SHOULD I USE ONLINE DATABASES?
THE PROBLEM WITH SHORTCUTS
Internet has created a proliferation of databases. You name, it's
probably out there, from invisible court information databases to a public
personal information history database. Everything from finding former
classmates to recipes for crème
Databases previously available only to government agencies
and Fortune 500 companies have suddenly turned up everywhere, available
to anyone who can turn on a computer, and the Information Age was thrust
at everyone - ages six to sixty.
To make life even better, we don’t have to leave our homes to
find the information we want, there is no worry about what time the library
closes, and we don’t have to wait in line at the copy store to
be the next one to use the computer. We quickly learned that we can pay
a nominal amount of money for a lot of information in return. What could
be better? By eliminating the human being from the process, the
job is cheaper.
Like pumping your own gas rather than paying
an attendant to do it. The fallacy of this theory, however, is that unlike
pumping gas, people’s lives are involved. Wrong information can
be damaging, and there may be no one to hold accountable.
In a society where people admire Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton,
look to them for ideals and morality, how safe are the secrets we share
with others? It’s not about morally judging them, it’s about
not following them; it’s about common sense. It appears that common
sense has been thrown out the window, and a mentality much like the National
Enquirer seems to drive us toward information that is more salacious
It takes a very adroit consumer to wade through the information
coming at us every minute of every day, with high end graphics and logos,
plus disclaimers and certificates of one sort of another. It’s
enough to wear down anyone, even the more sophisticated and discerning
user of such information.
There are many reasons why people look for information, one,
of course, being nosiness.
As a society, we love
to know what’s
going on half way around the world
and across the hall in our apartment
- Does the woman in Apartment 3 work for a living or is the guy
who visits several times a week paying the rent on her apartment?
- Is the new boyfriend telling the truth about being divorced?
- Why won’t
he tell me about his family who lives 3000 miles away?
- Is the woman
my ex-husband is seeing okay to be around my children?
- Why are there
so many gaps for information in this person’s resume? Etcetera …
For some, they rationalize nosiness into a “have
to know” situation
and are willing to pursue finding answers. For others, there are pragmatic
and legitimate reasons for finding the information about someone’s
past before hiring them as a nanny or household caregiver, restaurant
manager, or courier for the business. Once that decision is made, the
next decision is how to obtain the information. A nanny background check
is more important than ever in this day and age. You can't just send
your kid to the neighbor's house any longer without doing nanny screening,
sexual preditors live everywhere.
There are only two avenues by which to develop information under
such circumstances – through the Internet or hiring a private investigator
or investigative agency.
Most businesses have, at some point, developed an ongoing relationship
with an investigator or agency as their business is such that they will
need to do background checks on a regular basis. They learn the protocols
for working with an investigator, the type of information they need to
provide and what they gain in return.
A price has been established between
the parties, probably based on the number of background checks needed
in any given period – a week, a month, a year. Depending on the
type of business, they work with an investigator to determine the depth
of the investigation. They come to rely on the information provided by
the investigator, to know it is accurate and will in no way conflict
or jeopardize the business should issues arise about the potential hire.
There may also be occasions where an employee of long
standing comes under scrutiny for one reason or another, and this
investigative agency is consulted for appropriate methods by which
to handle an investigation. Obviously, the employer relies upon the
trust established with the investigator over a period of time.
And then there is the world where there is no human being involved,
but reliance is solely on information available through the Internet.
A common example: you’ve decided it’s time to find
your old boyfriend; enough procrastination. You haven’t seen him
for thirty years and have no idea where he might be. It’s the information
age, so how difficult can it be. As if you were doing something highly
secretive from your computer at work, shielding the screen in case anyone
walks by, you do the Google and Yahoo searches, to no avail.
So you rationalize
that he’s not anyone famous, not a doctor or a movie star, nor
an astronaut or published author since his name didn’t come up
and lead you to a web site or links with his name. You get the idea that
one of those databases you’ve seen advertised to find former classmates
might be the way to go. Fast and low cost; why not?
The offers for searches cover every possible category
of database – adoptions,
records, bankruptcies, birth records, court filings, credit reports,
criminal cases, death records, divorces, motor vehicle records, estates,
addresses, phone numbers unlisted, listed and cell phones – information
networks coming at you with their buzz words -- like flash cards in your
face – 100% LEGAL, ENDORSED BY SO AND SO, LOW COST, SAFE, TRUSTED,
RECOGNIZED, INSTANT ACCESS, SEARCH IN PRIVACY.
could you go wrong, especially with such a small amount of money invested?
