Missing Persons: Part Four – The Role of a PI

Welcome to the fourth instalment of our Missing Persons series. Previously we have looked at defining the term ‘missing person’ and the differing reasons why people may go missing. This issue is a glimpse into what I do as a Private Investigator to locate a missing person.

There are hundreds of methods a PI may use to help conduct a missing persons investigation. With the development of the latest technologies, a wealth of new techniques are being brought to light everyday so the role is ever-changing. Each case is unique and will require a different combination of these. In this article I will divide my tactics into two key parts – the ‘old fashioned’ style of practical investigation, including conducting interviews and surveillance, and new style technology-based methods.

Practical Investigation

In films you will often see a PI sneaking photos, going through bins and searching through piles of documents to help assist their investigation. Although glamourised, these on screen moments are not so far from the truth as you might think.

Physical investigations can take many forms. In the case of missing persons one of the most valuable tools is conducting interviews with family and friends. Often finding the root cause of someone’s disappearance or compiling details about their usual haunts is the first step towards finding their current whereabouts. Deciphering whether or not someone has chosen to go missing is a big help. If you think it is out of character or that the person may be in danger it is important that authorities are involved as soon as possible. Your PI can then work in conjunction with them.

Surveillance and actually physically looking for a missing person are also very important. A dedicated PI is not a stranger to long hours sitting and waiting and watching for their subject. Searching properties and possible locations means no stone is left unturned. It’s this type of diligence that can make the difference in a real life investigation.

Technology Based Investigation

With the rise of social media and tracking applications, finding a person’s exact location can be done at a click of a button. If someone does not want to be found, however, and knows how to hide their activity online, a PI then has to dig a little deeper to find their missing person. They wont just tag themselves in at the local coffee shop!

Delving into the deep web, with special permissions and subscriptions your PI can access databases not available to the general public. Some records, such as DVLA or court documents are only available to the police, but there are many other sources which can provide useful information. Accessing these sorts of official records eliminates bias that social media can create and allows you to establish a timeline of your subject’s appearances. As I’ve mentioned before, Find UK People is one of my top sources for accessing much-needed information on missing persons.

Go a little deeper and you will find yourself in what is colloquially known as the ‘dark web’ where anonymity is key. This is particularly useful in investigations where you believe someone may have been abducted or is involved in illegal activity themselves which may relate to their disappearance.

These are just some of the techniques a PI might utilise to conduct a missing person’s investigation. I obviously would not want to reveal my entire box of tricks but I hope this gives you a taster of the tools at my disposal!