Private Investigators

Sometimes, when a person goes missing, police are unable to dedicate as many resources to the case as the family and/or friends of the missing person would like. It might be because they feel the case is low risk, which would likely mean that minimal searching resources would be allocated to it. It could be because the police believe that the missing person is missing voluntarily, in which case, they have the right to remain so.

If you’ve been separated from someone you’d like to get in contact with as a result of conflict, disaster, or migration, it may be appropriate to engage in tracing services (such as the Red Cross Tracing Service). There are also Tracing Services specifically designed to help trace people who have been missing for over six months and assisting in mediation with the missing person if necessary (the Salvation Army Tracing Service is an example).

There are also other situations in which someone may want to find another person which would not be appropriate for police or tracing services to investigate. If an adopted person wants to track down biological relatives, for example. Or even if they’ve just lost contact with someone and they’d like/need to get back in touch. In such cases, particularly if they aren’t international in scope (but even if they are), sometimes the best approach is to engage in the services of a private investigator.

A private investigator (or PI) is someone who can be hired to find information and people. Often they’re employed in legal contexts to build evidence in a case for/against someone. But they can also be involved with tracing people, indeed, some PIs only do tracing.

To find people, PIs may do one or more of the following:

  • Search professional, special-access databases for up to date information on individuals (these are not available to the public).
  • Asking neighbours of the last-known address of the person if they know where they are.
  • Calling other people who may have known the person and asking them if they have any information.
  • Searching through court or other kinds of records for the person.
  • Visiting a post office to see if they have a forwarding address for the person.
  • Create missing persons listings.
  • Tracing leads through disconnected phone numbers.
  • Working through the potential phone numbers/addresses of the person and eliminating possibilities.

PIs are bound by legislation and a code of ethics. They likely wouldn’t just search for anyone as that would be a privacy concern – it needs to be clear that there is a good reason for the tracing to take place. If, for example, a restraining order existed between the searcher and the person they’re looking for, they wouldn’t/shouldn’t be able to help.


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