Private investigators are no strangers to research. Many spend a significant amount of time querying databases, compiling data, and creating reports for their clients. In today’s digitally fueled world, investigators can tap into many free and paid resources filled with valuable information.
What to Look for in a Private Investigator Resource
A great private investigator resource is authoritative, user-friendly, and reliable. Google searches are great for preliminary research, but they rarely provide the credible, in-depth answers investigators need. To add value to the client relationship, professional PIs must go above and beyond general search information.
High quality resources include resources that are admissible in court, heavily researched documents, and professional databases. The job dictates the usefulness of individual resources. For example, a personal social media account may not provide much support for a PI investigating a company embezzlement claim. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular free and paid resources private investigators use to discover and confirm case details.
Paid Resources for Private Investigators
Paid resources provide private investigators with current and credible information about a subject’s activities, assets, history, and more. Consider some of the most frequently used paid resources:
- TransUnion’s TLOxp database. This tool can provide information on roughly 95% of the American population. It scans billions of digital records to support investigations into fraud, regulatory noncompliance, asset recovery, and more. Private investigators who work on corporate investigations and missing persons cases may find this regularly updated database invaluable. Investigators can try the product for free but must pay for additional usage rates.
- Tracers Info. PIs can use this paid tool to run reports on criminal records, court records, licensing, basic information records, business records, and more.
- PI Magazine. Investigative technologies, laws, and practices evolve over time. PI Magazine keeps private investigators in the loop with articles on legal considerations, best practices, statistics, and the latest investigatory resources. Find information on conferences and more with a subscription to this helpful magazine.
- IRBsearch. TLOxp database and Tracers Info serve professionals from many industries ranging from private investigators to corporate risk assessors. IRBsearch is different. It caters exclusively to the investigation industry. Access information on individuals, businesses, licensing, assets, non-public court records, and more to flesh out an investigation. With mobile capabilities, investigators can easily take this tool on the road.
- Maltego from Paterva. Paterva offers four levels of subscription-based Maltego clients who help users track and analyze data from online sites. It can help PIs break down massive amounts of digital intelligence in a timely manner. While effective for online investigations, this product can get pricey.
- Nuix. Access digital trails at the touch of a button with this cutting edge intelligence gathering platform. Use the powerful tool to identify actionable insights from petabytes of data. Investigators who need more than basic level investigation tools may benefit from this Cadillac of digital intelligence tools.
- CourthouseDirect.com. With a mixture of free and paid capabilities and features, many investigators rely on our site to find information about real property including deeds, property liens, assets, and owners across 1,600 counties in Texas and across the nation.
- Hunchly. A paid extension for Google Chrome, Hunchly archives the webpages users visit to streamline the search process. It alerts users to page information that matches notes and previous searches to eliminate redundancies during the online investigation.
- Pacer. Investigators access this federal site to look for court information for cases in district, federal appellate, and bankruptcy courts. Pacer is a cost-effective and reliable tool that anyone can use to find information.
- Skip Smasher. PIs use this low-cost database tool for skip tracing, fraud investigations, and more. Only qualifying licensed professionals can access the results from this database’s 2.5 billion+ records.
All these resources provide a slightly different user experiences and search results, creating value in all types of private investigation cases. Among these paid resources, many investigators gravitate toward Tracers Info, TransUnion’s TLOxp database, CourthouseDirect.com, and IRBsearch for reliable, high-quality, and actionable data.
Free Resources for Private Investigators
To initiate an investigation and find crucial details not contained in public records and specialized databases, PIs often rely on free resources. Anyone with the appropriate training and skillset can use these resources to find valuable information:
- Social media/listening platforms. Many people leave their social media profiles in the public domain and do not censor what they say. Businesses frequently take advantage of social media activity to identify customers and deliver targeted advertisements. Private investigators can use the same listening tools and social media queries to find images, videos, and details about their subjects. For example, Snapchat recently released “Snap Map,” a feature that displays maps of a user’s location with an overlay of recent snaps. Investigators can use the feature to identify the location and activities of a user in real time for free.
Many social media monitoring tools offer both free and paid support levels. Lawyers and investigators use SMI, a paid resource, and similar services to gather ethically sourced and admissible information from social media platforms.
- GEO IP Tool. This free IP address tool allows searchers to input an IP address and discover its location with incredible accuracy. If an investigator can secure a current IP address, he or she can use the tool to identify the general vicinity of a subject.
- Internet Archive. Investigators who need to conduct retrospective research can use the Internet Archive to find old versions of websites, books, software, and other types of content.
- Pursuit Magazine. Private investigators can access Pursuit Magazine for free online and read the latest industry information and insights.
Unfortunately, PIs will find few high-quality free resources. Some sites appear free at first only to request credit card information after a user submits a basic query. Spokeo, Been Verified, Criminal Searches, and SearchSystems.net, all request payment for information that goes beyond the basics.
The Power of a Great Private Investigator Resource
In today’s world, access to digital data and insights often sets private investigators apart from the competition. According to 2016 data from Trustify, a PI hiring service, their private investigators conducted 46.4% of cases remotely, 45.7% onsite, and 7.9% using a combination of remote and onsite tactics.
Companies, individuals, and law enforcement professionals want to work with PIs who demonstrate technical prowess and cutting edge surveillance tactics. Use this list as a starting point for resources that can streamline your operations and enhance your reputation in the field of private investigations.