How Private Investigators Track Down Hard-To-Find People

private investigator looking for a person

Private investigators are often hired to track people down without having much information to go on. And they have to make do with what they have to find that person.

In other situations, private investigators may be given a good amount of information, but if the person is trying to avoid being found, that can also be challenging.

So whether you’re considering hiring a PI to find a missing person or suspect you are being tracked by a PI, let’s look at some of the ways private investigators go about finding people. Here are a few tricks…

Obscure Interests

Everyone has things that they are interested in and passionate about. If a private investigator wants to find someone, they will often try to follow up on their interests. And the more obscure and unique the interest is, the easier it makes it for the private investigator.


If someone lives in Wisconsin and loves the Green Bay Packers, one of the most popular football teams in the US, that doesn’t make it much easier to track down said person. But, on the other hand, if someone lives in Green Bay and loves the Cleveland Browns, that makes them more unique and could be a way to pick them out of the crowd.

Other interests can include, sci-fi books and movies, games, shows, hobbies, social causes, authors, religion, pretty much anything you can think of.

Social media presence

So many people have a presence on social media that it’s often possible to find people’s social media footprint even if they aren’t trying to get attention. A private investigator may look directly for their target person, or, if that doesn’t work, they may look for their friends or interest groups and try to track them down that way.

Surveillance technology

Some private investigators are able to gain access to private information and electronic surveillance that can help identify and track down people. This can include video surveillance, corporate emails, or even phone call records and recordings.

Electronic footprint

For example, if a private investigator has been hired to check if an employee was engaged in illegal or immoral activities while using the employer’s computers or phones, the company may grant them access to their electronic accounts.

Online footprints

Detectives have to be good at navigating search engines online to find information about people. They may even look into the internet archives to view websites that have been changed or deleted in order to find information that was once freely available.


Good private investigators have contacts all over the place — whether within crime circles or in business or politics — and they can use those contacts to get information that can be used to track people down. They can also leverage contacts to find people who know other people who also know people who know pretty much anyone — including people who are difficult to track down.

Background checks

Private investigators can also look into background check records that are on file about the person they are looking for. That can mean they will background check a person’s driving records, criminal records, employment records, etc., etc., etc.

In-person surveillance

This is what people normally think of when they think of private investigation. Walking and driving around and then waiting outside someone’s door to keep track of them and what they do. In-person surveillance can be expensive for the client and should be done by a professional who knows the tricks of the trade as well as the legal guidelines of what they are allowed to do.

Investigation databases

There are databases for everything, including for investigators. A lot of information can even be attained for free from sites such as and And then, of course, there are also paid sites that may charge a significant amount of money to get information about people.

Missing person announcements

If the person they are looking for is reported as missing, a PI may post a missing person flyer online or in neighborhoods where the subject may have been seen.

Check hospitals

If the subject may have somehow ended up in the hospital, whether due to injury or mental illness, the PI may scour the local hospitals to find them.

Common sense and logic

A private investigator’s best friends are common sense and logic. A good PI will use the limited knowledge they have about a person to create a story about that person. They may rely on their gut feeling or just go with the most logical possibilities looking in places were their subject is likely to be based on their age and other demographics and psychographics.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for general information only.

Hope this helps. Any questions? Let us know in the comments.