How to Find a Missing Person: Strategies for a Successful Search


This article provides suggestions on how to find a missing person. Private investigators called this a missing person investigation. You’re probably highly stressed out if you are looking for someone missing. Hopefully, after reading this article, you will have new ideas to help locate the person you seek.

What is a Missing Person?

A missing person is a person who has disappeared for some time, usually for unknown reasons. Over 100,000 people disappear each year, of which roughly 80% are children. A common misunderstanding is that a person must be missing for 72 hours before being legally labeled “missing person.” When there is evidence of violence or an unusual absence, law enforcement agencies often stress the importance of beginning an investigation immediately. The first 48 hours of a person’s disappearance are critical.

If a person has been missing for seven years, and there is no evidence to the contrary, a missing person can be declared legally dead.

Disappearing Intentionally

In some situations, people disappear intentionally. For example, someone may disappear to avoid alimony or child support payments. Or, they might have a warrant out for their arrest. Also, a person may hide from dangerous people such as gang members, the mafia, or a drug cartel. 

In a small percentage of cases, people sometimes just get lost. This includes hikers who get lost in the woods. Also, people with mental or age-related conditions like Alzheimer’s forget where they are and get lost.

How to Get Started with a Missing Persons Investigation

Gather Information

When you begin looking for someone, the first step is to collect as much physical information as possible about the subject. Having all of the information in one place will help you quickly share it with others as they become involved in the investigation. Make a list of  the following for the individual:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth / current age
  • Current and previous addresses
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Hair Color
  • Eye color
  • Distinguishing features such as tattoos, birthmarks, scars, etc.

Also, gather helpful identification such as:

  • Driver’s license
  • Employee ID badge
  • Birth certificate
  • Other ID cards, such as a work or school badge

Suggested First Steps to Find a Missing Person

The first thing you should do is contact everyone you know who might know where the person is. You should contact anyone who knows the individual, including:

  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Co-workers
  • Classmates
  • Roommates and neighbors

Ask each individual if they know where your subject is. If they don’t, ask when they last saw them. Gather and record any relevant information.

If reaching out to friends and family doesn’t help you find the person, it is time to start looking elsewhere.

Check local hospitals and clinics. The person you’re looking for may have been injured and unable to notify family members. Contact all of the hospitals and clinics in the local area and provide identifying information. If you cannot locate them by name, ask if any “John Doe’s” have been admitted.

Check local prisons and jails. Your subject may have been arrested and is currently in prison or jail. Contact the prisons and jails in your area to see if they are currently incarcerated. Contact your local police department to see if the person is currently detained.

Check social media activity. If the individual uses social media, thoroughly review every one of their social media accounts. Check their activity feed, photos posted, friends list, everything. Review the feeds of every connection, and check for comments, photos, etc., that your subject may be featured in.

Drive around your local area. If you have some reason to believe that the person you are searching for may still be in your local area, start canvassing the area. Help from friends, family members, volunteers, and even the local police department. Start driving around the local area, ask questions, post signs, and look for clues. Gather and consolidate all of the information that is uncovered in the effort.

Get the media involved. The media can help create awareness across a wider geographic area in a shorter period. Contact local TV stations and share details, photos, and clues. Try to get an on-camera interview, if possible.

Check financial transactions. If you can access the individual’s financial accounts, log in and review their transaction history. The time and location of the financial transactions will help build a timeline of activity.

How a Private Investigator can help with a Missing Person Investigation

Different methods must be used if the person has been missing for a long time. A private investigator can help in the following ways.

Private investigators use various skills, techniques, software, and equipment to search for and find missing people. Whether you are just getting started or you’re already a seasoned pro, there is something that everyone can learn from these books. They contain great ideas that, when used in conjunction with one another and in the right cases, could provide the break you’re looking for and may lead to your subject.

