Today, it’s easier than ever to find information about someone online. But what if you need to take your search to the next level and hire a professional? Here’s a complete guide on how to find someone online using a private investigator (PI).
Deciding If You Need one
Before jumping straight to hiring a PI, consider if you’ve exhausted all your options for finding the person yourself. Some key questions to ask:
Have you searched on Google, social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, and public records sites? Check spelling variations of the person’s name, locations they may live in, and aliases. Be sure to look deeply into search results, not just scanning the first few pages.
Have you asked around extensively in your mutual connections if anyone is still in touch with the person? Leverage your network both online and offline, leaving no stone unturned. Call or email contacts who may have leads.
Are you searching for up-to-date contact information or more in-depth details like employment, past addresses, or criminal records? A PI can legally access databases to uncover this info.
If all your personal online research has come up empty-handed after multiple creative approaches, then it’s probably time to hand it off to a professional investigator.
Finding a Reputable PI
Not all PIs are created equal. You want to thoroughly vet a few options before selecting the right one for your search:
Search state licensing databases to make sure they are registered in your state and have an active license in good standing. Look for any complaints against them.
Look for specializations like background checks, online profiling, or case research. Their focus should closely match your search needs.
Read many online reviews, not just one or two. Check Google, Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau for feedback from past clients. Look for responsiveness, professionalism and successful searches.
Interview PIs over the phone or in person and ask about their methods. Make sure they use legal means to find information and don’t raise any ethical concerns. Ask for case examples relevant to your situation.
Compare rates from at least 3-5 PIs. They range from $50/hour to $150/hour+ depending on experience level and your location. An average rate is around $75/hour.
Providing Background Info
To maximize your PI’s chances of successfully locating the person online, you need to be as thorough as possible in providing background info upfront. The more precise details you can gather, the better:
Full legal name and any nicknames or aliases used. Maiden names for women. Middle names and initials.
Age or birthdate, and photocopies of ID if you have it.
Last known location, including city, state and timeframe. Are they originally from another area?
All schools attended, including degrees, graduation years, activities, sports, and friend groups.
Employers with position titles, locations, departments, hiring and termination dates.
Social media handles on all platforms like Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn. Look through your own connections for ones they may have.
Phone numbers, emails or addresses used currently and in the past if you have records.
Photos from all stages of life can aid facial recognition searches. The more the better.
Provide your PI an overview of your relationship history with the person and context on why you lost touch.
Leave no potential lead uncovered by equipping him with background information. It will give them a huge head start.
Red Flags to Avoid
While most conduct legal and responsible searches, beware of any concerning red flags:
⛔️ Promises guaranteed results for a set fee. Finding someone can be unpredictable.
⛔️ Uses clearly illegal methods like computer hacking or unauthorized access.
⛔️ Charges exorbitant fees way above industry averages.
⛔️ Requests full upfront payment before starting search efforts.
⛔️ Won’t fully explain methods and keep you updated on the search.
⛔️ Pressures you to hire them on the spot without checking reviews.
⛔️ Lacks empathy for your situation and urgency in finding someone.
Trust your gut. If anything seems sketchy or off, keep looking for a PI who instills confidence and transparency.
How they Dig Through Databases
PIs have access to advanced online tools and databases that ordinary people can’t easily access. Here are some of their go-to resources:
Public records: real estate ownership, marriage/divorce filings, court cases, business licenses, bankruptcies, etc.
Private records: utility bills, cell phone bills, vehicle/boat registration, insurance claims.
Voter registration databases for current and past addresses.
Professional licensing databases for verification of occupations.
Academic records like university transcripts, alumni lists, and school photos.
Deep web people-finder sites with aggregated data beyond Google’s reach.
Diverse background check databases like Spokeo, LexisNexis, Acxiom, and much more.
Facial recognition software like Clearview AI and Veritone Identify.
Legal access to these enables deep background research you likely couldn’t do on your own.
