widely available on the Internet or through Google.

    6 ) Government Repositories
    Military records, state government records, lobbyists’ records, Securities and Exchange Commission records and federal government contract information are just a sampling of the types of records available through various state and federal government agencies. And if the information is not immediately available online, there is a good chance you can request it under the federal Freedom of Information Act or similar state legislation.

    7 ) Garbage
    Did you know that, in most states, your garbage is no longer considered your personal property once you bring it out to the curb for disposal? Consider what you don’t shred when you throw out your garbage: medical records, credit card bills, telephone bills, etc.  (If you don’t have a shredder, maybe you should buy one.)

    8 ) Human Intelligence
    What we like to describe as human intelligence comes in various forms, including surveillance; contacting sources; or interviews with a person’s neighbors, colleagues or former friends. You might be surprised by what people will say.

    9 ) The Internet
    With more than 1,300,000 domains and bajillions of pages, the Internet is filled with information about people, businesses and topics of interest. The difficult part is harnessing the information and weeding through the bajillions of pages of information to find credible and reliable information.

    10 ) Motor Vehicle Records
    The state motor vehicle department not only provides details about a person’s traffic infractions, a person’s date of birth, and details such as a person’s height and weight, but in many states it’s the only place to determine if a person has ever been charged with a DWI (driving while intoxicated) offense (some states consider driving while intoxicated a criminal offense). Additionally, in some states, such as New York, you can discover if a person’s license has been suspended for failure to pay child support.

    • Call to Action!

    { 12 comments… read them below or add one }

    Ronald March 16, 2014 at 1:27 am

    So from your article am I to understand that someone can just walk into the DMV and request information about someone’s motor vehicle record?


    Brian Willingham March 17, 2014 at 7:07 am

    In order to obtain driving records, you must have a permissible purpose under the Drivers Private Protection Act (DPPA):


    Andy November 19, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    If someone has outstanding warrants and is hiding from authorities but you have their cell number is there a way to find them?


    Brian Willingham November 22, 2013 at 5:06 am

    The best thing to do is to give the number to the police.


    paul March 13, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Yes, you can have that cell phone number pinged @


    Brian Willingham March 13, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Keep in mind that cell phone pinging services are not very reliable.


    Curt W November 5, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    Under what circumstances can bank records, including screen-shots of canceled checks, be available? I’m particularly interested in accounts of a now-closed living trust where the funds may have been misused by the trustee at the time.


    Brian Willingham November 6, 2013 at 2:12 am

    With a court order.


    Perrin cyril May 19, 2013 at 9:58 am

    I am French and fomation to become private investigator, I study your access to databases and I would like to know if you, as a private detective you more access than a normal citizen?
    Because we are in France only has access to the same databases that any citizen! (No right to file vehicle, court records …)
    thank you very much


    Brian Willingham May 20, 2013 at 2:49 am

    There are certain databases that can only be accessed with a permissible purpose and an investigators license.


    Ron October 1, 2012 at 3:09 am

    My favorite are voter registration records. Here in New York City, one can visit any Board Of Elections location, sit down at a computer and access these records by the person’s name or even punch in an address and bring up the names of all registerd voters at that address.

    Here in New York, when a person registers to vote, the are required to complete what is called a buff card. Usually contained in the buff card are the persons date of birth, middle name or initail, place of birth, full address and in most cases their apartment number, sometimes their phone number, even a non pub number, a partial social security number and their political affiliation.

    A historical search can be conducted which will bring up all their former addresses where they were registered to vote. If the voter has moved fom city limits and registered in anothe New York County, there forwarding information may often be included in these records.

    The best piece of information than can be found on a buff card is the voter’s signature, since they must sign the buff card. It is important to note, that failure to willfully provide inaccurate or false information on a buff card is considered purjury under NYS Law. Do people provide false information on the buff cards? Some do but most do not. In any event, people are rarely prosicuted for doing so and some voters do have multipli cards.

    Back in the day when I was a criminal defense investigator I would use these buff cards to find witnesses, sometimes only having a first name and possible address. I would then match up the signatures on the buff card, to the signatures on the court complaints, police statements or other relevant paper work contained within the case discovery materials.

    In New York City, each of the 5 bouroughs have a Board Of Elections office with computers that are available to the public. In some other states, voter registration records can be accessed online.

    Happy Hunting


    Brian Willingham October 1, 2012 at 6:58 am

    Thanks for your comment Ron. While many voter registration records can be found online, the one thing that you typically don’t get is a copy of the signature, which can only be viewed at the local office.


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