The Internet, is a great place to begin a search for information, but there are pitfalls you always need to be aware of:
First, your client has probably completed an Internet search. It's too easy not too. Although you may find social media posts, links to stories posted, or other information, chances are it is not going to be new information. As a private investigator you are responsible for finding facts. Not all information found on the Internet is considered to be factual.
Second, you need to verify dates of information you find. The Internet stores information for years. Information posted two years ago that may contain a name or address can be dated. If you are looking to locate someone, it does provide a starting point, but you will need to verify the information you find to ensure it is up-to-date and accurate.
Third, much of the information you may find on the Internet may not be correct. Shocking right?! Depending on the subject of your investigation information may have been posted that is intentionally misleading. Further, you need to ensure it is the right person, right location, or right anything! Drive by a location - you may find it is a vacant lot, or mail drop, or it doesn't exist. Ans, there is nothing more embarrassing than providing results of an Internet search about an individual only to learn it is the wrong John or Jane Doe.
Fourth, you are a professional private investigator. You need to obtain, verify, and verify again any information you intend to provide as factual information. One good method is to verify any information you find by locating two additional, non-linked sources that points to the same information. Some call this the "Intelligence Triangle". NO, that does not mean finding the information on three different websites. Various websites obtain information from the same sources so you can find the same information in several locations, but it will probably be from the same source. (If you use a paid online information source for your information - read the disclaimers. The information you pay for is not verified or considered accurate by itself.)
Fifth, you are being paid for your expertise, which includes good old fashioned investigative work. Interviews, surveillance, and obtaining court or other public records still remain as your primary, tried and true, investigative methods. Don't shortcut your investigation relying solely on information you have obtained from the Internet.
Again, the Internet can be a great source for information to assist you in starting your investigation. As you can see in the pitfalls above, verification of any information is critical. You either observe it first hand, verify via unrelated and reliable sources, which requires great investigative work. If you provide the information to your client, make sure it is accurate, and factual.
There are many ways, or formats for private investigators to write reports. Here is a brief description of one format that may be helpful to investigators to add to their report writing toolbox:
Overall, the format is simple. The report is divided into the sections of; Synopsis, Investigation, Interview(s), and Results.
1. Synopsis - is a brief summary of the investigation. It is written after the conclusion of the investigation, similar to an executive summary. For example;
Investigator conducted four hours surveillance of John Doe over two days. On day one, Doe was seen playing soccer with several subjects at a park near his home. On the second day, Doe was seen cutting down trees with a chain saw, then spitting wood with axe by raising above his head and striking the wood. He was seen loading the wood in his truck by hand, picking it up and throwing it into the bed of his pickup truck. This information was videoed by the investigator.
2. Investigation - This section begins on the second page of the report. It is a narrative about the investigation conducted by the investigator. For example;
Investigator received Doe's residence information from client. A drive by of the residence was conducted where photo's of a male in the driveway were taken. Photo's were provided to client to verify identity of the male as John Doe. Investigator conducted two days of surveillance on March 1 & 2, 2014, using a Canon D-2000 camera/video recorder. Video and photo's were saved to a micro sd card labeled Doe-March 2014, C#:14-03-00234. Video and photo's were provided to the client on March 8, 2014.
3. Interview(s) - Each interview is listed by name, date, and location. Here is an example:
Mary Adams, Client - 9:00am February 12, 2014 at Adams, Adams, & Logan Law Offices, 123 Main Street, Williamsburg, Virginia.
Client stated that Doe was currently on leave from work due to injuries. Nature of injuries was not provided to the investigator. Client indicated they suspected that Doe was not injured and wanted investigator to conduct surveillance of Doe for 4 hours over a period of two days. The days of the week for the surveillance to be conducted were provided by the Client based on information she had received from a confidential source.
4. Results - Any additional information, specifics about observations and/or the results of interviews are written in a narrative format. It is an expansion of the Synopsis section.
Investigator conducted 4 hours of surveillance of which 3.5 hours were recorded on video. In addition, 16 photo's were taken of Doe during the surveillance. This report was completed and delivered to Client on March 8, 2014 with the micro sd card of photo's and video, see attached receipt. During the surveillance, investigator witnessed Doe lifting items, wood, estimated to weigh approximately 30 pounds, use an axe by extending above his head and bringing it down on the wood with enough force to split it. In addition, Doe was observed running, kicking a soccer ball, and then later jogging for approximately 15 minutes over an estimated distance of 3/4's of a mile.
This simple method of formatting a written report makes it easy for the client to reference, and locate information quickly. For the investigator, it ensures that all information is included in the report.
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