How to Conduct a Missing Person Investigation

missing person
Learn how to conduct a missing person investigation.

This article provides an explanation of how to conduct your own missing person investigation. In this article, we’ll talk about what constitutes a missing person, and the reasons people may disappear. Then, we’ll cover a list of suggested steps for organizing your search. Finally, we’ll provide a list of recommended resources for getting started.

What is a Missing Person?

A missing person is someone who has disappeared for a period of time, usually for unknown reasons. Each year, over 100,000 people disappear, of which roughly 80% are children. A common misconception is that a person must be absent for 72 hours before being legally classed as a “missing person”. In instances where there is evidence of violence or of an unusual absence, law enforcement agencies often stress the importance of beginning an investigation immediately. If a person has been missing for a period of seven years, and there is no evidence to the contrary, a missing person can be declared legally dead.

Every day, in towns and cities across the country, people go missing. Sometimes they’re the victim of crime. But in most cases, they drop out of sight on purpose. Usually they’re trying to escape some problem or avoid some responsibility.

People go missing for a variety of reasons. In some cases, people are taken against their will, such as with a kidnapping. In other cases, 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. Responsible for an accident but do not want to pay for damages or face legal action

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

How to Get Started with a Missing Persons Investigation

When you begin looking for someone, the first step is to collect as much physical information as possible about the subject. If the person is part of your own family, you’ll probably already have personal information available. Pull out any old files and records. Look for clubs or organizations they belonged to. Get bank or investment account numbers. In particular look for any type of identifying records like a driver’s license, employee id, etc. A Social Security Number is the most important identifier you can have.

If the person you’re searching for is not someone you knew personally, gather information from anyone who did know them, if possible. If you aren’t able to get this information, there are ways to get it online through the search services. It just makes it easier if you have some information to start with.

Organize what you collect and analyze it for any hints at where the person might have gone. Sometimes you’ll find a clue to where the subject is hiding right in this first batch of information. It just wasn’t apparent earlier because no one had examined the material closely enough.

What’s more common, though, is to find links to other people or organizations that can assist you in your search. That’s the professional investigator’s secret – to find a missing person, first find other people who know them and can lead you to them.

At times, finding a missing person is as easy as calling up a former associate. The associate knows and can tell you the subject’s current whereabouts.

If these basic steps don’t result in locating the missing person, the next step is to move to the Internet. Below are some of the common steps that professionals use to gather information online that helps them track down a subject. You can use these same techniques by conducting your own hunt through an investigative search service.

Techniques Professional Investigators Use Online That You Can Use Too

1. Search Phone Records. Look up all people with the same initial and last name, city and state. If you don’t get promising results at first, 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.

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

2. Run an SSN Trace. Credit bureaus are the most likely place to find anyone’s most current address and phone number. Professional investigators say this is usually the best way to locate someone who’s 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 record. Everything from renting a new apartment to getting the utilities turned on. However, it is important to know that an organization must have authorization to run such searches. In addition, they must have a legal reason to do so.

Other Ideas

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. UCC’s are created to document a lien placed on 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.

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.

Missing Person Investigation Books

One 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 is the case 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 as a result of criminal wrongdoing such as kidnapping or abduction.

Private investigators use a wide variety of skills, techniques, software and equipment to search for an 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 on the right cases, could provide the break you’re looking for and may lead to your subject.

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 a variety of reasons, whether they wish to be found or now. This helpful guide describes many of the processes and techniques involved in real life situations.

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

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.

This well-researched book provides simple investigative resources that private detectives, genealogists, skip tracers and more to find someone who may have disappeared.

Help 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 for 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 family. They work closely with federal and municipal agencies and do hands-on work, all free of charge.

Hire a Private Investigator

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


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