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By Pamela Sween
You have heard of companies selling cyber spy-net programs.
(Clue: They usually begin with the word Net or Spy)
They proclaim that anyone can find out everything about anybody. Don’t worry your privacy will not be compromised by these guys. Here’s the lowdown and the myths revealed.
Myth: Find Anyone
Nobody can find ANYONE. Private investigators, law enforcement and the FBI have files of people they are unable to find. Some cases have been open for decades. The FBI has phenomenal resources and a variety of professional law enforcement specialists with varying degrees of expertise at their disposal; even they cannot find ANYONE.
FACT: There are simply people that are NEVER found. The Most Wanted pictures at the Post Office and the television show “America’s Most Wanted” are tools used by law enforcement to summon the public’s help in solving crimes and finding missing people. Even with public broadcasting, there are those that manage to stay in hiding. If you find anybody on the Internet utilizing these spy-net programs it will only be because they are not hiding – they are listed.
Many addresses and phone numbers that are obtained via search directories on the Net are old information. I always check my business number on reverse directory searches as a test of that source. I always get the prior party that had the number before. I have had the number for well over a year now – it is not unlisted. It can take a long time for information to get updated on the Internet. Even with pricey telephone CD directories used by businesses, investigators, and yes, even pesky telemarketing companies, will be obsolete in a short time and will contain discontinued numbers.
Can unpublished phone numbers be obtained? Absolutely, but not just using the Internet to do it. This takes someone trained to do this and/or access to that type of information. The links they provide connect you with companies that sell this information. It is not free and is totally misrepresented in their advertising.
Myth: Get Public Records Online
In some state public records are more public than others. Each state is different and categorizes their agencies as well as their data in many different ways. Most states will not have the type of juicy information online that these spy-net hucksters allude to.
Many records may be obtained at the county courthouse, from the tax assessor, and the recorder’s office. Some states have many records online. Some states have very little in the way of public records online. They have their State Home Page that may give out contact information for their various agencies. Most courts and agencies that are online update their records. However, it could be a week, or it could be months, depending on the agency, the state, and/or county.
If the county or state is contacted directly for information, there must be a request. If the request is required to be in writing, the request must clearly state exactly what you want to know (do not assume they know), and the appropriate fee must be enclosed.
If you plan on calling them, get a cup of coffee and prepare to be on hold for awhile. Most government offices have a myriad of different menus that offshoot from the main menu. It can be quite confusing to someone that is not used to making these inquiries. Have a pad and pen nearby to make notes.
Most people are uncertain as to exactly what information about someone they want or need to know. You may have to make several requests to many different courts for different types of information to answer what seemed to be a simple question. This process is further complicated by common names and therefore other identifying information must be produced to assure you have the right party. That information can be hard to come by on your own. Such as dates of birth and social security numbers unless you already have them.
The Net-Spy Hucksters advertise you can trace anyone with a social security number. The way they advertise makes it sound like you can look someone’s social security number up on the Internet. You can get someone’s social security number but it is not free. And, if you do not have a legally permissible purpose you may not get it at all. This is not what they tell you in the advertising. They give you the link to the Social Security Administration site. Everything you wanted to know about social security and more – but no numbers. Even if you have the social security number – how would you trace it on the Internet unless you hired someone or a service to do it?
Myth: Check Out Anyone – Find out their dirty little secrets
If you want to check criminal records (or civil records) there are questions that need to be answered. Was the crime a felony or a misdemeanor? Are you looking for a Federal Court, a District Court, or a lower court such as Justice or Small Claims. Different states will have different names for their various courts.
What county and state was the crime committed in? If someone has had many different addresses, there may be a lot of counties to check. If they now live in California but were arrested in New York, how would you know to look there if you never knew they lived there before? Maybe they never have lived there but were visiting. You may only get the information if the subject was convicted; arrest records may not be public. Different states have different laws, procedures, and methods of disclosure if they disclose at all to the public.
