THE TOP TEN BEST COMPUTER SEARCHES
FOR LOCATING MISSING PERSONS


Learn What The Top Sources Are, How To Use Them Correctly And
Analize What You Get Effectively For Successful Skip Tracing

By Ralph D Thomas

Back in the 1960's and 1970's you really had to be a very good investigator in order to conduct hardcore missing persons investigations. There where not any computerized searches like we have today and central repositories of various types of records didn't exist like they do today. As good as all these new high tech skip trace tools are, newer skip tracers and missing persons investigators seem to have a great deal of misconception about them. In and of themselves, they are not investigations and just because you gain access to computer searches doesn't mean that you are going to be able to find anyone anywhere. Oh you will find a few skips now and then but your strick out rate is going to be high. Computer searches have limitations and some people know enough to keep out of certain database files forever outguessing and baffling the unreasoned investigator. It is only when you approach the use of online searches as a mere hit-or-miss tool and not an investigation unto itself that the missing persons investigator will start to become successful. Moreover, there is often hidden information in those files that doesn't give you an address but will open keys to other avenues you most utilize to up your home run score. Keeping that approach in mind, I'd like to review the top databases and online searches for locating missing persons in resending order.

NUMBER ONE
SOCIAL SECURITY TRACE

The Social Security Trace is likely the most effective search used to locate a missing person. It requires that you have the social security number which is used as the input information. This search is actually the top portion of a credit bureau file containing the name and address information. The reason it is the most effective search is because address updates often end up in this database without people realizing that various activity will trigger new address information input into credit bureaus. These reasons could include:

  • A)extension of credit
  • B) as a direct result of filling out an employment application
  • C) As a direct result of filling out an application to rent an apartment.
  • D) AS a direct result of a loan company or bank attempting to collect a debt (they skip traced the subject, located the subject and provided the new address to a credit bureau network)
  • E) As a direct result of applying for insurance.
  • F) As a direct result of applying for various utilities such as water, gas or electric (Many utility companies are now running credit bureaus to determine user deposits).
  • G) As a direct result of an investigator or other professional using the National Identifier as a trace on the subject to either obtain the SSN number or verify identity information.


It's important to realize that there are about 200 million credit bureau files that are consistently being instantly updated by hundreds of thousands of input updates weekly.

Social Security Tracing is unregulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act which means that it is not a restricted search and does not require permissible purposes under the federal law. However, some state laws have superceded federal law. In a few state such as California, a Social Security Trace requires that a notification footer be created every time a Social Security Trace is run. What that means is that a record is kept on the bottom portion of the credit bureau file of the company running the SSN Trace.

When using Social Security Tracing, it is important to understand that there are three credit bureaus (TRW, CBI and Trans Union) that offer such a trace. In order to make a more wider geographical sweep of credit bureau headers, it is usually best to run more than one source.

One of the added features of an SSN tace is the fact that you'll obtain other information that can be helpful.

1) Death Claims Notification
All the credit bureaus subscribe to the Social Security Administration's National Death Claims Index. This is a database of people who have filed claims on an SSN number for death benefits. The original purpose of this extra feature is to insure against credit fraud by using a dead person's SSN number.

2) Multiple Social Security Numbers
When investigators frequency run an SSN Trace on various types of people who are under investigation, they soon notice that many of these people are using more than one SSN number. Sometimes this is a clerical error on the part of people who input information to credit bureaus. More often, however, this is a result of the subject attempting to use a secondary SSN number to cover his trails. Nine times out of ten, this is instantly spotted and tagged with the subject's other file.

HERE IS WHAT A SAMPLE SSN TRACE LOOKS LIKE:

Scanning ... Source #1 FOR ... 123-45-6789


DATE: 11/06/87 TIME: 13:20

* SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER TRACE * 123-45-6789
NAME/SPOUSE SSN OWNER
ADDRESS ADDR RPT DATE

