Many of us involved in private investigation work will at some stage be called upon to locate someone. Whether that’s a debtor, missing person or as part of a factual or surveillance investigation. Often referred to as “skip tracing,” being able to find the subject of your investigation can be crucial to your success. And it’s not always about a target that may have “skipped.”


One of the misnomers about private investigators is that they have some “magical” tools at their disposal to locate subjects.  Like a supercomputer that – when you type in details – spits out everything about the person, like where you can find them.


Investigators are also often asked if they can trace a vehicle’s number plate, track a person’s phone, hack into their messages or geolocate their location using satellites (maybe not that one so much). Well, sorry, we can’t do any of that.


The reality is that private investigators have no more powers or tools that the average person. We do have access to some paid databases, but these are limited and often not terribly reliable.


So why bother engaging an investigator? Great question!


And who is Harry Bosch and what’s he got to do with anything?


What a professional investigator does have, is training and experience. This is what is important in finding someone. Having the ability to put “boots on the ground,” follow leads, communicate effectively with people to get information, seek and analyse data and intelligence and chase rabbits down holes (read about that here) is what makes a good investigator. And it’s what’s important in finding someone.


Look at the picture accompanying this blog. Harry Bosch is a fictional LA detective who features in crime writer Michael Connelly’s many novels. He’s also a major TV series, Bosch (check it out by the way). The sign on his workstation says it all, “Get off your ass and go knock on doors.”


What this means is that there’s no magic to finding someone. You have to knock on doors and speak to people (sometimes lots of people). You may have to hit the phones for hours on end, chasing and analysing leads. And you’ll need to communicate effectively with people to have them trust you and give you information you can use to help in your search.


Of course, analysing open-source data like social networks and search engines can always provide leads to the identity and location of a person. By these are typically non-confirmatory and sometimes not reliable. A good investigator will always corroborate.


And if the cops can’t find someone, what chance is a private investigator? Well, for one, a PI has time to follow leads, conduct surveillance and interview people. The police don’t always have the time or resources to do that (unless their trying to find major criminals).


In the end, good investigators will move out from behind a desk (or computer) and knock on doors.