How to Find a Missing Person

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missing person
Learn how to conduct a missing person investigation.

This article provides an explanation of how to find a missing person. Private investigators called this a missing person investigation. If you are looking for someone who is missing, you’re probably extremely stressed out. Hopefully, after reading this article, you will have new ideas to help you locate the person you are seeking.

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 misunderstanding is that a person must be missing 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. The first 48 hours within a person’s disappearance are critical.

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.

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 be hiding 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 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

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, birth marks, scars, etc.

Gather helpful identification such as:

  • Driver’s license
  • Employee ID badge

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 was they last time they 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’re not able to locate them by name, ask if any “John Doe’s” have been admitted.

Check local prison and jails. It is possible that your subject was 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 being detained.

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

Drive 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 canvasing the area. Get help from friends and family members, volunteers and even the local police department. Start driving around the local area, ask questions, post signs, 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 of time. Contact local TV stations, share details, photos and clues.

Check financial transactions. If you have access to any of the individual’s financial accounts, login 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

If the person has been missing for a longer period of time, different methods need to be used. A private investigator can help in the following ways.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

To hire a private investigator that specializes 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.

Missing Person Investigation Books

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

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.

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.

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.

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 [NCMEC.org] – Spearheads national efforts to locate and recover missing children

www.mcsc.ca – 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.

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including eInvestigator.com. Michael created eInvestigator.com 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 Amazon.com.

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