DIY Backround checks
July 22, 2009 7:48 PM   Subscribe

How do I become my own private investigator

This is not a question on how to become a private investigator, but a question on how to do the many things a private investigator does by myself. A DIY sort of thing. Like background checks, criminal checks, credit checks, records of employment and any other information I can find on some one.

I am mainly wondering about this because I wish to do it on my self out of curiosity and for my benefit, just to see how much information a person can acquire on me with my personal information and help me know what other may know when I have to such checks done on me. For the curiosity part, I would like to know how to do one myself, on myself. As for benefits, I wish to know how to do this when I hire people, (lawyers, babysitters, corporations that may be fraudulent or not legitimate) or about companies I may wish to work for (do not want to end up working for a company about to go bankrupt nor a shady one)

Any suggestions?
posted by 1830 to Law & Government (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Private investigators are almost always licensed by the states in which they do business. You can't just go around requesting background checks on random strangers without their permission. For example, in Florida you need relevant education--though not necessarily a degree--and two years experience as a licensed intern before you can get your license.

A list of how each state handles this, with links to relevant agency web pages, can be found here.

In short: no this isn't something you can just do for shits and giggles. It's decently regulated, and the requirements are such that if you don't need one of these professionally you almost certainly won't qualify for one. If you do want to run checks on people, you need them to sign forms giving you permission.

Things are a little different for businesses, as many business associations must file some sort of papers with state governments. These are all public records and can be searched, usually for free, at state secretary of state websites. Getting financial statements tends to be quite a bit harder, particularly for privately held companies, but certain corporate papers are matters of public record, though usually not the interesting ones.
posted by valkyryn at 8:10 PM on July 22, 2009

Response by poster: So no advice on how to do this? I know I can do a credit check on myself legally though the credit reporting bureaus but what else may i do on myself? What about How do I find out its a legit company? Some sort of consumer reports??

I do realize there is some information that PIs are privy to and not me, but I do know there is open source I can use as a private person. What sources are these may I ask?
posted by 1830 at 8:17 PM on July 22, 2009

Are you asking if lexisnexis is a legitimate company? If so, I can answer unequivocally yes. (Based on it being one of the major companies used for legal research by the biggest firms, the other company being westlaw.)
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:11 PM on July 22, 2009

What exactly are you looking for? I mean, you can run criminal background checks, the states maintain a database for reports of child abuse, there's credit histories, address histories, all sorts of things.

Start with your state. Google "background check" and your state. Ignore the places that want to charge you for it and find a link from your state government. It'll probably be on the state police page if you can't find it by searching. They'll tell you what form you have to fill out and how much this is going to cost.

As to determining the "legitimacy" of a particular business, there are two things you can do. First, like I suggested above, do a search for articles of incorporation or similar filings with the secretary of state. Second, check with the Better Business Bureau of your particular locale. They tend to keep track of who is doing what and who is getting complained about.

But at root, it sounds to me like you really don't know what it is that you're looking for. Maybe start here?
posted by valkyryn at 5:40 AM on July 23, 2009

I think this is a great question actually, and am disappointed there aren't better answers. Besides Private Investigators, Due Diligence firms do this type of thing all the time for companies. You might want to look there for hints on what type of things they look up. My suggestions are coming as a person who does a bit of due diligence in many different regions where laws can vary.

Familiarize yourself with the types of companies or agencies that track those things: The BBB, credit companies, local government bureaus that keep track of court records, real estate ownership, and tax records. Understand what they track, and keep it in mind when you jot down information. Search online for as many details about the company as you can -- business associates, family, subsidiaries. If you have lexisnexis, it is a fantastic resource. Look up public court records, major purchases, M&A deals, etc. Don't be afraid to call those companies and bureaus mentioned above. Directly ask them what information they can provide you, as a non-affiliated individual. Governments will often charge money for copes of anything. Companies will likely blow you off about many details. Grow a hide, be nice, and ask who else or what other companies might be able to help you in your search for information.

The problem is that you have to educate yourself about everything you're asking for. They won't teach you. You can often look up financial documents on a given company's website -- that's not going to help unless you know how to read and analyze financial documents. Real estate deeds may not mean much if you're not familiar with the area and what the valuations are like. Court documents may mean a lot or very little, and you need to understand enough about the law to determine that.

Now, if you do start doing this, you'll quickly get better. You'll know who to ask for. You'll know where to look for additional details. You'll find you're able to sneak information from people who aren't on their guard. Dropping names and locations, or just details you suspect, may get someone to confirm a link that is unofficial. Most of the time, though, you'll simply be told that they can't provide you with anything. And that's fine. You were starting from nothing. Anything they can provide is a help. You didn't mean to overstep your bounds, and thank you so much for whatever you have provided me with. If you want to make this a regular thing though, be gregarious and talk to the agencies that have this data.

I'm not sure this advice can help you -- there's a lot you just won't get. If you have specific details you want to look up that are available, there are lots of people who could help you find it. But what you can look up depends a lot on where you are. Let us know what kind of things you're interested in.
posted by FuManchu at 8:27 AM on July 23, 2009

If you're curious about what information is held about you, you are allowed to get that from any public agency or private business under privacy and access to information laws, in almost all instances. (Sometimes for a fee, sometimes for free.) Not sure where you are, but the freedom of information/access to information and privacy statutes in your jurisdiction will govern which information you can request and receive (in democracies the default is normally that everything is free, with some specific and limited exceptions for demonstrable reasons such as safety, others' privacy, etc.) All non-shady organizations will have a privacy officer to handle such requests.

Similarly, doing legal research on companies is a legitimate activity and you should be able to access a lot of this information (again, usually for a fee) without much difficulty using a corporate registry and access to information.

However, accessing information on individuals is - justifiably - more difficult. So you'll probably just have to ask that babysitter for references.
posted by Kurichina at 8:41 AM on July 23, 2009

As far as finding information on other people, it will be much more difficult to find non-public information, and perhaps impossible if you aren't a licensed PI or someone with similar privileges by law. (for clarity's sake, public info is something like court documents, non-public info are financial records, etc)

Any legitimate database company with that kind of non-public information, like LexisNexis/Accurint, Choicepoint et al., will thoroughly vet the customers seeking to access those databases. There's a number of laws that offer privacy protections and regulate who and for what purpose that information can be accessed (the GLBA and DPPA are two off the top of my head). I used to work for one of those database companies, and those restrictions were taken very seriously - you can't just slap down a credit card and get access, and some new customers would get in-person visits from account reps to verify who they were and how they qualified for access under those laws.
posted by dicaxpuella at 9:14 AM on July 23, 2009

« Older Help me make a happy house   |   Point A to Point Oh Dear God Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.