1. CONSUMER, JOHN D SUBJECT
3142 TAG DR., KANSAS CITY. KANSAS 66102 09/84

2. CONSUMER, JOHN D SUBJECT
178 COLDSPRING LN., DALLAS, TX 75228 10/87



Scanning ... Source #2 FOR ... 123-45-6789


M1 OF 4 NM-CONSUMER,JOHN CA-3142,TAG,DR,KANSAS CITY,KA,66102 ,04/84
SS-123-45-6789 AGE 46

M2 OF 4 NM-CONSUMER,JOHN,D CA-441,VINE,ST,TAMPA,FL,33604,07/86
SS-123-45-6789

M3 OF 4 NM-CONSUMER,JOHN CA-123,SANDY,LN,DETROIT,MI,48229,11/86
FA-4162,MCLEAN,DR,CINCINNATI,OH,45230,7/87
SS-123-45-6789 AGE 46

M3 OF 4 NM-SMITH,JOHN CA- 178 COLDSPRING,LN,DALLAS,TX,75228,9/87
FA-123,SANDY,LN,DETROIT,MI,48229,9/86
SS-123-45-6789 AGE 45

How to Interpret the above

M1 OF 4 ... is interpreted as Message 1 of 4 name/address records
NM- ... is interpreted as Lastname,Firstname
CA- ... is interpreted as Current Address
,mm/yy ... is interpreted as the month/year name/address was entered as data
FA- ... is interpreted as Former Address
SS- ... is interpreted as the associated Social Security Number
AGE- ... is interpreted as reported age of the subject

ACCESS ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
Utilizing SSN Tracing means you are going to have to obtain access to them from an information source in the first place and no one gives you the information for free. This is not a government records search, it's a private search. Although the hit rate is good on an SSN trace, you are going to run them on skips who have learned enough to stay out of credit bureau records with their new address but it's getting harder and harder to do because more and more activity is requiring more and more screening processes which sometimes involve credit bureau input.

NUMBER TWO
VOTER REGISTRATION SEARCH

Voter Registration searches are, in my opinion, the second most effective search for helping you locate a missing person. Believe it or not, it's one of the most overlooked sources of information mainly because it's a rather new search as far as online computer searching is concerned and many investigators miss the concept and value of the information in this record. Voter Registration files contain name and address information, and in some states, they will also contain the SSN number. Frequently there are massive voter registration drives conducted by political office seekers and you would be surprised at the number of people who register to vote but who are otherwise very careful when it comes to filling out any application that would end up in a credit bureau file.

Registered voter files contain all of the following fields on each individual voter record. The fields which are marked with an (*) may or may not be available. The fields are:

  • FIRST NAME
  • MIDDLE INITIAL
  • LAST NAME
  • OCCUPATION*
  • COUNTY CODE,
  • DATE OF BIRTH
  • STREET ADDRESS (Home or NCOA)
  • REGISTRATION DATE
  • TELEPHONE NUMBER*
  • ZIP CODE
  • SEX/GENDER
  • CITY (home or NCOA)
  • SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER*.


The voter registration search also contains forwarding address information (NCOA) so you are also getting a national charge of address with this search.

States available through online searches include:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • DC
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Wisconsin
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio, Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah,
  • Washington
  • West
  • Virginia


Each state is collected and updated one time per year.

Registered voter records searches can be expected to locate an address, verify an address, identify the person you are attempting to find, provide vital identifier information such as date of birth, middle initial, Social Security Number, Occupation. Some of the harder to find people who have not yet obtained a credit history may be in the database. This kind of data makes this search an excellent tool for locating a missing person or skip.

Voter registration searches can be accessed through pay per inquiry online information services or you can purchase the information on CD-Rom in a few states which I will get to in a minute.

ACCESS ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
Many of the better online information providers can give you access to this search. One disadvantage is, it's not a national search and some states can not be accessed. Furthermore, some states will not let you see all the data they have. This type of information in not timely and updated frequently like information from an SSN trace is. In fact, most of the databases are only updated one time per year.


NUMBER THREE
UNIFORM COMMERCIAL CODES

Uniform Commercial Codes (commonly called UCC's) are notices of lien filings done at each county courthouse and then sent to a state repository. This information is then collected by various online information providers as an online search. A UCC is actually a legal document required by a creditor giving public notice of a lien placed on certain property until the loan is paid off. A UCC becomes valuable in skip tracing or locating a missing person simply because it can be used as a pointer to someone how knows something about your subject under investigation. It's important to remember than, behind every UCC filing, is a loan and a credit application.

