“We can’t find this guy anywhere”, said the attorney. “Every document we mail to his past addresses comes back undelivered. He owns a piece of property our client wants to buy and he pays the annual taxes. He’s not deceased as far as we can tell. Can you help?” The investigator looked over the law firm’s location diligence and they had done a good job. The man they were looking for owned property which was sought after for a large commercial project.
One of the misconceptions by the public is that a database exists for everything, without any exception. Further, if you’re a private investigator you’ll have secret access to highly sought-after data. It’s an image touted by television that is hard to overcome. While investigators do have access to databases, they are not magical, all knowing or all powerful. Yes, unique information does exist but it’s nothing like portrayed on the big screen.
The property owner was an elderly male, who may have been married at one time. He had no association with motor vehicles and at his age, he probably wasn’t driving anyway. He had not been listed as deceased anywhere. There were a few scattered relatives but they were unresponsive. His possible wife was deceased. The investigator then looked at distant or possibly relatives by marriage, without any luck.
Driving into the north Georgia mountains, the investigator stopped at one residence of a possible relative. No help there either. He left a note on a car at another residence. Time was always of the essence. In a small rural community, he thought he may have success. He found the home of the property owner’s estranged daughter but she was not at home. Further, the home looked to be abandoned. A visit to the local sheriff’s office revealed some information. Apparently, the property owner and his daughter were continually at each other’s throats, as they filed complaints against one another. The elderly man goes back and forth into the mountains of western North Carolina.
The investigator had to confirm that North Carolina would recognize his Georgia private investigators license. They did. North Carolina fortunately has a limited license agreement with Georgia. More mountainous travel and in a small community, the investigator stops at a roadside motel. The motel’s address is where some letters had been mailed but not delivered. The motel owner says he knows the man the investigator is looking for. He receives a monthly check (where it’s received is still unknown) but when his money runs out, he is homeless two weeks out of the month. He stays at the hotel a week or two here and there. The investigator had images of a tent in the woods during the off weeks.
The investigator is always conscious of cost controls for his client’s retainer. How much more should he do? Homeless shelter checks were of no help. His past phone numbers didn’t work either. Asking around the community provided a clue. Our sometimes-homeless property owner would sleep in an abandoned cargo van and he frequented a thrift store. Some in the town knew him…unfortunately. He had been thrown out of a number of business’s, asked to leave others, and had criminal trespassing charges against him.
The local city clerk when hearing his name grabbed her chest and gasped. Yes, our elusive sought-after property owner was quite notorious. The clerk had seen him walking earlier that day. The investigator traversed back and forth between the cargo van, thrift store, other businesses and the clerk’s office. He got a possible phone number. A phone number not listed on any database anywhere. Again, no help.
With the assistance of several people in the town, the investigator finally located his property owner. He was walking down the street holding a manilla envelope with a walking stick, when he approached him with excitement. “Sir, I’ve been looking for you. Someone wants to buy your property in Georgia.” “How much?” he asked. The investigator connected him with the law firm by phone. Our cantankerous, oft incarcerated property owner was suffering from delusions. He wanted $250,000 for lot worth less than $10,000.
The investigator tells clients that locating people is not as easy as plugging data into the computer. For those difficult assignments, you have to get on the ground, travel, ask the right questions and attempt to persuade people to speak with you – to give you assistance. Assistance is not in the DNA of so many.
When some people ask about the investigator’s fees for locating people, they push back. The most common response, “I thought it would be about $100.00.” Think about taking your vehicle in for maintenance. Most repair shops average $95.00 an hour or more for labor, plus parts and shop fees. Consumers accept this from their auto mechanic. Again, television hurts reality. Locating people is viewed as a commodity that anyone can do with an internet search.
Several assignments are relatively simple and can be at the minimum cost which is a good thing. Many firms perform special investigations which require unique skills and resources. Those skills and resources come at an additional cost. Law firms typically understand this; however, for those outside the legal field, they can be unaware.
The law firm client was very happy the property owner was found. Gratefully, so many others actually do see the value for the work. A friend of the GA Private Investigator reminds him, “The workman is worth the wages.”