Why Cheap Online Background Checks Fail

We are flooded with ads for fast and convenient products. Problem is: fast and convenient rarely add up to “quality.” The fast and convenient option is a horrible way to try to do background checks. Don’t spend your money on cheap backgrounds checks. Instead, use a quality, experienced local private investigators who knows how records are compiled, stored and where to get these records.

A client recently contacted us after he had paid for an online criminal background check of a subject with a somewhat common name. It showed about 12 hits for this name in several different states. He paid about $50.00 for a mess of false hits. His background check just pulled up by first and last name, and not by middle name or date of birth. It took us about 2 hours to figure which ones were relevant.

Stop using online background checks

Why they fail:

  • Illusions of thoroughness. There is no such thing as a national criminal background check outside of perhaps an FBI database. Records usually have to be found on a county by county, state by state basis.
  • Online background checks don’t discriminate by proper identifiers such as middle names, dates of birth and address histories. You have paid money for an incomplete product that you have to sort.
  • You don’t know the geographic areas of their searches or the time frames. What if your subject has a criminal record in an area from 1991 but the database searched starts at 1995?

Our practices:

  • We start with obtaining an address history on the person and we concentrate our searches on where the person has lived. We will start out with online criminal searches but we only do this for the counties we know have good systems and databases in place.
  • If a subject has lived in Oakland or San Francisco or Walnut Creek, very likely the person could have records in Alameda, San Francisco or Contra Costa counties. We will look in adjacent counties as well.
  • We will contract with court runners in out-of-state jurisdictions to look for records we can’t access online.
  • We will often check civil and federal records looking for other relevant information.

 

 

Alameda County Courts Searches Now Online

Performing background checks in Alameda County just became slightly easier the past year with both criminal and civil searches being made available online. Of course though, for a true professional background check a private investigator should visit courthouses in person to search for records.

The system links branch courts from Berkeley-Oakland down through Hayward to Fremont and out to Pleasanton. The criminal records search goes back about to 2005. Again, if you are not sure on dates you are always best served going to the court in person. The system does not show actual documents but gives charges, conviction, sentencing and a docket chronology. And best? It’s free.

Civil Search:

The civil records section search allows you to actually find the case as well as the documents. It’s a pay system with each search about $1 and then .50 per page for copies. You can preview the document you want to download but it shows a half-page of the relevant document.

The improvements are welcome and aid both the public and the private investigator. Every county in the state has a slightly different records system. We are usually able to gather public court records throughout the state of California. We are private investigators for San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and all Bay Area counties.

Rethinking San Francisco Bay Area Surveillance

img_2614The traditional talk for private investigator/potential surveillance client goes like this: Client wants the job done as cheaply as possible and private eye quotes a price to try to land the client. The negotiation seems to be more about price than about achieving results. The first-time client has maybe called around to a few other investigators and seeks a bargain.

The bargain mindset, going with the lowest bidder, often leads to failure. The standard arrangement would be for the private eye to do the best he could to tail and follow a subject all by himself. A lone surveillance operative can be successful but notorious Bay Area traffic makes it exceedingly difficult. All it takes is a right turn on red or any vehicle getting between you and the subject and even the most gifted and tenacious private investigator could lose the person.

Perhaps the first step in the talk between P.I. and potential client needs to be about the type of person who will be followed and when. Are we dealing with a younger person more likely to have a wild Friday or Saturday night, a person who drives a lot or someone who is more of a suburban homebody who might be up to something? It’s a very different surveillance task following someone in an East Bay or Marin suburb vs. following someone hitting the San Francisco clubs. In the old model, the single P.I. would try to do his best on the retainer but may or may not get results.

I encourage clients to use at least two and as many as four licensed private investigators for mobile surveillance. The operatives can be split into any number of ways, having two cars each with a driver and P.I. ready to tail on foot or other form of transit.  Even the simplest move makes the lone P.I. pull out his hair. The lone P.I. does everything right and follows the subject into San Francisco or San Jose. The subject quickly gets a parking spot and is away on foot while the lone P.I. searches in vain for a parking place and loses the target because he can’t get out on foot quickly enough.

