Throwback Thursday – 40 Years, What I Have Learned – by Mike Santoni

When I first got into the private investigation business in 1976, the landscape, technology, etc. was completely different than today. For public records such as voter’s registration records, court records, recorder’s office records, etc., it was necessary to take all your cases, get in your car and travel to all the various offices that housed those records and do an in person search. Even the criminal and civil records were in different court houses, depending on the county.

We had to rely on phone books (both white pages and yellow pages) and maintained a library of phone books for all of California and the rest of the U.S., not only for the current year, but for past years as well. And to research neighbors and their phone numbers so we could call them to get information, we relied on the Haines Criss Cross Directories that had phone listings by address. We would get updates on these Haines Directories every quarter or so, but the problem was they were out of date when we first got them. The only thing in our favor was back then, people seemed to move a lot less and landlines were the norm, not the exception.

Because our access to public information was not so readily accessible, it was very important to develop effective interview techniques.  This was absolutely necessary whether you were interviewing the subject of your investigation, a neighbor, an informant or whoever. Once you got that person on the phone, it was very necessary to obtain any and all of the information that you could at that time. This was important as people tend to give out more information about anything if they don’t have time to think about it. Once they have time to think, they begin to question everything, from who you are, why you’re calling, why you want the information, etc. The goal (and this applies to today also) is to get all the information you need and then have the person ask the questions to themselves once they hang up the phone.

Also, it’s very important to listen to what the person you are interviewing is saying (once again, this is just as important today as it was 40 years ago). For example, if you are interviewing a subject’s mother and trying to learn the subject’s whereabouts, and the mother tells you she has not seen or talked to her son/daughter for x number of months, has no contact information, no idea how to get hold of them, it’s almost always a good bet the subject is in jail or prison. It could also be that the mother and son/daughter had a falling out, but usually not. But always listen to the tone of what they are saying and how they are wording what they are saying.

Today, with the new technology and having most information at our fingertips, we can investigate more efficiently and more cost effectively. But we also have to recognize that not everything we read on the internet is true. People make up Facebook profiles, LinkedIn profiles, etc. And even if they’re not made up, a lot of people don’t update their profiles on a regular basis. So, if your subject lists on his Facebook page that he lives in Los Angeles, it may or may not be true. He could have lived there at one time and moved and not updated his profile. Or, he might have made up his city of residence all together.

It becomes very necessary to review ALL the information you are able to gather on an individual. This will give you somewhat of a story about the subject and then you can proceed from there. But just any one piece of information is not likely to tell you what you need to know. A database report (such as TLO) is great, but you need to read and review the report for clues on what may be true or untrue. A database report also gives leads to relatives (usually great sources of information because most of them are probably not hiding like your subject), prior addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, business affiliations, utility records, Consumer Public Filings (negative credit), etc.  If someone has a judgment for unlawful detainer that is indexed to their name and an address you know about, then that person is not going to be living there since he was sued by the property owner for nonpayment of rent.

I have several favorite tools for investigations, depending on what I’m looking for. For residence history, Consumer Public Filings, utilities, etc., I like to use TLO. For phone research, I find that Skip Smasher seems to have the best information. For trademark cases, I like to review the filings on the USPTO website. Going through all the documents filed (including application, specimen, etc.), you usually will find a lot of clues about what you are investigating.

The internet is a great thing, but there is no substitute for getting on the phone and calling someone to usually obtain the best information.

Mike Santoni

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