Can Private Investigators Help with Kidnapping Cases?


An Overview of Kidnapping

In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away of a person against the person’s will. The kidnapping usually involves the intention to hold the person in false imprisonment, defined as confinement without legal authority.

Kidnapping is usually done by force, but criminals sometimes use fraud and deception to lead a victim away willingly. Kidnapping may be for the purpose of obtaining a ransom or as part of another crime, such as a robbery or extortion.

Kidnappings are common in connection with child custody disputes, abduction by sexual predators, and sometimes in cases of government protests. It is also becoming more popular as a terrorist act, where victims are taken and held in captivity, tortured, and eventually killed in a very public manner.

There are several different types of kidnapping outside of the typical definition. For example, “express kidnapping” is used most frequently in Latin America. In this form, criminals take a person hostage and held for a relatively small sum of money that they know the family can and will likely pay to have their loved one released.

A tiger kidnapping is used by criminals to force someone else into doing something. An example might be taking a customer hostage to force a bank manager to open the vault.

What is the punishment for kidnapping?

The laws and charges associated with kidnapping vary from state to state. The actual length of the prison sentence may depend on such factors as:

  • The length of time the victim was held against their will
  • The amount of physical harm or torture inflicted on the victim and the severity of such harm
  • Transportation of the victim or victims across state lines
  • Other crimes committed during the act of kidnapping include burglary, theft, assault, battery, carjacking, murder, etc.
  • Demands for ransom or reward in exchange for the safe return of the person

A Private Investigator’s Role in Investigating Kidnapping Cases

  • Case Assessment: Conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the kidnapping case, reviewing available information, evidence, and any ransom demands to understand the context.
  • Witness Interviews: Interview individuals who may have witnessed the kidnapping or have relevant information, gathering details that could aid in identifying the perpetrator or provide clues about the victim’s whereabouts. Learn more about interviewing witnesses.
  • Surveillance: Employ discreet surveillance techniques to monitor locations, persons of interest, and potential leads, aiming to gather valuable information on the kidnapper’s activities or the victim’s movements. Learn more about surveillance.
  • Background Checks: Investigate the backgrounds of the victim and potential suspects, looking for any connections, motives, or patterns that could shed light on the kidnapping.
  • Digital Forensics: Utilize digital tools to examine electronic devices, communications, and online activities for clues that may help track the kidnapper or uncover additional details about the case.
  • Coordination with Law Enforcement: Collaborate with local law enforcement agencies to share findings, provide support, and ensure a coordinated effort in the investigation, enhancing the chances of a successful resolution.
  • Risk Assessment: Evaluate potential risks to the victim’s safety and recommend protective measures, considering the dynamic nature of kidnapping cases.
  • Negotiation Support: Offer expertise in negotiation strategies if a ransom demand is made, working closely with law enforcement to ensure the victim’s safety while seeking a resolution.
  • Evidence Collection: Collect, document, and preserve physical and digital evidence meticulously, adhering to legal standards, to build a strong case against the kidnapper or to support potential legal proceedings.
  • Undercover Operations: Engage in undercover operations, when appropriate, to gather intelligence, infiltrate criminal networks, or observe activities that may lead to the recovery of the kidnapped individual.
  • Report Preparation: Compile detailed reports on the progress of the investigation, presenting findings, analysis, and recommendations to clients, law enforcement, or other relevant parties.

Amber Alerts

To combat kidnapping, many states use the Amber Alert program. The AMBER Alert Program is a partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry.

As part of the program, an urgent bulletin is distributed on television, radios, and electronic road signs in the most serious child abduction cases. The goal of an AMBER Alert is to solicit assistance from the community at large in the search and recovery of the child.

The AMBER Alert system is used in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Indian country, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 22 other countries. As of March 2018, 924 children had successfully recovered through the program. Visit the website to learn about the United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, and the Amber Alert Program.

Additional resources:

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is the national clearinghouse for issues related to missing and sexually exploited children.


If you have any questions about kidnapping, please post a comment below. For more information, see the definition for false imprisonment in our Glossary of Investigation Terms.

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including Michael created more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at


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