Note: Private Investigator Steven Mason’s article originally appeared at PInow.com.
One of the most important pieces of data for an investigator to know about someone who is the subject of inquiry is his or her address history. Franky, it’s difficult to imagine any investigation that can’t benefit from knowledge of the target’s address history. Asset investigations, background research, process service investigations, adoption searches, criminal investigations, and surveillance all come to mind.
Talk to anyone who has ever applied for a national security position about his or her application process, and they will no doubt mention their having to complete the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Standard Form 86 (SF86) and their personal interview. The OPM SF86 is a 136-page personal history form that requires the applicant to list every residence going back at least 10 years, including any temporary locations where the applicant stayed for longer than 90 days. If you’ve ever worked for the government or served in the military – occupations that can involve various addresses – good luck. Among the most common discrepancies cited by OPM background investigators are those found in the applicant’s address history. I remember being interviewed for a Top Secret-SCI clearance some years ago. The investigator flagged my background because I had failed to list the complete address for the Illinois Secretary of State Police Training Academy as an address where I had “lived.” Address histories are that important.
While this may sound trivial, having a complete understanding of someone’s address history is critical if you want to know everything about his or her criminal history, civil court history, associates, financial dealings, employment, education, family, etc.
So how does one compile an individual’s address history? The ideal strategy involves mining data in both paid and free sources.
As a private investigator, I generally start researching someone’s address history using “paid” sources. During my 20-plus years of determining where my subjects have lived, I have found that the quickest route to success in this area is often to use paid sources. As an added bonus, information derived from paid sources will help you cut through the smokescreen sometimes presented by free sources.
Here are some of my favorite paid sources for researching an address history.
- Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) Records: Without question, this is, hands down, my favorite paid source. “Mileage will vary” from state to state, but most MVD extended abstracts list all the addresses, past and present, used by an individual in connection with his or her identification card and driver’s license.
- Proprietary Credit Header Databases: If you are in the private investigation or law enforcement business, you know what I’m talking about here. Remember, these databases are a valuable tool in your investigation, but they don’t offer a complete picture of an individual’s history – so seek independent verification of any pertinent information derived from them.
- License Plate Reader (LPR) Databases: Once you have a list of the individual’s vehicles, the LPR database can provide a historical view of the places where the vehicles owned by your target have been sighted. The data obtained can be critical to identifying residential and work addresses. Looking for a skip? This resource will become your best friend. If your target lives in a rural area, this resource may not produce much.
The vast majority of free sources are derived from public records. For an investigator, public records are often the main staple of any assignment, so be sure to learn everything you can about your state’s public records laws and how to leverage them. This knowledge will allow you to become a “Merchant of Wow.” As I type this, I have over 100 public records requests pending. In fact, my office maintains a spreadsheet dedicated to the tracking of outstanding requests awaiting a response from the government. If you’re researching records in a jurisdiction outside your state, consider checking with BRB Publications (www.brbpublications.com) for information on what records are available and where to find them. Below are a number of places to start gathering addresses.
- County Assessor’s Office: Property records maintained by the county assessor can usually be searched by name, address, or parcel number. If you suspect your target owns a home in a certain county, start here.
- Corporation Commission / Secretary of State: Has the target of your investigation ever owned a business? Find out by researching records kept by the Corporation Commission or Secretary of State. Business registrations often reveal the individual’s home and work address.
- Courthouse: Court records are my personal favorite. These files can provide a list of current and prior addresses, as well as vehicles, known associates, and more. Think of courthouses as information gold mines.
- Police Departments: A favorite tactic of mine is to request a list of the target’s contacts and other involvements with the police department in each jurisdiction where the target has lived. Not only will you get addresses associated with the target that you might not otherwise have found, but you may also end up getting some interesting information regarding drama that didn’t make it to court.
- S. Postal Service: Forwarding addresses are invaluable and are often almost commonplace. For example, if you are looking for a skip who collects government benefits, chances are he or she filed a change of address form with the U.S. Postal Service. While there are numerous methods, both free and paid, to obtain these records, I go straight to NCA Search (www.ncasearch.com), which is technically a paid service, but it’s inexpensive and makes getting records from the U.S. Postal Service quicker and easier.
- Social Media: For all the open-source intelligence (OSINT) researchers out there, this source is for you. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many other social media and other online platforms are a tremendous source of address history information. While this information is user generated, it can be amazingly accurate. My personal favorite is LinkedIn.
Collecting intelligence about a target should always include obtaining a complete picture of the target’s address history. In addition to revealing the individual’s current location, this information will help you find criminal records, assets and even his or her employment history. Sometimes the most valuable piece of information in an investigation is located in a jurisdiction that is formerly, and many times briefly, connected to the target. Without a complete address history, you may never find it.