Just curious if there are super secret or controlled access databases private investigators have access to in searching for people that the public does not?
Not super secret, but yes, private investigators who are licensed can get access to controlled-access databases. Can look up stuff like SSNs, former and current addresses, phone numbers, owned businesses, any civil tax or alimony issues, etc.
What is the legal mechanism for that? Legally how do they get access to something your man on the street couldn’t, for a fee, access?
In my state (Nevada) there is a government-issued license for private investigators. This is the same license used by security consultants and some other types of similar professions. I assume most other states have similar licensure requirements.
Just so I’m clear here I can get most of the stuff above from our property management collections clerk (who has no special clearances) with a basic tenant credit check which is a combo credit check and criminal background scan (if I am willing to pay the $30 processing fee). Getting past and present legal status is free via the state legal case databases (in MD). What I cannot get and what I need to get to process the credit check is the clients SSN which they have to give me. Are you saying PIs can reverse or scan names on some database to get an SSN?
There are a number of legal data collection companies, in the sense of companies that collect personal data about people. Google would be one of those, but there are many others.
This data is available for a fee, so I assume that a private detective would subscribe to one or more. This would be too costly for a single search so only someone with multiple searches would find it worthwhile.
PIs know about more of these types of data bases than “civilians” do. And access to these bases is not free, so PIs probably have subscriptions to them.
And inasmuch as database access events are being performed in the course of work undertaken on behalf of clients, one would suspect that the client is being billed each time the databases are accessed. Or that the cost of maintaining a running subscription is built into the fees the PI is charging.
I’m not an expert on it, but I’ve never heard of a database that being a PI gives you legal access to that a regular person can’t. NCIC (the criminal database that police use) is limited to law enforcement, courts, and court ordered access, for example, there’s no exception for private investigators. My impression is that PIs learn where to go for information and what sources work or don’t, that you could legally do pretty much anything a PI does. PI licensing mainly lets you do business as a private investigator, it doesn’t give you much special legal status.
I’m sure there are some companies that collect information and try to limit sales to legitimate security companies and investigators, but I don’t think that’s legally mandated anywhere.
I did some PI work years back. There were indeed some data bases only authorized personnel (law enforcement, licensed private detectives, etc.) could get.
One of them was a data base to the DOT. This allowed you to find every vehicle registered to a person or an address. I a person had vehicles registered to different addresses this was revealed and was enormously helpful in tracking someone. This was important info to have when setting up a surveillance.
Another was credit checks. You could run what was called a “header” and get all sorts of information from it. Not sure if that’s actually legal anymore.
Then there was “The Work Number”. This was cool for finding out where someone was working. Great for child support and workers comp gigs.
Then there was the insurance index system. You’d be surprised at how much PI work involves insurance and how much info that system revealed.
Some of my contacts were people that worked in the loss prevention sectors of local utilities. If you skip town and leave no forwarding address, there’s a good chance that wherever you go you’re going to hook up your new residence. I had a gal inside the electric company that could run your name or SS# and see where you re-established an electric hook up, even if it was out of state. Her system was second only to that “God computer” Penelope Garcia has on Criminal Minds.
All together there were at least 2 dozen major data bases a regular person wouldn’t be able to gain access to.
This was over 30 years ago, but back when Johnny Carson occasionally had everyday joes with interesting jobs he had a licensed PI as a guest. This was during the heyday of Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones, Ironside, etc. and most of Johnny’s questions had to do with how realistic the shows were. He said that the only thing his license let him do that an unlicensed person couldn’t was loiter. Otherwise he had no access to any info that anyone else couldn’t get IF they knew where to look or who to ask.
There’s also no getting away from the fact that PI’s know how to access sources illegally. Many are ex LEO’s. Calling friends who are still on the force and asking them to look someone up is one tactic. Buttering up and/or paying small backhanders to and/or sending nice big Xmas presents to contacts in government departments is not unknown.
I was a welfare caseworker and we had access to the kinds of databases that PKbites was referring to, but using them for personal stuff was a big no-no.
Yeah but that was then and it was California. They have some pretty strict laws regarding that stuff. There were people using PI’s to find out where celebrities really lived and then stalked/killed them.
Here in 'Sconsin a regular person legally cannot get the access to DOT/DMV records that we can (could in my case. I really don’t do any of that anymore).
Take a look at the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (18 USC 2721 et seq), which prohibits each state’s DMV from releasing personal information about drivers except in certain circumstances (driver’s own record, motor vehicle recalls, insurance claims, etc., including “For use by any licensed private investigative agency or licensed security service for any purpose permitted under this subsection”). A PI can almost always find a valid purpose; “investigation in anticipation of litigation” is a good catch-all.
I can only speak for the research I used to do with Lexis-Nexis (a paid service, nbut available for free at many college campuses), but it was an enormously useful tool for looking up mortgages, arrest records, and lawsuits. It didn’t provide a lot of detail, but it would always direct you to the court to get you the full file if you were so inclined to find out the details of your neighbor’s DUI or assault arrest. And I do know there is a law enforcement version as well with even more data not available to me.
As others have stated, a lot of it is also who you know. If you have a LEO buddy, he’ll run searches for you on an ad hoc basis.
And never forget the value of going through garbage. Even if the person no longer lives at the address, going through old mail might reveal the new address. And with recycling being all the rage these days, most people (assuming they are too lazy to shread their stuff) are nice enough to even separate their mail, bottles, cans, and newspapers from the used baby diapers and rotten food that used to make this process much messier.
Would this database include medical insurance claims as well? What role would HIPAA play in this?
In my state, AFAIK, all the state government databases (motor vehicles, criminal record, etc) are searchable by anyone BUT the catch is that in order for a random member of the public to do a search they have to fill out a form (including a vaguely plausible reason for needing the search) pay a few bucks, and then wait a week or two. Whereas a PI who’s jumped through all the applicable hoops can just log in and browse the databases at their leisure.
I have a brother that had cut himself off from the family. I tried some online stuff, google searches, and paid a online company to find him. No luck at all. I filed a missing person’s report, they called me the next day to tell me where he was, that he was ok, they had the local police ( out of state ) do a welfare check on him, and asked him to contact his family. I would say that the police can find you pretty quickly.
Remember that many times when people go on programs like workers comp they sign waivers that allow for sharing of activity with the insurance company. An investigator becomes an agent of the insurance company by proxy.
I’ve had direct conversations with the treating physicians & nurses who told me pretty much everything.
ETA: I haven’t done any of this type of work since 2011. But I did it occasionally for over 20 years to supplement my LEO salary.