(image licensed by Colleen Collins)

I had a friend, not a P.I., say to me the other day that finding people in today’s e-world of Google, people search databases and social media was a cinch.


Well, maybe she’s looked up a person or two on the Internet and it was easy for her. But then, they were probably people who weren’t actively avoiding being found for some reason, such as people who’ve committed a crime or who don’t want to be served legal papers.

Why People Hire Private Investigators to Find People

To be fair, I’ve had instances where it’s been easy to find people. I love those instances. But often when a person or business hires a private investigator to find someone, they have typically had a difficult time finding that individual, and after running out of options they finally hire a P.I.

Sometimes, as in the case of a law firm, their paralegal or maybe even another P.I. has run all kinds of searches in databases, including searches on the Internet, as well as visits to a subject’s last known residence and other techniques…and they’ve found no trail of the person. We’ve gotten our share of these difficult “locates” or “skips” (common terms for people whose locations are unknown).

Below are three stories of unusual, and at times seemingly unsolvable, people-locate requests that came into our detective agency.

Story #1: A Man Mentioned in a News Item

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Once a law firm contacted us, anxious to find someone (we’ll call him Mr. Smith), but it was as though Mr. Smith had disappeared like a puff of smoke. His family had no idea where he was, nor did his friends. The law firm needed to find Mr. Smith ASAP, like yesterday.

We ran all kinds of searches, but found nothing. We began checking resources in towns near where he lived…and surprise, found a small mention, just a few words, in an adjacent small-town paper that a Mr. Smith had been arrested and was in jail. No idea why Mr. Smith didn’t make that “one call” to let someone know he’d gotten into trouble.

Story #2: A Woman Faked Being Her Twin

Another time, a lawyer said he and his paralegal had pursued every single search possible, but they couldn’t find a woman who’d committed a crime in a nearby county several years back.  He’d spoken to the women’s twin sister multiple times, and all the sister knew was that her twin was living overseas in either England or the Bahamas.

I tackled this case personally. After all kinds of searches, phone calls and other research, I discovered that the woman we were seeking didn’t have a twin. In fact, the “twin” the lawyer had been speaking to was…are you ready?…the criminal he had been searching for.  This was a very smart woman.  She had a doctorate, was well-known in certain intellectual circles, and she’d found ways to fake documentation that she had a twin.  These documents were very good, and they’d fooled not only the lawyer but also law enforcement. Wait, it gets better. She was savvy enough to have even fooled law enforcement at the scene of the crime.

For several years, law enforcement and the lawyer believed they needed to find someone living in another country, when actually the criminal was living a thirty-minute drive away.

Story #3: An Abducted Little Girl

Last, we once found a missing little girl based on what we found in a dumpster (where we found a box with a return address label that we hoped might be significant — we pieced together a network of friends and family from that single address, and one of them ended up being a relative in another state who knew the location of the little girl). The dumpster hadn’t been the first place we looked; our search had started with Internet research that evolved into door knocks and neighbor interviews.

Articles and Resources for Finding People

Below are a few articles on finding people, following by several resources.  A word to the wise: Don’t rely on online sites that advertise they can find anyone for $19.95 (or whatever they charge). You don’t know how current their information is, or how often they update their databases, or the veracity of the information. Also, there’s also no “live” person to help you interpret your search results. If you’re really needing to find someone, and you’re having a difficult time, it’s advisable to hire a qualified PI (contact your local state professional private investigator association for recommendations).

(image licensed by Colleen Collins)


Finding Missing Persons 101: The Art of Trash Hits

Finding People: First You Need to Know the Correct Spelling of the Name

 Why PIs Are Called Gumshoes: Conducting Research on Foot


Cyndi’s List: Finding Living People

Twitter Help Center: How to Find People on Twitter

Flip’s Search Resources

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