Locate, Locate, Locate


I break my “locates” into three categories: Normals, Marginals and Hard Cases. Like many investigations, a locate assignment or finding someone is a function of time and money. I do most of these locates for law offices, finding defendants and witnesses for service of process, but sometimes I do them for family members. ( I do not do them for old flames or other romantic interest type cases. Too much risk, stalking issues, stranger danger, etc.)

I will spend a few minutes questioning the client about the person we are trying to find. How long have they been gone, are they stable, what do they do for work, what kind of car do they drive? Would they likely have their own apartment or house or would they crash with someone? Are you sure on the spelling because we don’t want a case of garbage in, garbage out. Could they be in a hospital, jail or other facility? Do you think they have much of an on-line presence? Do you know where their parents live? What’s the reason you need to find them or what type of case is it for? Some answers and context can save time and money

There are many more locate scenarios than the three I am about to present but I want to give readers a feel for the process. I offer my standard disclaimer: databases and computers are great but you don’t really know where someone hangs their hat at night until you see them or develop some additional confirmation. Remember the great scenes from Zero Dark Thirty about the hunt for Osama? The CIA operatives in the movie do everything they can to try to verify Osama is in the compound before the raid, and they still had to take a leap by storming the compound.

Many databases are consumer-generated, meaning the person or consumer is providing the information to the creditor or the company and it then winds up in the database. It’s always good to get an eyeball verification or some other type of confirmation on what the databases yield.


On every locate assignment I start with the easier and cheaper searches first because sometimes you find a person without going to the mat, calling in the cavalry and racking up more time and money. Every case has a budget and I will give you an initial retainer cost based on what I think is necessary.

Norman and Norma Normal:

Maybe they last lived in Normal, Illinois (insert rimshot).  This type of locate is fairly standard and maybe even some of the free search sites like Whitepages.Com, Radaris or Spokeo could produce a current address. These two are the type of witness or defendant who maybe moved a year or two ago but are known to be stable, maybe own a house or property and definitely work for a living. If they have an unusual first or last name this will save a lot of time because you know it’s them. Hopefully, they have good credit. Proprietary or paid databases that we use as private investigators should do the job.

Mark and Margo Marginal:

These two might have an eviction or two under their belt. Their credit score is likely lower than the Cubs’ team batting average, so they are going to have a hard time renting a place. They are not exactly the type to leave a forwarding address. If they have a new place it might take a while for it to pop in a database.

I had one witness who was very much a marginal but I found her from going to the courthouse. I did a search of the unlawful detainer filings. Sure enough, she tried to fight one of the evictions and left a new cell phone number in the court papers. I called her and she agreed to meet to give a statement in a personal injury case. For the Marginals, I have to do something extra like a courthouse search or a talk with a former neighbor, relative, old landlord, etc.

Harry and Heather HardCase:

This would be the full-court press of a locate investigation and the game is on the line. Perhaps this person is intentionally on the run and hiding or has just hit rock bottom. I might have to call in one of my “information brokers” or other sources for help. I’ve had a few of these cases, with successful outcomes, finding missing relatives. There was a lot of wheel spinning in each case but then something would give, like a tip about a work place or a chance sighting during a surveillance. I just had one where we had gone to all of the last known addresses and even checked in with the grandmother, who denied knowing her whereabouts. I found her in a county jail outside of San Jose and interviewed her the day before she was supposed to get freed to a treatment facility.

The following three scenarios may be typical but each case is different. Resources are saved with good information and details in the beginning.