BACKGROUND INVESTIGATIONS
AND COURTHOUSE RECORDS CHECKS

By: Ralph D. Thomas

A background investigation done making use of a courthouse records check as the meat of the investigation is an area of investigation that is interesting and can provide the investigative agency with a great deal of business. However, before we go into the actual machanics of doing such an investigation, we need to look at exactly what it is we are talking about and who can use this serivce on a volume bases.
First, an examination of what information can be found at the courthouse will give us a review of who can use such a service. Generally, most courthouse records is public record and can be reviewed by just about anyone. Second, a complete courthouse records check can turn up mounds of details concerning most people who live in the county. Think of the different departments within the courthouse:

1) AUTO TAG REGISTRATION
2) BUSINESS LICENSE
3) REAL ESTATE PROPERTY RECORDS
4) TRAFFIC RECORDS
5) TAX RECORDS
6) CIRCUIT CIVIL RECORDS
7) SMALL CLAIM CIVIL RECORDS
8) CIRCUIT CRIMINAL RECORDS
9) COUNTY CRIMINAL RECORDS
10) VOTER REGISTRATION
11) GENERAL INDEX RECORDS
12) FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSE
13) MOBIL HOME REGISTRATION
14) MARRIAGE RECORDS
15) BUILDING PERMITS
16) COUNTY POLICE RECORDS
17) PROBATE RECORDS

