Many people working in the investigative business share a pervasive trait: they hoard “secrets.” I guess it’s pretty common in most businesses. I assume they think they would lose their “edge” if they gave away their secrets.
The truth is that most secrets are not really secrets at all. As one of the great 17th-century playwrights, Jean Racine, so eloquently put it, “There are no secrets that time does not reveal.”
So before time reveals my secrets, here are a few investigative tools every lawyer should know about.
With a little know-how and in about 18 minutes, anyone can set up a website and start publishing just about anything. But getting a handle on the individuals who are behind the website can be challenging. The simplest way is to look in the WhoIs.net directory to see who the current registrant/administrator is. The directory can provide a wealth of information, such as the email address and contact information for the person who is behind the website.
But it’s not always that easy. Many websites are now set up with a private or proxy domain registration, especially when the registrant is trying to hide acts of wrongdoing. While you may need to jump through enormous legal hoops to uncover the site owner’s identity, there may be an easier way.
Although the Whois directory will give you the current registrant, Domain Tools will give you the entire history regarding who registered the domain going back many years. So if the domain was owned by an individual and then transferred into a proxy service, you just might have struck gold.
The Web is a living and breathing thing. It constantly changes. So what might be published on a website one day may be gone the next–never to be seen again. WhileGoogle may cache the most recent version of the page, it doesn’t save it forever.
That’s where Archive.org comes in. Archive.org not only provides a vast digital archive of various collections, but it also keeps an archive of the Web, with over 150 billion page captures.
Archive.org’s Wayback Machine can be used to see what previous versions of websites looked like or to visit websites that no longer exist. This can come in handy if you ever need to show that a website was publishing copyrighted materials, identify former executives of the company or gather information about a website that has been taken down.
Who is this person? Where do they live? Have they been involved in a legal mess? What skeletons do they have in their closets? These are just some of the core questions that come up on a daily basis for a lawyer trying to track down an individual.
That’s where TLOxp comes in. TLOxp for legal professionals provides access to billions of public and proprietary records to locate people, assets and critical details such as criminal histories and phone numbers. It is an essential tool that should not be overlooked.
You’re probably saying to yourself, “Every first-year law student knows about LexisNexis and Westlaw.” It’s true. LexisNexis and Westlaw are essential tools for every lawyer, especially when it comes to researching case law.
But what many lawyers don’t know is that they also have one of the largest repositories of public and proprietary information on people and businesses. Most law firms don’t subscribe to that part of the LexisNexis and Westlaw databases because it’s pretty cost-prohibitive if you’re not using it on a daily basis.
In addition to their vast repository of public records about matters such as criminal histories, civil litigation, property records and other public records, these databases have one of the single largest collections of historical news.
Facebook Open Graph
Whether you are selecting a jury, trying to uncover information about a key witness or just trying to determine the connections a person has to others, social media has become a vital tool.
While there are hundreds of social networks to mine for information, Facebook has easily become the market leader, with more than 1 billion registered users. Your research can be as easy as typing a name into the search box, but Facebook also has extremely powerful tools you might not know about.
In 2012, Facebook introduced the Facebook Open Graph, allowing you to mine public profiles on Facebook to find literally anything. Although Facebook has retracted some of those functions, some interesting tools have emerged, like the Facebook search tool from Intelligence Recruitment Software.
So if you want to find former employees who worked at a McDonald’s in Kalamazoo, Michigan, or patrons who visited a restaurant on the same day as a slip and fall occurred, you can do that. Keep in mind, however, that you are only searching public information and that there are some ethical implications if you “friend” someone you are researching.