Every profession has some type of challenge that is considered the most difficult. For lawyers that may be winning an obviously losing trial, the negotiator has a multi-million dollar deal, a surgeon has to pull a hopeless patient back from the grave, and so on. In my case the most difficult challenge is finding people.

People search is one of the few types of investigations when my colleagues and I tell the client in advance that we cannot guarantee a 100% result, to give any guarantees in this case is definitely deceiving the customer.

Let's figure out why the search is so difficult and what tools are usually used, but first lets make it clear that this article is about a private search and not a law enforcement one. For the most part, we will be talking about people who disappeared of their own free will (who decided to disappear for some reason).

Search Difficulties

  • The reason for the disappearance of a person. Often it is either not clear, or very confusing, or too obvious and it is pointless to look for a person.
  • When we searching, we always come across a number of persons of interest: relatives, friends, colleagues and others. Everyone usually has their own vision of the situation and various versions of what happened.
  • The problem arises in the fact that we need to get basic information (storyline). Otherwise, we will not have any leads and initial data. As a result, it turns out that we are faced with a lot of misinformation and emotional involvement on the part of the respondents. This is very confusing. You have to spend a lot of time separating truth and facts from people's speculations. It is almost impossible to move forward without the most detailed and truthful storyline.
  • Complexity of communication. We periodically need to clarify information about the missing person with customers. It is impossible to get everything you need for a successful search in one meeting. Additional questions always arise. And, as I said above, emotionally involved people often come up with something that does not exist. Confusion ensues again.
  • Lost time. Usually, the timing of the initiation of the investigation is critical for finding a person. We are usually contacted, at best, 2-3 weeks after the loss. The chances of success are greatly increased if you follow the "hot pursuit". Usually this is the first or second day after the loss. Moreover, it does not matter whether we are talking about an escaped teenager or about a businessman who left because of threats from partners. The methodology will still not be radically different.
  • Special skills of the missing person. There are times when a missing person could have greatly confused the tracks before disappearing. This is relevant if we assume that he voluntarily disappeared. Destroy a computer, phone, burn various papers, delete social media accounts, clear email, and more. All this can also make the investigation very difficult.
  • Search costs. The most important aspect of your search is always your budget. This is the case when you really need a lot of money for expenses: requests to different structures, billing systems, city cameras, movement (trains, planes, etc.) and much more. For a serious search, the budget will be very different. It all depends on the country. For example, in Russia a check can be $ 3,000 - $ 6,000. And we are only talking about the cost of operational actions. If we are talking about the search for a fraudster (when we are looking for a person with the aim of returning their money or imprisoning him), then the costs of the search are often not commensurate with how much was stolen. Naturally, few people are ready for this.

There is an important rule for any search for a missing person:

It is inappropriate to look for a person if the damage that he caused is much lower than the budget required to find him.

There are many different "buts" like reputation or "matter of principle", but these are rather exceptions. Otherwise, this is the main rule, but it is true only in the case of looking for a fraudster. This principle does not apply to looking for a relative or friend. Of course, there are exceptions when it is possible to establish the location of a person without any cost, but this happens extremely rarely.


Basic Search Tips

We've talked about the difficulties, now let's touch on the methodology and some recommendations. Each case will always be unique, but there are some basic principles that will be the same for any search.

  1. It always starts with interviewing people with information. Most often they are relatives and friends of the missing person. It is necessary to recreate the timing in as much detail as possible: in what order the events took place before and after the loss. Who was the last to see the missing? Have there been any changes in behavior? What could have been the motive for the disappearance? Did the person take any things with him? Etc. All this is the initial information, from which we can build on further.
  2. If possible (with the permission of relatives, for example), it is necessary to examine the records, phone, computer and other things of the missing person, if they remain. This can help a lot. For example - the history of browser requests, if the person has not deleted it. Or interesting correspondence. In general, access to correspondence in messengers and social networks is very valuable information. Usually, you can find answers to all questions there. Difficulties may arise with access to devices (password selection, etc.), but there are many ways to solve these problems. The main thing is that the relatives of the missing person give you permission.
  3. You need to make a behavioral profile of a person. To do this, my colleagues and I usually analyze social networks, videos, photos, and sometimes handwritten text. Sometimes it is the main key to understanding the motives of the missing person. Also, this allows you to partially predict his actions.
  4. Drawing up a digital profile (sample dossier). Full name, age, marital status, place of work, social networks, hobbies, etc. In general, it is a classic analytical report on an individual. This can also help to look at the personality from the other side, since various interesting facts can be revealed.
  5. Particular attention should be paid to the environment of the missing person. It is necessary to clearly describe the "circles of ties". Very often, a person cannot disappear without saying anything to anyone. Usually, at least one person knows some information and does not speak for various reasons (promised, afraid of something, trying to confuse the investigation, etc.). From my experience I can say that often a husband / wife or mother / father knows something.
  6. After all these steps, we must systematize the information received and draw up a timeline of what happened. The visualisation tool is ideal for such cases. For example: https://gephi.org/
    Sometimes I work in the old way - this is a marker on a board with stickers and magnets attached. In another way it is called "detective board". This method is suitable for protracted investigations.
    PS: When you start moving forward in the investigation, all new data must be entered into your graph.
  7. Sometimes, waiting the other way around can help us. People tend to make mistakes and relax. I know of an example when one "lost" was mistaken in the fact that after six months of his disappearance he used his old credit card when paying in a store. Confused, or just relaxed - not so important. In my last case, a person bought a train ticket on his passport without thinking too much about the fact that it is displayed in the system and it is uniform across the country.
  8. And last but not least, this is direct work with what we were able to obtain and systematize. Depending on the data received, the necessary operational actions will be applied further. Examples: viewing city cameras, requests to banks to provide account statements, the movement of the vehicle (if the missing person had one), whether he bought plane, train or bus tickets, whether he crossed the border, establishing the location of the phone, and other things. It all depends on the specific capabilities, your connections and specialist admissions. The police do everything the same, only, usually, much slower due to their workload and some of the features of the system.

Again, each case is unique. I have given here only general tips that you definitely need to do. The main thing is that you understand the general concept.

From my experience I can say that in most cases the investigation reaches a certain stage and reaches a dead end. There are many reasons: the budget is over; the person left the country and in that place we have no ties to receive information; we were approached too late and we initially had little chance of success and a lot of other reasons. I hope that none of my readers will encounter such a problem.

The awesome image used in this article was created by Andrej Troha.