On a retainer of $2,000, billed at $125 per hour, a single operative would have 16 hours of surveillance time. An extra P.I. added would be about $200 per-hour or give the client 10 hours on the $2000 retainer. Add a third P.I. and the hourly fee is up to about $250 per hour or 8 hours of time on the initial $2,000 retainer.

The object of surveillance is to obtain video evidence and document the subject’s activities. You might not have that many chances to get results. Adding personnel to the mission greatly increases the odds of success. A client will actually get better value, i.e., increasing the odds of success, by paying for more mobile operatives. When police do surveillance they are using teams of personnel and constantly rotating vehicles and people.

There are more transportation options than ever and a private investigator has to be ready to get on BART or follow an Uber or a Lyft. One private eye on surveillance faces incredible odds to get results.

Never Pick a Private Eye Based Only On Price

img_2470I write to inform the public about the work I do as a licensed private investigator. My subject this time: How to pick a private eye.

I have always said that our business is like a construction general contractor or other specialized service provider. You don’t want to pick a lawyer, CPA, dentist, eye doctor, college, auto mechanic or even a beer because he/she/it is the cheapest. You want to select based on quality and the likelihood that the professional will cure or solve your problem or get you answers. Continue reading

How A Private Investigator Helps Your Family Law Case

img_2447I’ve investigated and testified in family law and child custody cases in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. I’m sharing what I think it takes to win. No one can predict a trial or case outcome, but there are many steps you need to take to maximize your chances.

The keys to success? Teamwork and hard work. I had a recent case that involved issues of residency. Much of the case concerned whether the husband and wife, our adversaries, had been living together the last few years. Continue reading

Yes, No or Maybe For The P.I.

img_2341Client selection and case selection play large parts of how we run our business. These decisions not only impact our bank account but help ensure client satisfaction and results.

I like to explain how we work because there are so many misunderstandings about exactly what we do and how we do it. I can’t speak for every private investigator but can only provide information about our agency. Continue reading

Am I Dating a Married Man from Danville, California?

blog-marriageAt least three or four times a year we handle calls from potential clients who are wondering if they are dating a married man.

It’s not as simple as one might think to learn a person’s marital status in California. There is no single database of marriage and divorce information in California. There used to be a marriage index, but this only had records from about 1960 to 1985. You probably have a question list of things to consider: Does he ever have me over to his place, how come I never meet his family members, why is he so tight-lipped with information? Continue reading

Bay Area Real Estate Investigation Gets Real

photo89In a seller’s real estate market, the burden is even greater for the buyer to do due diligence and decision making lightning fast. Bar none, buying a house is the biggest financial decision you make in your life.

Choose wisely and not only do you enjoy the space and neighborhood where you and your family live but over time you will reap financial rewards from your investment. Choose poorly and every day you will invest energy in planning your exit and may suffer a big financial loss, headaches and other assorted despair. Continue reading

New Trustify “App” Takes Shortcuts on P.I. Domestic Cases

Fast, cheap and good never go together. After you read my diatribe, read about an app that has real private investigators shaking our heads. The concept is that people will pay $150 for two hours of spot surveillance on their possibly cheating partner, spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend or maybe on someone they don’t even know.

Problems? Almost too many to list. Continue reading

Old School, New School for The Private Investigator

photo74Two concurrent events. I found a draft copy of my investigative thesis for graduate journalism school nearly 25 years ago and then last week completed an online class in social media and background investigations. I’ve investigated for a quarter of a century so I’m taking stock of the changes and differences from then to now.

I’m about to do what I don’t like about the internet: give advice. Who needs a list of “Eight must see vacation spots in Bulgaria” or “Five sure-fire ways to cure your slice”? Most advice articles bring on a case of MEGO, My Eyes Glaze Over. Continue reading