People tracing and research is at the heart of investigation work. The ability to find someone is an important part of any private investigator or investigative researcher’s toolkit. For the investigator, finding people, whether they are a witness in a court case or whether it’s because they owe someone money or maybe a desperate search for a long lost family member, is something that can be incredibly satisfying.
You can find almost anyone, if you are prepared to invest enough time and money. But that is the problem; many people think that you can find people via the internet with a couple of keystrokes on a computer. They have the impression that finding people is quick and inexpensive and therefore, more often than not, they prefer to choose an investigator to carry out the trace-work based on who will do it cheaper.
It’s true that sometimes tracing someone can be as straightforward as checking a database to get you the person’s currently listed address and it is job done. But, traces like that don’t come along often. And if it were that easy why hire a professional investigator? The fact is that, more often than not, the person you are trying to trace doesn’t want to be found and therefore will try their very best to make it as difficult as possible for you to find them.
With the explosion of technology, we have become ever more reliant on computers. Tracing by computer database can undoubtedly be a cheap method of finding a new address for someone but it is by no means the most effective and accurate method of tracing the most elusive of characters. Database information can quickly become outdated, at which point its usefulness becomes limited or altogether redundant.
Computer databases are updated as new information becomes available and the system relies on those databases being updated, by people, with accurate up-to-date information in a timely manner.
Over the past ten years companies offering database research to find people have popped up all over the place. It is a cheap and cheerful way of ‘tracing people’ but it is of limited value when it comes to finding savvy people who know their way around the system and go out of their way not to appear on open source or commercial computer records.
Not everyone leaves a computer footprint and therefore not everyone can be traced by using commercial computer databases alone. There are still people out there who are computer luddites – they exist in a pre-digital-age parallel realm.
This type of person may well be claiming welfare benefits or be in a job which is part of the ‘hidden economy’ that deals cash-in-hand, or they make their money both ways – by working under the radar whilst claiming benefits. They generally live with a partner. The tenancy for their home and all associated bills are in their partner’s name and due to their lifestyle and financial status, they never apply for credit.
Successfully tracing someone who adopts this type of lifestyle is very unlikely if you only use databases. People like this still exist. Yes, they may have a computer footprint on Government databases such as the Department of Works and Pensions, the Inland Revenue or the NHS, but those sources are strictly protected by the Data Protection Act 1998 and therefore are not legally accessible by private investigators or tracing agents.
Obtaining information from restricted sources such as these leaves the investigator and their client open to prosecution for a list of criminal offences – some of which, if convicted, carry a prison sentence. Therefore hacking a Government database to acquire confidential information or using the telephone to ‘blag’ or con the information from a Government employee should never be considered an option.
Sometimes it just doesn’t matter how good technology is, it just comes down to good old fashioned detective work.