One of the most frequently asked questions we get is, “Can a private investigator find someone?”
In short, the answer is 100% yes! Private investigators can find just about anyone. It’s a core skill that just about every investigator can do. Some, of course, are better than others are.
But that’s not the whole answer. If you are looking for a more complete answer, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
What does it depend on?
(This is not a discussion of missing persons/adults, abducted children, runaway teens or even human trafficking. That’s a whole different ball of wax.)
Why you are looking for the person?
The reality is that private investigators have access to some powerful stuff and are bound by state and federal laws and ethics that prohibit us from giving information to anyone. I say this to people all the time – everyone sounds like they have the best of intentions, but their real motives are a bit more sinister.
Most people who reach out to us are looking for someone whom they haven’t been in touch with for many years, like an old friend or a family member. Or it could be someone they dated many years ago. Whatever the case is, it’s typically someone they have not been in touch with in several years.
In other scenarios, it’s someone they have been in touch with recently who has mysteriously stopped calling back, a “friend” that they are just trying to reach, or an old flame (that didn’t end so well) and they just want to “get back in touch.”
These are two very different scenarios. The first group of individuals may have the best of intentions, while the second group has a distinct possibility of having some not-so-good-intentions.
In either case, however, a private investigator needs to take precautions. Why? Take the case of Rebecca Schaeffer, the model and actress who was shot by an obsessed fan who stalked her for years. He found her only with the help of a private investigator.
To combat this, in most cases, we will contact the person they are trying to find and make sure that it’s okay to pass along their contact information. Chances are that if it’s scenario number two, the potential client will just go away.
How much information do you have?
We’ve discussed this in posts before. We get requests all the time from people who are trying to find someone without knowing anything about them. Like, they only know that they were at the 7:30 p.m. showing of “Star Wars” in Park City, Utah, last night.
It might be possible if we spent hundreds of man-hours combing through social media, interviewing people at the movie theater, and revisiting the movie theater every night for the following few weeks in the hope that the person would show up again.
And just the other day I got an inquiry from someone who had a “very sweet and short encounter” with Chris from the Bronx, New York, who was in Texas the week before.
For whatever reason, some people think there is some magical way that private investigators find someone. The reality is that it takes some skill, investigative tools and a little bit of know-how.
What type of information is valuable? First name, middle name, last name, month/day/year of birth, Zodiac sign, birthplace, where the person’s family is from, parents’ names, siblings’ names, friends’ names, neighborhood he or she grew up in, school name, college name, former employer, or even an address from 40 years ago can each be a valuable piece of information when you’re trying to find someone.
How much you are willing to spend to find them?
There are a couple of things to consider here. First, anyone can use the do-it-yourself approach. We have a number of resources on this website that can help you. There are also a number of consumer-based online databases out there such as Intelius or PeopleSmart that may be able to help you. Spend as much time as you want.
But if you get to a point where you are stuck and need to hire a professional, there are a couple of things to consider.
First, you are paying a private investigator for not only his expertise, but also for access to information that consumers don’t have.
The truth is, if you don’t really have much money to put toward finding the person and you haven’t been able to find them on your own, you’re probably not going to be able to afford to find them.
Fees vary widely between private investigators and range from a few hundred dollars to possibly thousands of dollars (more about our fees here). It really depends on the complexity of the case, but the simple fact is that by the time you have contacted a private investigator, you’ve probably already done quite a bit of work, so it’s unlikely to be as simple as a quick Google or database search.
Do you physically find them?
In some cases, there is a reason that you need to find out where the person is physically. It may be to serve papers, or to prove they are violating some sort of court order. In other cases, there may be a need for just a phone number or mailing address.
Either way, these are very different scenarios – one requires some legwork, while the other can be done behind the computer.
How patient are you?
We just wrapped up a case in which it took us more than one and a half years to find a person. Yes, you read that right. One and a half years.
The person that we were looking for had a really common name, making it challenging to find him. But, we knew the general vicinity of where he had lived and that he was in the U.S. Army. So, we ended up sending nearly 50 requests to verify his military service, and after a year and a half, we got the response we were looking for.
Luckily, our client was in no rush.
Otherwise, they would not have been able to find them.
Each case has its own unique challenges. Some cases are more complex than others are. Common names, lack of information, or historic information all change the complexity of the case.
In other cases, the person we are trying to find may be living off the grid, or covering their tracks if they just don’t want to be found.
Can a private investigator find someone?
But it depends on why you are looking for the person, how much information you have, how much you are willing to spend, if you need to physically find them, and how patient you are.