The answer to that question is actually one of common sense, found in
the history of dealing with the three major credit bureaus. Do you know
anyone who does not find errors on their credit reports?
are nothing more than warehouses of data. They do
not decide the accuracy of information warehoused about a particular
person. Translate that picture
to the data mining of personal information and magnify the possibility
is also one very important factor to keep in mind – the issue of “real
time.” Note I did not say “reel time.” We are not talking
about movies. This is about the process of data that is the most accurate
because it is in real time, that second, right before your eyes.
of real time is a document being filed with a court in your county. The
document is recorded into the clerk’s office and entered into the
log database for the court, the case by number, and authenticated as
part of the record.
subscriber to a real time database receives that information at the same
time it is logged in by the court clerk, thus assuring the accuracy of
the information as it is logged. That does not ensure the accuracy of
the information in the document, merely that it is filed as is required
most people do not understand the difference in this process, so do not
realize that the database information sought through many of the resources
available on the Internet are not in real time and hold an inordinate
number of inaccuracies.
When the computer life first presented itself,
there was an old saying about mistakes in information: “crap in,
crap out.” This referred to the human experience of someone making
a mistake when entering information into the computer. The computer cannot
sort out the inaccuracies, thus the information spewed out was exactly
as it went in, even if it was wrong. Nothing has changed. If anything,
the volume of data being mined and Internet availability have made the
let’s go back to finding the old boyfriend. You don’t know
his social security number, barely remember his middle name, if at all,
and decide maybe you’ll try one of the free search sites to see
if he shows up anywhere. You start with Zaba, which is a search engine
that spits out addresses and phone numbers of people and is free. Well,
sort of. For authenticity, and to make a point, I used my social
security number to search. The number came up a match and provided 8
possible addresses for me.
One was in San Francisco, two in a suburb
of San Francisco, and five were in Denver.
have not lived in that suburb of San Francisco for twenty-two years,
not lived in San Francisco for eighteen years, and have been gone from
Denver for four years.
Furthermore, to obtain the written report, which
would also provide information as to whether or not I have filed bankruptcy
or been convicted of any crimes, I would have to pay $49.95. Someone
looking for me could pay the $50, but the information they would receive
could potentially be old and useless.
name and state entered into Zaba produced no results. But an investigator
could most likely find me within a few minutes or more as I have a driver’s
license, a bank account, own property, have credit cards, and utility
bills. The names of my children were entered, with prolific results.
When kids are single, they tend to move a lot, so every address
ever had is listed. How does someone sort through this information to
find what may be current? And their dates of birth were mostly wrong.
I know their dates of birth because I was there.
Were I looking for someone,
I would be thoroughly confused quickly. But I had to put myself in the
place of the person doing the search to realize that most believe what
they are looking at is accurate.
are another source of information provided to data bases, much to the
dismay of customers who believe their information is kept private. Most
of it is
usually not; it’s often sold to companies for one reason
or another. Unless you were informed or knew to opt-out or read the
fine print on the enrollment form or account application your name and
address are most likely shared.
Another source for information
today is social networks – MySpace,
Linked In, FaceBook, Xanga, Friendster, to name a few. Everyone would
be surprised to know that something as simple as logging into Amazon
Books and creating a wish list also creates data that is mined outside
that site. But no one should rely on information from these sources,
particularly in matters that may involve legal issues.
misinformation obtained through a free people search database on the
Internet cannot be verified and should never be relied upon. The
data hits fast and furious. No one is responsible for checking its
accuracy. It may be a clue as to the possibility of finding someone,
or learning information, but should never be opted for on its own.
As an investigator I
learned quickly that there is no substitute for a human being when
it comes to credibility, accuracy, trust, and issues more important than
saving a few dollars with a shortcut. There is no replacement for the
investigator who knows every source in the marketplace, every avenue
for available data, and who will provide what you need because he or
she takes enormous pride in the work product.
Investigators have a “sixth
sense” when it comes to this kind of information. I always knew
when there was more to look for, sensed when I had to dig deeper on a
case. And I was usually right.
To “D” or
not to “D” is not an issue.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patrick Baird is a Licensed Private Investigator and a recognized
authority in the industry. He is co-founder of www.a1peoplesearch.com which
provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on everything you would
need to know about the people search industry and public records retrieval.
Permission to use and copy articles is granted
as long as entire article including About the Author is included.