Legos, satellites and outer space and your work as a private investigator – what do these things have in common?
I was recently reading Fortune Magazine, a journalist Jeff Colvin who was writing about companies that are making money in the tech industry without inventing any new technology.
One of the companies he cites is Planet Labs. Planet Labs is sending up satellites into outer space. Currently, they’ve got 28 up and running. They plan to put up 131 satellites. Their plan is to photograph the earth every day. This has not been done in the past, certainly not commercially. There are different markets for this. Things like ecology or flood damage, massive rescue operations, all sorts of types events and industries are apparently going to need these photos.
But here’s the interesting thing… Planet Labs has not created any new technology. The satellites that they’re sending up are about the size of a large shoe box (or as one informed source told me, they’re about the size of a toaster oven). The clever thing about this is they’re using off-the-shelf parts.
So they haven’t created any new image stabilization software. There’s no new lens technology. They’re using off-the-shelf technology that any of us could buy. For example, they’re using laptop batteries and microchips from cellphones. They’re just combining them in a new way, that no one has done before, and in a small enough package that makes it economical to send these things to outer space. Kinda’ cool!
I call this “Legolization”. In other words, they’re taking the same Lego pieces that are available to everybody, even you and me, and they’re combining them in a different way. So they’re taking a square Lego and a rectangular one and Lego piece with wheels and they’re putting them together to do something that hasn’t been done before.
Why in the world does this matter to you as a private investigator?
Well, this is what we private investigators have been doing for generations now. We take the Lego pieces, the sources that are available to anyone (or just about anyone) and we put them together in a special way that other people don’t understand. Yes, there are restricted access databases and sources that we have access to, if you have your Private Investigator License you have access to. But I’m tellin’ you, you can do an awful lot with what we consider ‘open source’ information!
Let me give you an example… You’re hired to find somebody, maybe it’s a witness for a case, maybe they vacated an apartment in your crime scene, whatever; you need to talk to this person. What you have to start with is you know the guy’s name is Dave and he had a baby named Sofia last January. That’s what you’ve got to go on.
Find a Dave, he’s a new father of a baby girl named Sofia born last January. Now, there are a variety of ways you can go about doing this.
Let me lead you down one path that would work for you…
You go to the Bureau of Vital Statistics and you start looking to the birth index and you find there’s a parent named Dave who had a baby girl named Sofia in January. Naturally, that’s a good, solid lead. That’s an unusual combination and even if you get two leads that match that, you usually eliminate one pretty easily. For example, if you’re looking for Dave in Central Indiana and the birth index has two Daves with children named Sophia, but one of them is near the state border, then you can pretty much presume that’s not the Dave you’re looking for. Follow up on all your leads, of course. But you can kinda’ tell who you’re looking for.
Now, you have the full name of your skip on the birth certificate. Even just in the birth index will give you Dave’s full name. So do you go from there?
You’re also going to find the mother’s name. So you might now go to the probate court and start looking through marriage records and find a marriage license for this couple. Maybe it’s there, maybe it’s not. But for purposes of an example we’ll say it is.
Now you pull the marriage certificate. There you’re going to find information including the parties parent’s names, the preacher who did the ceremony, those types of things. But interestingly enough, you might also find occupation listed there.
For your guy Dave, nothing helps. He’s listed as unemployed or between jobs. But his wife is listed as working as a nurse of a local hospital. She may or may not still be there but if she’s a nurse, then she has a nurse’s license and you take that to the Department of Health.
You look through the licensing records in Department of Health for a nurse with this name and you find she does have a current license and it list her current employer.
I want you to see how there are a variety of ways to skip trace your guy.
But here is the big question…
What have you done differently than anybody else?
There’s no new source that you’ve cultivated. You haven’t used anything sneaky. You haven’t used anything pretext. You’re taking the same “Lego blocks” that are available to everyone and you’re putting them together in a different way to get results!
The people over the vital statistics, they will know their department very well and can be very helpful to you. But they don’t know anything about the probate court. Likewise, probate court has no idea about vital statistics and no idea about Department of Health. But you can go over the Department of Health and get the information you need there. You’re the one who has all the different pieces of the puzzle, enough different Lego pieces to put together and to solve the case, find the guy, to do the interview or whatever it is you need to do.
This idea that there’s something new out there, there’s a new technology, there’s a new this, a new that – yes, there are new things coming online. Some of the databases out there right now are very useful and contain a lot of information.
If you knew about them you will lose your mind how thorough and wonderful they are for finding someone. But… if you are a privacy nut (like me!), those same databases will drive you crazy as well. But this has been going on for decades and decades where private investigators have taken information that most people don’t even know exist and put it together to solve a case and make money.
I want you to know this is how our job works and if you want a shortcut to finding these sources, you are going to have to study private investigations. Get some training material somewhere. Spend some time training yourself on these things. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel!
I’d love it if you got some of my Investigator’s Ultimate Guide series courses. I have the Investigator’s Ultimate Guide to Missing Persons and Fugitives and that really takes you in-depth with these sources. It walks you through them, how to use them, how to connect them just like we did in this case I talked about here.
But I’ve also got a very good section on skip tracing in the Investigator’s Ultimate Guide to Process Serving which for a lot of people is going to be a good starting place. It’s a way to get into the industry easily in a way that gets you paid for working the cases. It’s not what we think of when we say, “I want to be a Private Investigator.” But it gets you working (and paid!) to be tracking down people and doing surveillance.
And as always, do the right thing even if it’s the hard thing.