Search Phone Records. Look up everyone with the same initial and last name, city, and state. If you don’t get promising results initially, and the name isn’t too common, expand the search to other cities and states. In particular, look in the areas where the subject had relatives, friends, business dealings, or other connections. Once you get a list, try contacting them. One of them may well be who you’re searching for.

Do a People Search – If you have the first and last names, you’ll get the best results by running an online People Search using BeenVerified. This simple online tool will search billions of public records in seconds.

Run an SSN Trace. Credit bureaus are the most likely to find anyone’s current address and phone number. Professional investigators say this is usually the best way to locate someone trying to hide.

That’s because most people don’t realize all the different types of activities they do that trigger address updates to their credit records. Everything from renting a new apartment to getting the utilities turned on. However, knowing that an organization must be authorized to run such searches is essential. In addition, they must have a legal reason to do so.

Search Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filings. These are lien notices filed locally and maintained by each state. The Search Services collect the data so you can access it more easily. UCCs are created to document a lien placed on the property for which a loan has been made. It’s valuable in tracking a missing person because it can lead you to a business that has had dealings with the person. It’s possible you can get contact information through them.

To hire a private investigator specializing in missing person searches, please visit our Private Investigator Directory.

Important Notes

There are no guarantees you’ll find the person you’re searching for, just as there were never any guarantees with paid investigators. But the cost is minimal, and no one will be more motivated than you to keep at it until you succeed.

Books to Help You Find a Missing Person

The following books are a great way to learn the skills and techniques used in such search efforts.

Missing Persons: A Writer’s Guide to Finding the Lost, the Abducted and the Escaped (Howdunit Series)
A helpful book for detectives that explains how to track down someone for various reasons, whether they wish to be found or not. This helpful guide describes many processes and techniques involved in real-life situations. One of the primary reasons that people hire private detectives is to help locate or track down a missing person. People go missing for a wide variety of reasons. People may disappear intentionally, as with a runaway or someone who wants to escape a particularly bad situation. In contrast, a person may be abducted or taken against their will due to criminal wrongdoing such as kidnapping or abduction. This well-researched book provides simple investigative resources that private detectives, genealogists, skip tracers, and more to find someone who may have disappeared.
How to Locate Anyone Anywhere: Without Leaving Home
This manual provides a step-by-step guide to finding missing persons. Includes a large number of helpful resources. Explains how to search local, state, and federal records. Also, it includes helpful suggestions for writing letters to request information and more.

How to Find Almost Anyone, Anywhere – This book discusses various types of missing person search efforts. For example, one chapter is devoted to adoption searches, and another is dedicated to finding family members, best friends, military personnel, and debtors. The guide explains how to gather information and provides helpful resources and contact information for organizations that can help you search. A useful book for P.I.’s and police officers.

Help With Finding a Missing Person

Another great resource is Child Watch of North America, which maintains a toll-free line for information on missing children and inquiries from parents searching for their children. Also, check out Child Search at the National Missing Children Center and the Nation’s Missing Children Organization, Inc.

North America Missing Children Association Inc. – North America Missing Children Association. Note: The North American Missing Children Association had its charity status revoked after an investigation into the association’s financing revealed that the company was not updating its website, not answering phone calls and emails, but continued to accept donations.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children [] – Spearheads national efforts to locate and recover missing children.

The Missing Children Society of Canada is a non-profit agency that provides investigative search services to help reunite families. The organization has an in-house group of law enforcement officers who perform searches to help reunite children with their families. They work closely with federal and municipal agencies and do hands-on work, all free of charge.


If you have any questions about how to find a missing person, please leave a message below.

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


  1. Dear Investigator

    Please locate where about of Miss Nguyen Thi Tu Quyen, born 1961 in Nou Mea New Caledonia; Father’s name: TUAN Nguyen in Nou Mea New Caledonia

  2. Thanks for mentioning how you should look for as much information as you can. It is important to consider that doing this can help you find someone you can trust with your investigation. A friend of mine was talking about how he needed a good private investigator, so I wanted to look into it for him.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.