Social Media Strategies for Uncovering Clues
Besides mining databases, PIs also masterfully scour social media for subtle clues:
Reviewing friends/followers and cross-referencing names, locations, employers with info you provided.
Looking closely at all photos for familiar locations, items, or people that may match details about your missing person.
Checking LinkedIn connections for potential co-workers at current employer.
Noting which platforms they avoid, which may indicate intentional hiding.
Analyzing writing patterns, phrases, tone for consistencies with who they are searching for.
Following venue/restaurant hashtags and tags by friends where they may appear.
Inputting associated emails into Facebook/Instagram search to uncover other accounts.
A careful social media sweep by an experienced professional can surface small but surprisingly helpful new facts.
Persistence Pays Off If Your Search Comes Up Empty
Despite all conventional methods, They sometimes fail to find the person you are looking for. If this happens, stay patient and try these last ditch tips:
Expand your search nationwide, leaving no corner of the country unsearched.
Pursue paper trails like property deeds, marriage/divorce filings, tax records, business licenses.
Hire a second PI for a fresh set of eyes and access to different databases.
Check genealogy sites like Ancestry.com for family trees leading to relatives that may expose their location.
Monitor your case periodically for new data that may emerge on your person of interest. Maintain hope!
With relentless persistence and creativity, that pivotal new lead could still appear. Do not give up prematurely or assume all options have been exhausted.
When to Call In Law Enforcement
If all search options have been completely explored by your PI, consider involving the police:
If you have strong reason to believe the person is intentionally hiding and wish to send a message to resurface.
If you suspect the person may be in physical danger, abused, or victim of a crime that warrants immediate welfare check.
If any clearly suspicious illegal activity is uncovered that compels police intervention.
Keep in mind police may be limited in what they can investigate if no apparent crime is involved. But they have access to additional databases like drivers records, criminal histories, and wiretaps.
In extreme cases, you can hire a PI to directly collaborate with law enforcement in tracking missing persons or fugitives when a crime is evident. This fully leverages all legal means possible for locating someone.
Finding Closure, Whatever the Outcome
Engaging a PI could bring peace of mind. Even if the search doesn’t successfully locate your missing person, you’ll gain closure knowing every feasible avenue was vigorously pursued.
If you do reconnect, exercise caution and care in reaching out. Avoid ambushing them if they clearly don’t want further contact. You may not get the ideal outcome you had hoped for.
Recap of Key Points
Questions to Ask When Interviewing a PI
- How long have you been a licensed PI and how many cases have you worked? Look for 5+ years experience.
- What training and certifications do you have? Law enforcement or investigation backgrounds are a plus.
- What specific strategies will you use for my case? Avoid any who are evasive.
- How will you keep my case confidential and deliver discreet updates?
- What legal guidelines do you follow to ensure ethical practices?
- Do you have experience finding people with a similar profile/situation as my case?
- What makes your search methods successful compared to just using Google?
PI Search Tactics and Methods
- Advanced Google operators like site:, intitle:, related: to surface new iterations of info.
- Online court record aggregators like CaseText for legal history nuggets.
- Real estate/property ownership records for address history traces.
- USPS address change records if they submitted a change of address.
- Domain name registry lookups for any domains registered to them.
- fridge.com and spokeo.com for a summary of online presence.
- FOIA requests to federal agencies if applicable.
How PIs Stay Within Legal Bounds
- Only use databases they have legal access to, not hacking.
- Confirm info found independently through multiple sources.
- Never contact the person directly, only reporting info to client.
- Maintain diligent documentation of sources and methods.
- Operate under licensed PI business with accountability.
- Follow all state/federal laws pertaining to PIs.
- Provide regular written updates to client.
- Perform due diligence if reporting any info to authorities.
With an experienced PI’s help, you can hopefully find the answers and resolution you need to move forward in life with less lingering doubt. Wishing you the very best in your search efforts ahead.