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Efficiency

What investigators can learn from people who want to disappear

Skip tracing is the art of finding people who are trying to hide. Collection agencies, law enforcement, bounty hunters, and private detectives use skip tracing.

One tool used by law enforcement agencies is the CLEAR system from Thomson Reuters.

Here are seven common techniques used for skip tracing and how to find someone who doesn’t want to be found:

1. Social media

Social media is a treasure trove of information. As long as the social media information has not been deleted or set to private, CLEAR can search public records to scan the social media activity of the person you are seeking. It also finds friends and family of that missing person on social media.

2. Image search

Images found on social media may give clues about a person’s location. Using image search tools like Google Lens can help identify components in photographs.

3. AKAs

It is common for a person trying to hide to change their name to something else. The alias name is called an “also known as” (AKA). CLEAR identifies data patterns that may uncover other aliases used by the missing person.

4. Synthetic identities

A synthetic identity comes from using a portion of real data mixed with incorrect data. An example is a verified address used with the intentional misspelling of a person’s name.

One technique used by those trying to hide is calling up services and telling them their name is spelled incorrectly on the account. CLEAR can identify this technique. Misspellings of similar names linked to the same address are one way to uncover this deception.

5. Mail forwarding service

A missing person may use a post office box or a mail-forwarding service to hide their physical address. However, it is possible to get this physical address information under a court order.

6. Voter registration

Registering to vote means your name, social security number, date of birth, and postal mailbox address become public information. If it is part of the public records, CLEAR can find it.

7. Motor vehicle registration

CLEAR scans an archive of 164 million motor vehicle records.

Pandemic challenges

The pandemic made it more challenging to locate the disappeared because so many millions stayed home. All of the CCTV footage that normally exists of people out and about was minimal when everyone stayed inside their homes. Based on bank card usage, identity tracking using geo-location went down significantly.

However, since so many more people were in their homes, it was easier to find them there. Mobile phone tracking and triangulation of cellphone tower signals made it very easy to find these people in their homes if they had a cell phone known to law enforcement.

Other “missing persons” challenges caused by the pandemic were:

Fewer witnesses

The Washington Post reported that the FBI statistics showed an increase in manslaughter and homicides in 2020 of 29.4% compared to 2019. The Post published an opinion piece that attributed some of this increase to the lack of witnesses when everyone was under lockdown.

Mental health-related missing persons

The Nation Alliance on Mental Illness advises contacting the police immediately when a person with a mental illness goes missing. After three days, their information goes on the list of endangered adults maintained by the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.

If law enforcement locates an adult over the age of 21, they cannot be held against their will if the person did not commit a crime and is not a danger of harming themselves or others. It is possible to find many missing adults with mental illnesses; however, that does not mean that they will return home. Often, they end up homeless instead.

NPR reported about 580,000 homeless people in America during January 2020, up 2% from 2019. Then, the pandemic made this number rise even more. If you are searching for a person you suspect is homeless, 25% of them are in New York City and Los Angeles. You can start there.

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