Private investigators use a wide variety of tools and experience to find missing persons. As of April 30, 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), reported a total of 86,927 missing persons in the United States. Though this number fluctuates month to month, the average number of 87,000 missing persons listed as active missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center at the FBI remains fairly consistent. Access to the NCIC computer database is restricted to use only by law enforcement.
It’s important to know there are different kinds of missing person cases in the NCIC database. The FBI categorizes missing persons into six different categories.
Most missing persons are found alive and well. Some may have a history of illness, want to avoid financial responsibilities, or may be simply avoiding family members (for varying reasons). Some may be in jail, a block away from their residence, or even a continent away, having left without notifying friends or family properly. However, there are also disappearances that are considered suspicious or “at risk” when a person may have diminished mental capacity suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or another mental health condition, and any juvenile runaway or missing child or when foul play is supected. These are referred to as Critical Cases.
When a person goes missing, family members typically report the missing person to a law enforcement agency but commonly begin to also conduct an investigation on their own. Without guidance, this can become an extremely emotional and daunting task.
The Use of Private Investigators in Missing Person Cases
The use of a private investigator during the investigation of the disappearance of a loved one, can be vital to finding them.
Private investigators commonly refer to missing persons as “locates”, and the majority are found fairly quickly. Some may be ecstatic a long-lost family member or friend has found them, while others may be annoyed, they have been located by a creditor, attorney, or someone they perceive as the enemy.
For most locates, a “checklist” is used of in-house resources that include accessing current and detailed data using a Social Security or driver’s license number, along with a date of birth. Detailed information can be obtained by multiple, professional and proprietary databases that licensed private investigators have access to. Social networking profiles and accessing a social circle or people can also be instrumental is missing person investigations. These databases can often provide addresses and even current employment for an individual. If that method does not produce the desired results, a more thorough investigation of the circumstance of the disappearance may be warranted, especially is “foul play” is suspected in the disappearance.
How a private investigator investigates a missing person case varies depending on their skill set and experience with only a handful in the country considered experts in their field.
A private investigator, commonly referred to as a PI or private detective, with expertise in missing person investigations, typically work directly with the family members of the person reported missing. Equally important, if a police agency is involved, a private investigator also works directly with the investigating law enforcement agency to preserve the integrity of the investigation.
Investigations are designed to route out common reasons that may contribute to the disappearance of a loved one, to confirm the facts surrounding the disappearance and make discovery. In the case of potential foul play, these discoveries are designed to discover probable suspects by the mistakes they make, as well as unintentional or intentional clues provided by the victim themselves.
This may involve pounding the pavement and knocking on some doors and important this type of investigation be conducted by a professional.
This may include discovering a person’s habits, hobbies and interests, questioning friends, neighbors or witnesses and even monitoring a “person of interest’s” activities. Of course, all information that is uncovered during an investigation by a professional PI is shared with the investigating law enforcement agency so as not to compromise the case.
In addition to an old-fashioned Sherlock Holmes investigation, some private investigators may also help raise public awareness of the disappearance of a loved one by providing guidance, assisting with social media efforts and coordinating with victim advocates from nonprofits, such as the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and other local advocacy groups for missing persons.
Thomas Lauth, CEO of Lauth Investigations International has been a private investigator for over 25-years and headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind. With expertise in missing person investigations and working with media to raise awareness for missing person cases, Lauth has been featured in national media like USA Today, Essence Magazine, New York Times, and more. In addition to working with local and state police agencies, Lauth has also worked with most federal agencies such as, Interpol, the FBI, Department of Justice and Office for Victims of Crime.
Lauth has worked with hundreds of families of missing persons, while also working cooperatively with police and judicial agencies throughout the country, to include working with the National Center for Missing Adults. With over 40 years combined experience at Lauth Investigations, Lauth and his team specialize in the investigation of complex missing persons investigations of endangered or “at risk” missing children and adults.
“Finding missing persons is often more than just having experience in missing person investigations, it is a cooperative effort between the family, private investigators, advocacy groups, law enforcement and most importantly, the media,” says Lauth. “In the more difficult cases, it sometimes becomes imperative to reach out to the public because each time you generate the public interest and awareness, you increase the potential of generating that one lead needed to recover the missing person.”