When you find a UCC on a debtor skip, you will frequently find that the company that filed the UCC is either also looking for the subject or better, was looking for the subject and found the subject knowing their current where about.

ACCESS ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
Since UCC codes are actually giving you credit history source information, it's an alternative to running a full credit bureau which is restricted under federal guidelines set forth in the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Since the information you are pulling is, for a better term, past tense (that is, the activity already happened) there isn't any way for a subject to attempt to manipulate this information like credit bureau information.
Of course, UCC history information on your subject is not going to lead directly to a current address of your subject, it's just going to point you to another source who will likely have other information you need and maybe even the subject's current location.


NUMBER FOUR
NATIONAL IDENTIFIER

A National Identifier is the forth best computer search for locating a missing person but it's only to be used when you don't have a Social Security Number to conduct a Social Security Trace. A National Identifier pulls information from the same sources of information that a Social Security Trace does but it uses a different input of information. Instead of a mere SSN number, the National Identifier searches uses a name and last known address in an attempt to locate a more current address. Naturally, this search which runs through massive credit bureau files looking for matches, doesn't work quite as well as a Social Security Trace. You will get less frequent hits with this search. It will, however, provide you with a Social Security Number even if it pulls the same address information that you already have. When you pull an SSN number on the subject and not a more current address, it's advisable to go back and run a Social Security Trace. This is an often overlooked step by some missing persons investigators because they have the misconception that they are going to pull the same information again. That might happen but you have to understand that the SSN number is a much better input source than a last known address to obtain matches in credit bureau files.

ACCESS ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
It's not as good as an SSN Trace but at least you are sweeping through files in the credit bureaus. Most of the better information providers offer it.
 

NUMBER FIVE
FORWARDING ADDRESSES

The forwarding address is a frequently used missing persons computer search that sometimes provides new addresses. Back in the older days of conducting locate investigations, the only way to obtain this information was to either go in person to the post office branch that serviced the last known address or write the postal branch a letter. In those days, it was referred to a Freedom Of Information Request and the post office charged you one dollar to check and see if they had a forwarding address on file.

Effective a year or so ago, the USPS stopped providing this service. The online forwarding address search became more valuable and the only way to legally get to this information. What has happened is the USPS authorized only a handful of computer data companies to act as what they called NCOA agents (National Change Of Address). These agents purchased the change of address information on computer tape and then resold these tapes to authorized online information providers. That is the situation today.

It's also important to note that many NCOA databases also provide forwarding address information for magazine subscription services. These magazine subscription databases and sometimes more useful to the missing persons investigator for an obvious reason. An accomplished skip might understand not to file a postal forwarding address file so they don't get collection letters forwarded to them and don't get collection agencies to readily find them but they paid for their magazine subscription, want to continue to read their magazine and don't realize that this ends up in a database.

ACCESS ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
You no longer obtain this information directly from the post office and information providers love this. However, you can now access this information nationally (not just at one USPS branch) and it's often combined with magazine subscription database address updates which are private that the post office never had in the first place. Of course, some people know enough about hiding to not fill out the forwarding card for US mail forwarding and some even know to keep out of magazine subscription database updates.

NUMBER SIX
DRIVER LICENSE INFORMATION

I have a driver's license and you likely do to. We all have to renew those licenses every so often because they expire. If you are a skip on the run, you might opt to take a change and drive with an expired driver license but in today's USA your chances of evidently getting stopped by a police officer are fairly good. People renew their driver license and provide new address information because they state requires them too. (And I might add, collects additional tax at the same time) Most driver licenses have to be renewed every four years. It's important to know when your missing person's driver license last expired and/or when it will next expire.
Online information services usually offer driver license searches for some states.

NUMBER SEVEN
ALPHA VEHICLE REGISTRATION

Just like someone's driver license will expire, a more alarming problem for a skip is their vehicle registration. Although you can frequently get away with driving on an expired driver license for awhile, you can not get away with driving on an expired tag for very long before a law enforcement officer notices it. When a vehicle is registered with the state every year, they collect more taxes and ask for your current address. Again it's important for the skip tracer or missing persons investigator to know when the subject's tag was last renewed in state vehicle registration and when the tag has to be renewed again. Most of the online information services provide a search for this type of information. The reason why I a listing Alpha Vehicle Registration number seven instead of number six is that when you apply for renewal of a driver license, they often have your or take your photo and finger prints. This kind of tells the skip, "I better not lie." That type of information is not procured when you renew your tag.