The list could go on through a dozen or so minor records kept by the county. The point is that a courthouse records search can be used very effectivly for a fast background investigation in the development of all kinds of information on any one person living within the county. In fact, a courthouse records check is a standard part of insurance claims investigations and is often used in a skip trace.
One of the secrets in going to the courthouse to check courthouse records is that a great deal of people just do not know such an all-incompassing investigation can be done including some private investigators. For example, lawyers might know to have their clerk check auto tag registration from time to time but most have no idea that a complete investigative profile can be worked up on someone in a very short time checking all kinds of records. Even some investigators who are somewhat familiar with records checks have no idea such a great volume of information can be found at the court house. They tend to think of records at the court house in various departments and run down one day to check tax rolls unaware of the fact that needed information could be pulled from several dozen or so other departments.
Consider who could use such a service. What do you come up with? We will cover some prime targets.
THE LEGAL PROFESSION
Think of ways in which a court house records check could help the praticing attonrey. Assets checks could be run before expensive litigtation is started. Witnessess could be located quickly and cheaply. Background data could be obtained concerning witnesses who where about to be cross-exaimined. The legal market is a very large market for such a service. However, the lawyer needs to be shown not only that your coursthouse records checks can be made, but how to sue them. This author had flyer sent out one time to every lawyer in a certain geographic area explaining how to use such a service along with inexpensive rates. Building from a small base of clients, this service developed into a volume of 40 to 60 checks per week at about $65.00 per assignment.
This author can give you several examples of where this kind of service was very helpful to the legal profession. At one time seven law firms ordered was has been called a hidden assets check. These lawyers were using this service to see if prospective defendants had any assets before litigation was started. As a result of this service, these law firms could drop those cases in which no assets could be found before litigation was started. Several other law firms specialized in defendending criminal charges. They would first obtain a police rpoert that listed witnesses to the criminal charge. A bkacground check was run on these witnesses which was then used when the witness was cross-examined. One of the must interesting cases involved a former tentant who claimed he had returned to his old apartment to pick up the rest of his personal belongings. To make a long story short, the landlord filed a police report charging that the defendant broke and entered his building. The police obtained a signed statement from a witness who stated that she lived right next door. In fact, a court house records check revealed that the witness did not live at the apartment house but was an investor in the landlord's buildings. The information was used to impeach the witness and the case was dropped.
THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY
Unlike lawyers, insurance claims people know what a court house records check can do and give out volumes of such assignments every day. Court house records checks are used by the insurance industry both for underwriting and claims investigation.
EMPLOYERS
Employers have a need to obtain vital information about a prospective employee before they are hired. A pre-employment/background investigation can be packaged using court house records very economically. This author knows of several investigative firms who have customized such pre-employment investigative services for various types of businesses. One of the most successful pre-employment investigative firms in the UNited States today is Fidelofacts with an office in just about every major city in the United States. One successful agency decieded to specialize in a pre-employment investigation for car dealerships. The investigative package consisted of a court house records check, a credit bureau check, an MVR check, and a check of former employers. This investigative agency charged $70.00 per case and was obtaining assignments from over three dozen large auto dealerships.
GENERAL BUSINESS COMMUNITY
A great deal of people do not know this but most major credit bureaus have a person who collects general information from general indexing at the court house. General indexing will contain a record of suites and juddgements, tax liens, uniform commerical codes and other various summery documents from other departments found in the county court house. Facts from these documents often end up in your creidt file at the credit bureau. Businesses do keep track of their competors of which a court house records check can provide them with a great deal of info. Properly marketed, this approach can bring in a great deal of assignments.
There are also a number of specialty information brokers who sell information compiled from court house records. Various sales organizations are intersted in obtaining lists of people who might have just purchased a new home or just married. Such lists are compiled bycourthouse searchers and then resold several times over. Wouldn't an insurance agent specializing in homeowner's insurance be interested in a fresh list of new homerowners? Of course he would and he would be wiling to pay top dollar for it. Another vast makret along this line is a list of mortgage forclosures. Such lists contain the names and addresses of people who are about ready to lose their home. Real estate investors are very interested in these lists. In Austin Texas there is such a list being sold on the newstand for $25.00 per issue.
The trick in this specialization is volume. At one time, a Central Florida agency developed a very large caseload consisting of various pre-packaged investigative services. They had a flat rate charge of $50.00 per court house records check but also maintained a policy of haveing a wholesale rate of $25.00 per case. You will see what I mean be a wholesale rate in a second. The firm was doing an average of 100 checks per week and about half of them were being billed at the wholesale rate. That coverts to about $3750 per week in money.
WHOLESALE CLIENTS
There is a market within the investigative market. Some investigative agenices, insurance adjusting firms and auto repossession agencies don't have the case load to keep traveling to the courthouse that would make it cost effective. They are then willing to firm such assignments to an independent contractor who is down at the courthouse almost every day. These clients are not easy to get but can greatly ad to your caseload.