That is why the specialized proprietary databases and industry contacts that private investigators have at their disposal are imperative for finding out this type of information. Even with access to contacts and sources there is still a margin of error due to the possible inaccuracy of public records and covering all the bases.
Why did I buy these “net-spy” programs?
I ordered these net-spy products because I am a professional who is concerned about PUBLIC PERCEPTION AND ADVERTISING DECEPTION regarding private investigation. It is my business and I am protective of it. One of the “net-spy” writer/hackers could not even spell neighborhood (his way – naborhood). Aside from bad spelling, the information provided was a far cry from their far-fetched advertising. There was nothing there that an experienced Internet Surfer could not have obtained.
This business attracts a lot of wannabes. Investigation is very erroneously portrayed to the public on television and in other forms of media. The Internet is a playground for those committing misrepresentation and false claims in many fields. Investigation like any field can be blown up out of proportion. These products are commercial blimps.
REALITY: They make a lot of false claims. Their advertisement is longer than the list of beneficial links they provide. Save your money!
More than half of the information they provided did not relate to investigation at all. They gave links regarding subjects such as search engines, investing, computer technology, and multi-paragraphed blah-blah about themselves or what they were going to tell you. On one of these disks the company repeated their entire ad, which was extremely long – who wants to pay for a copy of their advertising?
In fairness, they are investigative links for research on a variety of subjects. That is all they are. The word investigate is used very broadly. If they told it like it is it would not be very exciting.
How Does a PI Utilize the Internet?
Professional private investigators would never rely solely on the information obtained via the Internet.
Research and initial attempts at locating someone may be performed utilizing the Web for a starting point, but then again so is the information operator on the telephone.
Time is an essential element in an investigation.
Imagine if we spent all day just sifting through web sites trying to find grains of information that could be accessed much more efficiently through one of our proprietary databases or our many contacts. We would be bleary-eyed and our clients would never hire us again when they got our bill.
Do these data sources cost us money? Absolutely, but our time is worth so much more. Investigators must pay for the data they receive, sift through the results of the search, and verify each piece of information.
Information Obtained By Investigators vs. Information Obtained by the Public
Professional investigators generally do not use data sources that are available to the public to crack a case. Information brokers that market data sources to the investigation community are concerned with our opinions of their service and the accuracy of the information they provide to us. We are their clients. Word of mouth in this specialized community can make or break them. The major players in the cottage industry of information brokerage cater to investigators, law enforcement, attorneys, and businesses with a legal purpose. They do not sell information to the general public. Good companies have ethical standards and are concerned with liability.
When the public orders a report from an info broker over the Internet – they are a customer. There is no ongoing relationship. The information is generally inferior. To most info brokers that sell direct to the public your credit card is more important than your satisfaction. Investigators utilize these types of services again and again. The public uses these types of services very little. We also get better prices because of volume and initial fees we pay.
When the public gets incomplete or wrong information, they chalk it up to a bad experience, and walk away. If we get burned it spreads like wild fire within our network. Collectively, we are always shopping for new sources that provide the most accuracy with the least amount of turn-around time and the lowest price. Accuracy is always Number One on the list.
Data sources, techniques, and our contacts in the investigation industry, as well as in other industries, allow investigators to obtain information that cannot be obtained any other way. We have some unusual ways of getting information that is not well known to the public. In other words, trade secrets.
The web is merely a research starting point. Many times the Internet is utilized by investigators to research legal issues, or to promote our business just like every other business owner on the Internet.
Investigators have specialties just like any other profession. You would not go to a tax lawyer for a divorce or an orthopedic surgeon for an earache. It is the same with private investigation. You would pick one that specialized in accident investigation if you were disputing car wreck. If you need to find people and assets, you should pick an investigator that specializes in that area. If it is a criminal matter there may be different skills involved such as forensics. Some agencies specialize in surveillance. There are even investigators that specialize in computer crimes and tracking emails. It is a huge dynamic field with many skills and talents derived from other occupational fields as well.