ACCESS ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
This is a good search but it's not available legally in all fifty states. There is no such thing as a "national" search for this, it's done by state. In many state searches, you'll need to have the driver license number in order to run one. (Read on and you'll learn about places to get that) There are various ways to go about obtaining access to this information:

ONLINE SEARCH: Most comprehensive online information providers offer a way to order and obtain tag traces in most states. However, (and it's important to point this out) there are usually less expensive ways of obtaining the information. A few states will let you tap into their online system to obtain the information at a much cheaper rate.

COUNTY COURTHOUSE RECORDS: If you check county courthouse records anyway, most county records departments have places in which you can check vehicle registration by name. This is something you'll need to find out about in your location.

STATE VEHICLE REGISTRATION: As stated, some states will permit private access of online databases for auto tag searches.

MICROFICHE PURCHASE: In some states and in some counties, you can purchase microfiche of vehicle registration. Again, this is something you'll need to find out about in your location.

NUMBER EIGHT
ONLINE CRISS-CROSS DIRECTORIES

Criss-Cross directories have been around investigator's offices in hardcopy form for a very long time. More recent forms of the criss-cross directory are online searches and CD-Roms.They are basically compiled from or with the same information found in a telephone book. However, these products work a little different then a telephone book. These directories and databases give investigators a way to use three pieces of information

1) NAME
2) ADDRESS
3) TELEPHONE NUMBER


The idea behind the criss-cross directory rather you are using an online search, CD-Rom product or hardcopy directory is the fact that, if you have one of those three pieces of information, you can get the other two. The CD-Rom and Online databases are merely databases that, when you input one of the three pieces of information, you get the other two. The hardcopy criss-cross directories are indexed and printed with three different indexes.

Of course, the online databases and CD-Rom databases provide the investigator more than just a local criss-cross directory, they will let you criss-cross the nation.

There are a number of other searches that can be used with these products that include:

SURNAME SEARCH:
You input a name and obtain matched listings of everyone with the same name. In certain types of missing persons cases, this search sometimes produces an easy hit. For example, if you had an assignment in which someone asked you to find a long lost army buddy than had a somewhat unusual last name, you could use this type of search and sometimes get a national list of names, addresses and telephone numbers of a dozen to two dozen people with the same name. Of course, in the case of a John Smith or Arnold Thomas or other more common names, you are just going to get too many hits to narrow it down. Moreover, on females this type of search doesn't quite work as well because long lost females have a habit or changing their last name when they marry, divorce and/or remarry. Not only that, single or widowed females sometimes don't list their first name, only their first initial which makes the number of hits or names you get go way up. To make things even worse, data indicates that many females who marry just let the telephone listing be in their spouses name which means they will not even be in the database.

NEIGHBORHOOD INQUIRY SEARCHES:
You input a street and city and obtain a list of everyone who lives on that street which is good for telephone interviewing and, in the case of using this search on a last known address in a missing persons cases, you develop neighborhood sources you can call from your office phone.

The next two sources of information are not online searches but are usually public records searches that make very useful skip trace and locating missing persons tools that can be hand searched at county court houses.

ACCESS ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
There are many databases to tap into for criss-cross information. Many are free on the net. However, the ones that are free tend to be low grade searches. CD-Rom Criss Cross is a little better but the problem is, the information goes out of data quickly. One solution to that, is to purchase a yearly subscription to PhoneDisc. Hardcopy criss-cross directories are worth having but they are not cheap these days. Most Chamber Of Commerce offices and public libareieis will have them for their city and you'll find that the large Chamber Of Commerce offices and public libraries in large metropolitan areas have them for the complete state.
None of these sources are as current as the better online pay per inquiry sources as the information is more timely.
NUMBER NINE
TRAFFIC TICKETS THE HIDDEN GOLDMINE!

