How To Locate An Individual – The Basics (Part One)

In this series of posts, I’m going to address the fine art of “locates,” one of the bread-and-butter activities of a professional private investigator.  In this first post, I’m going to discuss some of the typical reasons why a person may need to be located, and in the next two posts we are going to delve deeply into the issue of how to do it.  As we will see, knowing what needs to happen if and when the person is found plays an important role in the analysis.

In a typical locate case, you know why you need to locate the person, and usually (but not always) you know the name of the person you are trying to locate.  When people need to locate someone, generally speaking, it is for one of four reasons:  the person to be located is 1) a witness, 2) a debtor, 3) a loved-one, or, in the very rare case, 4) a creditor.  I’ll have to explain that last one a bit; just be patient and I will do so below.

Witnesses

People need to locate witnesses in both civil and criminal cases.  Even when the witness is identified in, say, a police or accident report there may be no contact information provided or the information may be inaccurate or out of date.  Witnesses need to be located for any number of reasons, ranging from having observed a simple traffic accident all the way to being the exonerating factor in a capital case.  Sometimes witnesses must be located even when there is no identifying information available, just that they live or work in a certain vicinity or that they were present at a particular event.

Debtors

Sometimes you need to locate someone because he or she owes you money.  This could involve some sort of theft or fraud, or accidental or intentional injuries to person or property.  In some instances, legal proceedings are pending or yet to be initiated; in others you may already have a money judgment in hand and need to collect.  In many instances these cases involve people that you know, such as former employees, business partners, financial advisors, tenants, or even family.

Loved Ones

Friends and family need to be located for a variety of reasons.  In extreme cases we may be dealing with a young run-away or an elderly parent who has wandered off as a result of dementia or some other health issue. Oftentimes it is simply the case that over the years people have drifted apart and now for some reason an impetus exists for putting them back in touch again.

Creditors

Remember I promised above to explain why anyone would ever be trying to find a “creditor.”  Here’s why:  one of the nicest things about this job is that sometimes you get tasked with locating that long-lost heir or beneficiary.  In other words, sometimes you have to find people so that you can hand them a check!  In many cases these folks don’t even realize that they were named in Great Aunt Thelma’s will (or sometimes they don’t even know that they ever had a Great Aunt Thelma).  Where insurance is involved, we often find that the policy in question was taken out so many years ago that it has been long-forgotten, and sometimes the beneficiaries had no idea that the policy ever existed in the first place.

You would also be surprised how difficult it can be to convince someone that you really have a check with his name on it!  Have you gotten any of those emails where some supposed third world “prince” has a million dollars for you if you will just help him get his assets out of his own country?  Because of scams like that, people are naturally skeptical.  But when we do finally break through and get to see the faces of folks who get a big financial break that they never expected – from someone who they barely knew – well that’s worth the wait I can assure you.

In my next post, I’m going to provide some self-help guidance regarding how you can locate an individual yourself, and then in another post I’ll describe what a trained and experienced investigator can bring to the table.  So stay tuned!