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Richard A. Lawhern, Ph.D.
Private Investigator Services Through the Net
Last Updated: July 1999
If you've searched the Net for email and street addresses and phones,
and come up "zero", then you may need assistance by an Investigation Agency.
You're going to pay for this service, so think first about what you can
afford. Something simple can cost $20 dollars. But nobody is going to be
happy getting a bill for $400 dollars for services they didn't know they
were ordering. Be careful to limit your potential losses from an unscrupulous
company. There are a few scams out there. I haven't listed anybody in that
category that I know of -- but I make no guarantees. Read carefully
before you order or sign up.
A few indicators can keep you out of the most obvious kinds of trouble
with an Investigative Agency. If you're going to do something more complex
than a credit record address check for a social security number, then a
little early homework can save you grief later.
Having suggested these ways to stay out of trouble, let's look at some
Internet sites where you might do business. I searched InfoSeek for terms
like "Fair Credit Reporting Act" and "tracing people." I found over 4,000
links. Some of the sites I visited are these:
The best reference for any service is a satisfied customer. Don't be afraid
to ask for business and personal references. Then *talk to* them.
If you know where an Agency does business, then call the local office of
the Better Business Bureau and check for outstanding complaints. Likewise,
search the USENET at DejaNews and the Web at two or more search sites,
for the Agency name and the name(s) of people who work there, if you know
such names. If you don't turn up anything, that's not a guarantee. The
Agency could be new, only recently come on-line, or renamed after having
been run out of another state.
If you live in the same town as an Agency office, then go to the Clerk
of the County Court and ask to search court records for unsatisfied judgements
or current court Docket cases involving them. You should be able to do
this for the cost of duplicating any documents you take away. It can take
Forservices above some threshold of potential cost, reputable business
should be willing to give you a letter or contract stating in advance what
they are going to do for you and what sources they will use, for how much
money. If they hesitate to do that, then walk. Alternately, you should
understand the descriptions of Agency services on any Web page you order
from. That page becomes your contract. Print out a copy of the service
description and also a copy of the order form, before you submit it.
A reputable PI will want to know who you are, before they go poking
around in somebody else's business to satisfy your curiosity. You should
expect to provide a verifiable email address or fax number if you do business
over the Net. Some Agencies also insist on having your physical signature
on record (via snail mail), before they work on your behalf. Consider that
minor inconvenience to be a plus in your favor.
Never give ANYBODY a credit card number to do work "by the hour" for you,
unless you put a dollar limit on the authorized charges, in writing. This
rule includes lawyers, by the way. Likewise, get a "not later than" date
for service delivery.
Missing Persons Page provides links to several Private Investigators
and Investigation Agencies. This is one of the larger collections of links
in one place which I found.
The Solutions Group is
a subscription service for businesses only. They do not do business on
a "one time" basis to individuals. If you have a business license and signed
authorization forms from employees or applicants, they offer a range of
background screening searches for a relatively low per-search cost.
National Credit Information Network
offers individual subscription services with a minimum rate tied to
several months of service. Depending on what you want, the services here
looked pricey to me. Use your own judgement. Their advertised sources offer
a good idea of what is available in many places:
There are a few other services on their list as well. Many services are
also supported by other sites. I recommend that you comparison shop.
Address Identifier Update from Credit Records
Date of Birth Search
Death Records Search
Drivers License Number Search
License Plate Lookup
Forwarding Address Database Search
Social Security Number Search
Last Name (Surname) Search
Vehicle Identification Number Search
Voter Registration Search
Judgement Record Filings
Real Estate Ownership
Worker's Comp Records.
Find a Friend
will let you order from a menu of several search services for individuals
and businesses. The page includes an email link to the parent company if
you want to ask questions. Prices looked reasonable to me, but that's an
individual judgement. How effective any one of the services will be, I
simply don't know.
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