The right to remain ‘lost’

Private investigators are regularly besieged by requests to find people who lost or dropped contact with our potential clients over the years. This may be a birth parent, or long-lost sibling, college roommate,  former best friend, etc.

Many of our potential clients are surprised by our policy and belief that people have a right to remain lost. Or perhaps better stated, individuals shouldn’t be forced to communicate with people or to have their personal information shared without their consent.

When we take on a client looking for a ‘missing’ loved one, we always start with the stipulation: We won’t provide the target of the investigation’s contact information.  Instead of that we provide the client’s contact information; effectively giving control of the situation to the person that is ‘lost’. If they want to make contact, there’s no problem. If they don’t, they can just move on with the situation.

We do all of this for a few reasons. First, it can be a bit jarring to get a phone call and learn that a private investigator has been hired to find you. A lot of those initial contacts are skeptical or defensive. Many of these folks describe a feeling of vulnerability or helplessness – particularly if they were trying to remain hidden.

Second, in the back of our mind, there’s always a worry that our client may have ulterior motives for wanting to contact folks. I think every private investigator thinks about Rebecca Schaeffer, who, for $250 a private investigator provided her address to the person who would ultimately murder her. Now we know that most of our clients have no ill will, but we also see a fair number of sketchy requests including those that are clearly abusive or stalking in nature.

We also have to make sure that we are complying with the laws and regulations that exist around the information that we have access to. Laws like the Drivers Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) and Graham-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) regulate what we are allowed to access and for what reasons. Falling afoul of this could result in legal penalties, loss of database access, and loss of license.


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