Putting the puzzle pieces together
Some non-custodial parents seeking to avoid paying child support go to great lengths to evade detection by the courts. That’s where Samantha Eriks comes in. As an investigator with the Child Support Division of the Lake County, Indiana, Prosecutor’s Office, she is relentless in tracking down these elusive parents. With thousands of pending cases and subjects moving frequently — often to distant locations — the task is daunting.
“Our mission in the Child Support Division is always to put the children first,” says Eriks, conveying her passion for investigative work, taking on the challenge like a detective — and never giving up.
Recently, one case stood out. Eriks had been trying for more than a year to locate a particularly evasive parent. “This individual was extremely difficult to locate. I had exhausted every investigative avenue I could think of,” she recalls. “Finding this individual was critical because their child has complex medical issues that require additional support.”
Eriks followed the subject’s public social media activity for months, hoping to get some clue regarding his whereabouts. While he was active on social media, the subject was very careful to avoid posting any information that could indicate his location, even turning off embedded location tags on photos. Then Eriks’ detective work paid off and she got a lucky break.
Social media slip-up
“One day he posted a video on social media. He had purchased a beautiful classic car and wanted to show off his new pride and joy on social media,” she explains. “The video showed the interior of the car and the beautiful wheels and the cherry-red paint job. He was so excited. And I was so excited, because when he posed for a final shot, leaning on the hood of the car, there in the frame I could see a portion of the license plate.”
It was just a partial plate number, but it was a valuable clue. “This was the final piece of the puzzle that I needed,” Eriks says. With this new information, she turned to Thomson Reuters CLEAR, entering the subject’s name and the partial license number and state. In seconds, CLEAR generated a report that provided details on the vehicle—including the address of the registered owner. Eriks then sent a postal verification to the city where the address was located, which confirmed it was valid.
With this information, the Child Support Division was able to successfully serve the individual with court documents.
A tricky number puzzle
Eriks emphasizes the difficulty of searching partial license plate numbers due to the fact that so many plates have similar numbers. “However, CLEAR has the option to search a partial number. When combined with the other pieces of information I provided, it narrowed down the search, leading me right to the person I was trying to locate,” she says. “If we did not have CLEAR, I’m not sure that would be possible.”
Once located and served, the subject changed locations in another attempt to evade investigators. Once again, Eriks turned to CLEAR. "Now we had additional information which we entered into CLEAR and discovered other potential locations. I sent postal verifications to those cities and we were able to pinpoint where he moved to," she explains. "This individual could no longer hider from us".
A positive outcome
Eriks reports that the mother is now receiving support for the child. Crucially, the child is now medically insured through the subject's employer thanks to discovering business associations with the help from CLEAR.
According to Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Kristen Bruss, Thomson Reuters CLEAR has made a real difference for the Child Support Division.
“Since our office started using CLEAR, I’ve noticed a big difference in our ability to proceed in court the first time. We now have accurate information to locate individuals and get them served. We are able to process cases faster. With such a large case load, that’s important,” Bruss says. “Our employees are amazing. They work really hard and they care about all of our cases. Being able to work our cases better, faster, and more efficiently using technology like CLEAR helps everyone involved, both our staff and the people we serve.”
As a parent herself, Eriks is passionate about working to improve the lives of children she serves. “The thought of anything happening to my son or his basic needs not being met just kills me on the inside. I feel that way for all children. They deserve not only to have their basic needs met; they deserve the world,” she says. Thomson Reuters CLEAR plays a key role in helping her achieve that mission.
“Our cases are like puzzles with many pieces — information on employers, past addresses, social media, and other data. CLEAR is like the picture on the puzzle box. It gives me that clear picture I need to put all the pieces together.”