In the 21st century tracing environment there are primarily four types of data sources a tracer utilizes to locate missing people or assets: pay-a-fee data sites, free data sites, public record data sites and social media sites.
The pay-a-fee sites use proprietary software to access billions of online records to conduct person, phone, address, email, Social Security and civil records searches, as well as criminal background and motor vehicle searches. These websites are often to track down hard-to-find skips. The reports generated from paya- fee sites searches will usually also include any known aliases, solid assets, licenses, email addresses, photographs, relative, associates as well as business and social networks.
While some data brokers offer a “no hit-no fee” payment structure, many pay-a-fee sites charge one-time, monthly or yearly fees for their automated search services. There are also many free resources available that require manual searching by the user.
Free Data Sites
Let’s look at some of the free data sites being used by professional collectors today.
The obvious sites to start with would be Google, Facebook, Twitter and even the old Myspace. One or all these common free sites may shed light on your subject’s current location. Often overlooked sites are YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn and Amazon. From these sites the tracer might move on to more subject specific sites such as Vimeo, Picasa, Pinterest, Kickstarter and, although shut down on several sites, Klout on Facebook continues to be a good source for information. There are also several news sites I would recommend for the professional tracer to include Digg and Reddit.
Public Record Data Sites
We then would move on to public record data sites. The well known and often used sites would include court records, civil records and criminal records. In some areas utility records may be available. In most states, court records are public record. Such records are sometimes available and searchable online. Court records usually include criminal charges, marriage and divorce records.
A couple often-overlooked sources I would offer would be the US Department of State and the IRS. The US Department of State, Overseas Citizens Services will help locate relatives or friends who are overseas when there is concern about their welfare or a need to notify them of emergencies at home. The Privacy Act requires that U.S. citizens over the age of 18 provide a Privacy Act waiver before information about them is released to a third party. Persons in the United States may inquire about the welfare or whereabouts of U.S. citizens abroad by calling the Overseas Citizens Services at 202-647-5225. If you would like more information about locating persons of unknown whereabouts, you may call the U.S. General Services Administration, Federal Government Information toll-free at 1-800-333-4636, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. eastern time. This service often comes in very handy when you are in touch with a close relative of the person you are searching for who will assist and if the person is thought to be out of the country.
The next source is the IRS. The IRS will usually forward a letter from an attorney, estate administrator or other person who needs to contact a subject.
For more information and clarification, you may refer to the IRS Handbook 1.3, Chapter 11, which you may find in Other Information Available to the Public. If you would like the IRS to help you locate an individual, place a personal letter, stating nothing more than a request that the subject contact you regarding a personal business matter and providing your contact information, addressed to the individual in a blank envelope. Include first class U.S. postage, and do not seal the letter. Place the unsealed letter in another envelope and address it as follows:
Internal Revenue Service
Office of Disclosure Operations
1111 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20224
Social Media Sites
The last area we will discuss today is the use of social media sites. Searching social media sites is a good way to find someone for free. One of the advantages of using social media to track someone down is many women who change their name at marriage continue to use their maiden name on social sites. Social media sites often provide photos that can be useful in ensuring the correct individual is located. Such sites also provide links to friends or relatives who may inadvertently provide information or clues to your subject’s current location and employment. An important thing to remember with social media sites is they are read-only sites if being used for any type of debt collection. Never ask to be a friend or communicate directly with your subject. Also, other excellent social media sources are college and high school alumni associations which often maintain websites with member information. Member profiles sometimes include current city, phone number or email addresses. Accessing other member profiles often requires the searcher join the association and takes a few days for approval.