Free Investigation Resources
Trying to locate a defendant, debtor or witness? Or maybe you're doing some background research on someone.
Depending on what your law office already knows about the subject, and assuming you've run a proprietary database search already (like LexisNexis) and want to confirm or complement some of that info, the following open source intelligence (OSINT) tools may be helpful.
Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.
It's an obvious place to start. Search a name and what city you believe they're in and see what turns up. If you have their phone number, it may be attached to a business they run, with an address. Same goes for fax numbers. Search engines can also point you to social media accounts and related images. They may appear in news articles or company websites. You never know...so it's always worth doing a few quick Google searches with the info you already have.
These sites pull data from various and/or particular sources usually to sell. But they often have a "free" search version that can yield bits of info to help move along your investigation.
I've been impressed with the accuracy of the free edition of this source. But sometimes the person has asked Whitepages to hide them, in which case they'll appear as a "premium" result you'll have to pay for. But you'll still catch a glimpse of the cities they've lived in and names of relatives, which can be useful for cross-referencing in other sources.
The free semi-censored results from data broker sites like BeenVerified, Spokeo, and Intelius can give you leads on cities they may be currently living in, their age, full name and names of relatives. For more you'll have to pay, but the information these sites provide to unlicensed investigators is often incomplete and/or outdated.
I use this site more as a confirmation tool, or to see who is associated at a particular address. The info may not be current, and some addresses seem to be hidden, but it's worth a look sometimes, especially for clues to property ownership. Confirming with the County Assessor would be the next step.
I treat these sites more like background tools to see what the person is interested in and how they "present." Occasionally they may share where they've been recently or where they're going and who with. They may even make posts about the case you're litigating.
See what somebody looks like and who they may associate with. Search your subject by name and narrow down by location. If you have their phone number or e-mail, you may find their profile linked to that. Depending on their privacy settings, you may get a look at their photos and friends list. The friends list may show some of the relatives you found in other sources like LexisNexis or on the free semi-censored result in a data broker site. This just helps confirm you're looking at the right person. You may discover a friend or spouse they're living with, and begin a search for that person as well.
Similar to Facebook, search for their name and location. You may get their photo and most current job. While it doesn't show company addresses, you can always search for that company elsewhere.
Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat
Again, just looking to see how people present themselves online and what they're talking about.
These "deep web" searches can yield records about your subject to help with a background check, see what assets or business interests they have, or find out where they're located.
Some counties share a lot online, but don't make it easy to find. They may have a site to search for a property using the parcel number, but you'll have to find that parcel number from a different source, for example. You may find a docket of all the filed documents associated with a property, including the names of the owners, but not necessarily the documents themselves. That said, it's worth checking for a quick confirmation, or to see if there's anything worth digging into deeper.
Many courts have at least their dockets appearing online. Some even include PDF scans of the documents. However, many courts still don't share files online and require you to visit in person or mail a request. Here's San Francisco County's Civil Court Search Page. The Criminal Court search must be done in person.
Most counties have online inmate searches now. If they don't you can always make a quick phone call. You won't find out if the person was in jail in the past, only if they're presently in jail. Here's San Francisco County's Inmate Locator.
County Fictitious Business Name Registrations
The person may have filed a fictitious business name (FBN) with their county clerk, or nearby counties. Most clerk's have a FBN search tool. Try your subject's name and see if they're "doing business as" a FBN, and what address they used to register that name. Here's San Francisco's FBN search tool, for example.
Secretary of Sate Business Registrations
While you can't search individual names here (in California anyway), if you know they own or are an officer with a corporation or LLC, you may find their address in the records associated with that company. Here's the CA SOS Business Search Tool.
State License Search
See if your subject has a license for what they do, like contractors or chiropractors, or private investigators. Some of the licensing bureaus also share the address where the licensee is doing business. Here's California's License Search Tool.
Conclusion: Free sources can be complementary to subscription-based proprietary sources available to licensed private investigators. A comprehensive investigation would include the use of *all* of these sources. If you're conducting your own investigation and don't have access to proprietary databases, consider consulting with a licensed private investigator.