Finding a Missing Person

August 31, 2020
Axis Geffen

Article written by Axis Geffen

As an international investigator, people reach out to me for a variety of reasons. More often than not that means trying to find someone that has become estranged or is missing somewhere in the world. This type of file can range from: a parent wanting to reunite with a child they haven’t seen in years to a family trying to figure out what happened to a relative that has not been heard of in a long time. Depending on the situation, we would either refer to this as a “locate investigation”, or a “missing persons” file. In this article, I’ll briefly discuss both of them.

Locate Investigations:

A locate investigation is where someone that is known to you has lost touch with you. This is either by choice or by general circumstance. Qualified PI’s conduct “locates” by employing investigative techniques and resources. Often they use databases that the average person either doesn’t know about or wouldn’t reasonably afford access to. It’s important to make the distinction that this is done by a qualified PI. It is also possible to hire an unqualified hobbyist to try to do this work. That would be called a “skip trace”.

Skip tracing is usually cheaper and occasionally successful. It can take a lot longer to get answers and can cost more in the end because there’s a lot of trial and error involved. Conversely, a “Locate” usually costs more, can be charged in a lump sum, and usually yields verified results much quicker.

These investigations are usually impacted by whether or not the person that you’re looking for is aware that you’re looking for them, and whether or not they want to be found. Just like there are ways to hide money, people can go to great lengths to hide as well. While this can be discouraging at times, a qualified PI can always offer more options to complete the task successfully.

Another consideration in Ontario (and many other jurisdictions) is that access to resources is different depending on the type of file that research relates to. For example, if the matter relates to Family Law, access to the motor vehicle database is prohibited. If the matter relates to Criminal Law, access is permitted. That means that in Ontario, depending on why you are looking for a person and how that person is connected to you, not every resource may be available. Subsequently, costs can fluctuate dramatically.

Missing Persons:

A missing persons investigation is where someone that you may or may not know personally has become “lost”. No reasonable resource (family, friends, work, caregivers, etc.) know where that person may be. This type of investigation is much different than a “Locate” or a “Skip Trace”. It often involves the police, and/or the media.

Once again, a missing persons investigation may face many obstacles. These can include finding leads, looking for video feeds and gaining permission to access them and various databases. Ultimately lots of red tape caused by ever-changing privacy laws and limited communication between law enforcement and various parties involved in the same matter.

It is imperative in this type of investigation that a qualified PI be engaged as early on as possible. Although police will actively pursue many of the same leads and make similar inquiries, no police service is equipped to provide endless real time support. In many cases, even a priority missing persons case can be put on the back burner or a critical piece of information could be overlooked. A PI, on the other hand, will dedicate them self to your file around the clock. They will make sure that all avenues have been fairly considered.


Man Hunt:

In some situations, a “man hunt” or search party may be employed. Often it is best to engage the services of trained canine units before the search party has been sent out. This will allow the animal to focus on one scent without contamination. Also, if canines are employed it will need to be clarified if the search is for someone that is believed to possibly be alive or may be deceased. It requires a different animal for each job.

In this type of investigation, drones may be employed. Once again, it should be noted that the operator and end client could be held liable if the drone(s) are not respectful of privacy laws or related laws for operation.

Certainly, it can be seen that finding a missing person can be a daunting task. Especially true if you don’t have the right support. Proper documentation, open communication, and full disclosure of the circumstances leading to the investigation are the best ways to ensure that you find what you’re looking for without accidentally bringing liability upon yourself for the search.