Responsible Locate Investigations

Nov 4, 2012

As professional private investigators we receive many requests to locate individuals. Over the years I’ve received requests to locate old college roommates, adoptees looking for birth parents, witnesses, beneficiaries, war veterans looking to be reunited with their fellow servicemen and friends and family members that have lost touch with one another. Although it may give us a warm, fuzzy feeling to be part of a joyous reunion we should always keep in mind the possibility of a worse case scenario such as those unwilling to be found. In my experience, approximately 70% of individuals fall into this category. Our office’s policy is not to report information about such individuals without their permission. Two exceptions are attorney-requested witness locates and skip trace information – both of which have a legal basis for the relinquishing of information.

It’s the investigator’s duty to conduct these searches responsibly and keep in mind that there is a reason contact was lost and perhaps it was the choice of the person being sought. For example, adoptees may have a romantic idea of learning where they came from, envisioning a joyful, teary reunion, but the reality is that it may have been a traumatic event resulting in shame and secrets for the birth parent and might disrupt a current household and family. And your client may not be forthright with the entire truth, either. The man looking for his long lost son due to a bitter divorce may have actually been the abuser and unreported domestic violence was the reason they lost touch. The brother that says he wants nothing more than to be reunited with his sibling after 25 years, may be omitting that there were undisclosed psychological and physical assault issues that left that sibling afraid and forced him to go into hiding. These are all real life cases I’ve encountered over the years that repeatedly reinforce our policies. It is the private investigator’s responsibility to conduct due diligence on these, as on all cases. Ask for supporting documents. Is the person truly behind in child support? Is there a judgment or court case involved? Don’t just take your client’s word as gospel. The “truth” can be tricky and the perception of it may vary from that of another person in a story.

Let the other 30%, the subject being sought, give you that all-too rare career high in a business that is by nature serious and often cynical: the war veteran revisiting those he fought alongside; a parent being reunited with a kidnapped child; the high school sweethearts who lost touch for decades. There is a personal side to what we do.

Our ability as investigators to find people can make a difference in someone’s life. It’s critical to remember that it may be good or bad and could potentially create liability if not handled correctly.

This article was published in Pursuit Magazine at