The Homeland Security Group conducted a review of "Online Investigation" Tools. Throughout the review, ten different online systems were used to obtain the information related to a variety of consenting parties.
Most of the systems accurately returned the correct information. Sometimes duplicates were found with conflicting information; often times as a result of retrieving prior addresses, phone numbers, owned vehicles or other properties, etc.
Many times, information was returned that was publicy available (i.e. tax and property information). Even so, when mixed with the overall data, unless a user had a good listing of trusted public records websites, the "one site fits all" approach like some of the sites reviewed, may be a better time saver. Although, users should remember that "Public Information" is most often free...a person just has to go and find it.
All of the sites reported what is known as "Teaser" data. Each of the sites have a search form allowing users to do a quick search for information. This teaser data is often times accurate information that is publicly available, yet lacks the substance of the information that an investigator would want. In order to get more information the user is always taken to a site where they can purchase access. Certainly that makes sense - They are in the business to make money. Surprisingly, when looking for addresses and approximate ages of the consenting parties, I was able to get that information 6 out of the 10 initial searches for free. For the review however, I needed more information and opted for the basic service.
Some of the information services had websites that were not very user-friendly or at times, seemed to hang up and never return the data consistently. Of the ten online information providers, one seemed to be consistent: Web Investigator.
An ID Theft Threat?
During the review of each of the online investigation sites, I never found the ability to extract baseline data to steal a persons' ID. What I mean is, a user of the system cannot conduct a search for John Doe at 123 "A" Street, Minneapolis, MN and have a return that provides his SSN or credit card numbers. With that said, a good investigator seeking information about an individual will begin with what he or she may have and start from there.
Although, Law Enforcement personnel have a variety of other tools that provide greater details. Law Enforcement are allowed these resources because they have been screened, briefed on the use and fully vetted. The commercial online investigative tools do not provide this level of detail. Frankly, anyone wanting to check the background of a possible employee or find old friends or relatives can do so without the risk of creating ID Theft victims.
This is not an over-arching endorsement for this or any other commercial program. Yet, there are times when we find ourselves needing to verify an individual or do a "Pre-check" before doing business with them. It is often a good idea to know that a person is who they say they are. Web Investigator offers an inexpensive access fee and generally, pretty good infomation.
...just in case you need it some day.