PRIVATE CITIZEN MARKET
The private citizen generally has no idea that a vast background investigation can be used by checking courthouse records. Private citizens might have a number of reasons they would want a background investigation done on someone and $40 t0 $50 is an investigative fee that the average person could afford. However, they can not order a report if they don't know such a service exist.
The first trick is obtaining assignments in this business is to price your service so that the checks are not a major expense and try to work off of volume. In reality, I have seen fifty to sixty assignments done at the court house in one day. If you could get that kind of volume, your flat rate charge per assignment could be very low. However, it is going to take almost twice as long to write the report as it does to do the investigation. Even at ten assignments per day at a flat rate charge of $35.00 is very good money (350.00 per day).
The second trick in obtaining assignments is to package your service so the prospective client can see the value. Note that the successful investigative agency who specialized in checking out employment applicants for auto dealerships did not call his service a court house records check by a pre-employment/background investigation for car salesman. The service was customized to meet the needs of his client base.
Combination services which are customized are likely to include other records checks For example, the investigative service auto dealerships had an MVR records check. This is a state check of driver's licence records to see if the prospective salesman had a good driving record. Those who did not could not be placed on some commerical insurance policies. It would stand to reason that the new car sales repsesentive would be driving company cars if he become a salesman. Note also that a credit bureau check was obtained. Such information will reveal if the subject is behind in his bills and could stand working for a very low income until his sales ability was developed.
You should have a good grasp of this market and what it consists of. Let us now take a look at an actual court house records check. A trip to the courthouse will include (hopefully) at least ten cases. The records located at the courthouse are departmentialized. That is, you will not find all the records in just one place. This will require to to make the rounds of the different records departments in the court house. Orgainized notes must be kept for each case. Before starting such a serivce, it would be wise to do a few practice runs on yourself and a few ofyour friends. Pick about six or seven people. Your going to be surprised what kind of information can be developed if you have never run this type of investigation before.
HERE IS WHAT INFORMATION FROM A CASE MIGHT LOOK LIKE:
SUBJECT: John V. Alexander
AUTO TAG REGIRSTRATION: Shows subject has a 1980 Ford T-Bird registered in his name. Shows his date of birth as 5-12-50. Shows his address as 2714 Copeland Drive, Anytown Florida. Tag was renewed 5/86. Also shows a John V. Alexander and a Karen P. Alexander at the same address owning a 1978 Ford LTD. Vin number for 1980 Ford T-Bird is 2876858495697. Vin umber for 1978 Ford LTD is 69780894712437.
(NOTE: If investigation is an assets check you should also make us of this information to run a title trace through the state title office. This will reveal the lein holder of the above vechiles)
BUSINESS LICENSE: Shows one John V/ Alexander has license number 686797967 for the purpose of conducting a retail gift shop at 798 Main Street since August 1971. The name of the business is Universal Gifts.
REAL ESTATE PROPERTY: Shows John V. and Karen Alexander purhcased the home at 2714 Copeland Drive in September of 1969 for $69,500.The morgage holder is First National Bank for $60,000 with payment of $329.78 per month.
Shows Mr. John V. Alexander to own the property at 798 Main Street purchased on August 12, 1971 with no lien.
(NOTE: If assets check is being done a legal description of the property should be obtained.)
CIRCUITE CIVIL RECORDS: Reveals that in June of 1980 one Paul Grover sued John V. Alexander record store for a slip and fall. Case was settled out of court. Mr. Alexander's lawyer was Robert Griffin.
Shows that Karen Alexander filed for a devorce on 3-22-71 which was withdrawn. Mrs. Al;exander's lawyer was Stan Gordon.
COUNTY CIVIL: Reveals no litigatition.
COUNTY CRIMINAL: Shows that John V. Alexander date of birth as 5-12-50 was arrested for DWI and taken to the county jail on 3-20-79. Record shows Mr. Alexander pleaded guilty and paid a $750 file as well as attended better driving school. The record lists Mr. Alexander's Social Security number as 235-78-4567.
CIRCUIT CRIMINAL: Shows no record for John V. Alexander.
VOTER REGISTRATION: Shows Mr. John V. Alexander as a registered Democrat 2-15-85.
You can see the type of information that develops. Special attention should be given to the reason for the check. For example, if this investigation was for a life insurance underwriting report further investigation might be wanted concerning the drinking habits of Mr. Alexander. If it was for a hiudden assets check, you might want to check further with state records to determine more information on the subject's busines activity.
In your trial run to the courthouse for practice, you will likely find that this type of investigation goes on at the court house everyday. In fact, it would be my bet that at least 100 such investigations are going on in your county right now. It is your job to obtain your share of the assignments.
If you are not that familar with your county's court house records it will take you some time to get use to them. You might find several departments
that will not just give any stranger who walks in access to the records. However, once they know who you are and what you are doing you will generally be able to walk right in and start digging.
Indexing of records take various forms. You will find some small county records use old ledger systems. Other types of record indexing systems will be kept on microfish unites. The most modern counties will have everything on computer. You may or may not need a clerk to help you look up the indexes. Almost all indexes are sectioned by year or month and then list the names in alphicial order.
You will likely find it necessary to run one name through a tri-county area. Such a check will make give a better chance to developing all the needed information. In fact, most people in today's mobel society move in and out of counties on a daily bases. Usually charges for the second county are less.
There are also times when you will run accros massive volumes of records to review. These flat rate cases should be then upgraded to an hourly rate charge.

 

 

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