We all get traffic tickets now and then (well-I only get one about every five or six years). No one really likes them but the government who gets to collect huge fines from them that we pay. Well, I say no one-you as a missing persons investigator are going to like them in a minute. Stop and think! When you got your last traffic ticket, you got a copy of that ticket so you could mail in your outrageous user tax for exceeding the speed limit right? Do you remember what was on that ticket?

  • Name
  • Address
  • Date
  • Tag Number
  • Year-Make-Model Of Vehicle
  • Driver License Number
  • Date Of Birth
  • Place Ticket Was Issued


And a lot of other stuff including all those, "You have a right to plead guilty," and "if you do not plead guilty and pay the fine stop by an attorney' office and give him a retainer for ten times that amount," and all that other neat stuff.

Traffic tickets are usually indexed and can be viewed in the courthouse and they contain extremely valuable information. First of all, if it's a fairly recent ticket, you now know that, as of the date of the ticket, the subject was present in that county-you just narrowed your search. Secondly, the good police officer will usually ask, "is this hear address on your license still correct son?" Some skips will lie to an investigator, lie to an attorney and lie to a bill collector but they won't lie to a man wearing a gun and a badge and a blue uniform out of fear. You have also developed the year, make and model of vehicle, the tag number, the subject's driver license number and the subject's DOB-all important vital information that can be used as keys to unlock other information.

Traffic tickets are an often overlooked area of investigation in a missing persons investigation by green-horn skip tracers because they only see the need to look in places that might have a current address and traffic tickets are a long-shot on that one but I have found current addresses on them. Try it-and you too will begin to like the whole idea of traffic tickets as much as the governmental bodies that collect the huge fines and fees from them. If you like this kinds of expert skip tracer's tips, I suggest you consider obtaining a copy of How To Find Anyone Anywhere.


NUMBER TEN
MARRIAGE RECORDS ANOTHER HIDDEN GOLDMINE

Marriage records can be found at the country courthouse just like traffic tickets can be searched and are usually considered public record information. I know what you are thinking, this guy got married five years before he skipped town-what good is that going to do me? No it's not going to give you his current address but it's going to give you some keys that might unlock that information on the form of other types of information.

The information contained in marriage records differs somewhat from one state to another but here is what you frequently find actually find in the state of Texas.

  • NAME
  • MAIDEN NAME
  • ADDRESS OF BOTH PARTIES
  • DOB OF BOTH PARTIES
  • SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER
  • DRIVER LICENSE NUMBER
  • MAN OF THE CLOTH PERFORMING MARRIAGE
  • CHURCH OF MARRIAGE
  • OCCUPATION
  • EMPLOYER


WOW! You just developed a ton of new leads and a ton of new can openers. If you didn't have the SSN number, driver license number, DOB, spouses maiden name-you got all that information now and can go back and use that information to run stuff towards the top of our top ten list. But that's not all! I mean-employer-occupation-preacher (and people tell their preacher things they just don't tell anyone else including their current where-a-bouts-naturally the preacher will want to do the best thing in the eyes of God for the boy so they'll tell you what they know when you approach the correctly)

When I'm not sure which county deadbeat Joe got married in to obtain this information, naturally, I can not be running all over the state checking each county so I pop it up to a state level to find the information by utilizing State Vital Records. I pay the fee of a dollar or so and send them a letter asking for marriage records and in some state, I can just call and get the info. Once I have this data, it tells me what country the subject was married in. There is a free database of where to write for vital records on the net, so bookmark it.


About The Author
Ralph Thomas has, for almost twenty years, produced a never-ending collection of ideas, sources, and techniques for private investigators in 34 books he has authored. He's also helped develop the NCI network into what it is today and is on it's board of directors. Thomas is also founder and director of the National Association Of Investigative Specialists. As a feature writer for PI Magazine, he's always looking for emerging high technology that relates to private investigation for his aritcle series titled INVESTIGATIVE TRENDS. He lives in Leander, Texas with his wife Barbara and his dogs Skyler and Inspector Gadget. His writing projects are usually conducted on a boat he named The Private Eye which is usually in hiding somewhere on Lake Austin with his dog, Inspector Gadget usually by his side. Thomas is also publisher of the PI Catalaog and developed a retail store in Austin, Texas called The Spy Exchange And Security Center.

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