10 tips on how to investigate missing persons
Private Investigator David Mandrake provides 10 tips on how to investigate missing persons.
More than 100 missing person reports are made each day in Australia. The vast majority are children and young people who go missing either by becoming lost or failing to advise parents or guardians where they are. In some cases, people go intentionally missing, shifting identities to make themselves difficult to find.
Whilst 98% of missing persons are found . Individuals who remain missing for more than 3 months are reclassified as ‘long term missing’. There are 2,600 long term missing people in Australia today.
David Mandrake, PI, has more than 25 years of experience investigating missing persons in the US and in Australia. Some those missing were abducted, others were ‘throw aways’ a term used to describe young people thrown out of home but who later become missing. In other cases vulnerable people just became lost and in one sad case David’s missing person was found deceased and the investigation handed back to police.
David shares his experiences of searching for and finding missing persons and provided the following guidance to fellow investigators
Tip 1 - Verify
Take care to verify the person seeking a missing person. Stalkers, abusers and people with criminal intent do hire PI’s to locate people for malicious purposes. If you suspect that a person is going to cause harm to the person ‘missing’, report this to police and decline to undertake the case.
Tip 2 - Understand the circumstances
Identifying the reason why a person has gone missing by discounting theories and pursuing others is vital to the outcome. Some of the reasons people go missing include:
- They get lost
- domestic abduction
- failure to communicate
- throwaways (missing but family do not care)
- stranger abduction
- misadventure (accidents)
People can also go intentionally missing to avoid debt, domestic abuse, escape a threat of violence or misadventure, escape from responsibility, punishment or criminal conviction. Understanding the full circumstances of the life prior to going missing will help identify which possibilities are ruled out and help narrow down the options.
Tip 3 - Desktop research
Undertake desktop searches to make the links between known and unknown information. There are numerous online resources and data banks such as Desktop Detective where you can conduct searches on line to identify connections with phone numbers, addresses, leases, and employment details. A visit to www.nswirs.com.au will bring up lists of available information brokers. Alternatively, you can hire someone to undertake the skip tracing and background research for you.
Tip 4 - Talk to people
Whilst database searches are important, the primary source of evidence for locating missing persons is found in human sources by interviewing and talking to people who knew the missing person. Getting to know the person by visiting their last known address, going through their property and things in their room will provide useful insights into their activities and interests prior to them going missing.
Tip 5 - Get the full picture
People are creatures of habit so identifying hobbies, interests and activities through diaries, online history and literature they have read are all important sources of information.
Tip 6 - Document
During the information gathering stage there will be a lot of avenues of enquiry and different hypothesise about what has happened to the person. Keeping good records and notes relating to all lines of enquiries is essential. Investigate all avenues, even those previously investigated by others. Flow charts can be very helpful for mapping this out and will save time if a person is not easily found.
Tip 7 - Use pretexting
Pretexting is a term used to describe how you might obtain information about a person without disclosing who you are or why you want the information. Legislation usually controls to what extent you can use pretexting in each jurisdiction and strict privacy laws prevent individuals often disclosing confidential information. You cannot legally obtain confidential information about a person by purporting to be that person, however you may be able to obtain sufficient information through pretexting that you can corroborate or discount certain lines of inquiry.
Tip 8 - Understand the legislation
Laws around disclosure of private information effect the person providing the information not the recipient of the information unless the source is an official source and you use bribery, threats or inducement to obtain the information. The days of asking you mate in the police to do a quick intelligence check on a POI are long gone. However, family members under instruction may be more successful at obtaining information from others than a PI.
Tip 9 - Identity changes
People who deliberately go missing and change identities can be very hard to locate. You might find a clue that they have attempted to change their identity through evidence of accessing websites or books about how to change identities or through evidence from friends about access to fake IDs.
Tip 10 - Identify habits
Finally, people are creatures of habit, so even if you identify that the person may have changed their identity and moved locations, they are still likely to be involved in the same activities or employment that they have had previously and this can lead to new leads.