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.


The one, true, database

Three times in the past week, I’ve been asked about database access someone could use that would ‘be like what the FBI and CIA see’ – where you see everything about a person. I blame Hollywood for this misconception; especially shows like Criminal Minds, where someone at a computer has seemingly unfettered and immediate access to everything – from floral delivery records, farmers market vendor history, to school discipline history. That simply doesn’t exist.


Does all of that data exist? Certainly, though many times it’s on paper with no computer alternative; and even those that are computerized are not all available from a single point. The reality is that there are thousands upon thousands of databases, and while you may have an aggregator collect some, they are unlikely to collect them all.

Recently, one of my client’s came to me with the results of an online ‘Nationwide Criminal Background Check’. It primarily contained speeding tickets out of South Carolina; despite the subject of the check living the majority of her adult life in another state. After some research, it turned out that the ‘Nationwide Background Check’ only covered 6 of the 159 counties in Georgia. Querying the records at the Clerk of Courts in the counties where the woman resided revealed a half-dozen convictions, with evidence of substance abuse and violence. Of course, none of those records were available online. I frequently refer folks to the Public Records Retriever Network; let those folks be your boots on the ground. They are experienced, understand where the records are and how to locate them.

How a real background investigation works

We’ve gotten used to, as a society, of accepting a criminal records history as being the background of someone. And while a criminal history is an important part of someone’s background; it’s far from everything.

Is there a history of civil lawsuits? What do those suits allege? Is that problematic behavior? What do his coworkers and neighbors have to say about his behavior and ethics? How is his employment record? Each of those may be an important part of the person’s background. Or, they might be unimportant to you.

Nalley Private Investigations awarded ‘Top Pro 2017’ status by

We’re pleased to announce that Nalley Private Investigations, has been awarded ‘Top Pro 2017’ status by This recognition is given to the top 4% of professionals in all categories on Thumbtack, and is based on both getting hired and positive reviews from verified customers over a one year period.


We’re happy to be recognized for providing value to our customers, and plan to continue doing so.