Sitting in a car outside of an apartment building all night with binoculars and a camera. For some people, when you say private investigator (PI) that’s the image that they conquer up.
Granted, that might be a somewhat romanticized vision of the job, which we know also doesn’t accurately represent the work involved today. Sure, there is a good deal of legwork involved in the investigation, but a great deal of the heavy lifting can be done now using investigation software.
We’re going to take a look here at some of the digital tools available for the amateur PI. Who knows, there just may be the perfect thing to help solve your mystery.
So, like a Google search right?
Not exactly. A Google search can be an effective way to gather some initial information, but you’re really only scratching the surface of your subject.
Well then, you might wonder, if not a straight search, what about checking their usage through things like their search history.While that can be an option, it’s an unreliable one.
It’s easy to make the URLs of sites visited disappear or the cached files and cookies of those sites to be cleaned. You also have to take into consideration browser features such as the “Search Incognito” option found in Chrome. What you need is something more specific and robust.
The job dictates the investigation software needs
If you were building a house you wouldn’t just use a hammer, right? Of course not. You’d want a specific set of tools to handle each individual job involved in the project.
The same rules apply to the investigation world. There is no magic formula or one size fits all tool that you can, or should, use.
That’s why you should decide first on what you need to know and then find the best possible tool for discovering that information. And in this, you want the help of an expert.
Every day there seems to be a new personal device released and updates to operating systems come faster than you can install them. When you utilize professionally developed investigation software you can let the developers worry about compatibility with new technology concerns so that you can focus on the information you seek.
We do this why?
This is a question that has multiple answers. Some turn to these tools because they suspect their significant other might be cheating on them.
Others might use them to keep tabs on their kids. Many investigation software clients are actually corporations.
Companies have a lot to lose if their, or their clients’, intellectual property is lost so the company will go to whatever lengths needed to make sure that information is safe and secure.
One of the most popular investigation software programs is called Email Spy. What it does is right there in the name.
The software needs to be installed on the subject’s computer but when it is, it can “record” all email coming in and going out of that machine. This is a great tool because it is so easy for people to set up email accounts, that many individuals will set up one “straight” account and one to handle their…less savory affairs.
For example, an email account for the wife and a separate one for the mistress. This investigation software can break through that digital wall and help uncover the truth in who’s getting an email from whom.
This is the type of investigation software that those doing bad things fear the most. That’s because it can be easily installed, even remotely, onto a subjects’ computer.
Once in place, it records all the activity happening at that computer. Everything – websites visited, documents drafted, images collected.
This tool provides investigators a pretty comprehensive look at what’s happening with a particular person. Because it captures every click and keystroke you’ll find yourself wading through a lot of material but it can definitely be worth it.
This is a popular tool in the corporate information security world. That’s because it allows you to perform what’s known as a “digital forensic investigation.”
In short, this lets you reconstruct data that’s on a drive and then search through that data. It’s ideal for use when you are looking not as much for a single piece of information, but instead searching for patterns in data across periods of time.
In a similar vein is Volatility. It’s an investigative software that gets deep into the workings of any computer.
With Volatility, you can scan machine processes to find hidden connections, backdoor entryways, unauthorized installed programs, and even malicious processes. It’s a great tool to use when you suspect the machine, not the operator, of having a, let’s say, ulterior motive.
Of course, not everything takes place online. People use their mobile phones for ALL sorts of things.
That’s why MobileSpy is such a good tool to become familiar with. It’s a combination investigation software and monitoring service that kicks its findings out to a secure webpage you can access anywhere.
It’s installed on the actual phone but is not tied into the phone’s internal memory system. This means that even though the phone user may erase the questionable text, picture, or call log from their phone, it’s already been captured and reviewed by you.
Even better, it’s an undetectable tool.
While many people need tools such as these to catch criminals (either material or emotional thieves) in the act, some are doing sleuthing to better understand their community. In particular, they want to see if they should be concerned about anyone living on their street.
Websites like the National Sex Offender Registry are popular with parents who want to feel confident about letting their kids play outside. There have been numerous laws, at all levels, passed that require people convicted of a sex offense to register their whereabouts.
This information can be found in a number of locations, the easiest being national and local law enforcement websites. These sites are generally easy to use and (should be) free.
Unfortunately, many people have suspicions about someone they know. These feelings can be led by strong emotions which can at times cloud their judgment.
While tools such as the ones here can help validate or dispel those suspicions, sometimes that emotional connection can make it difficult to see the discovered information clearly. The best course of action may be to turn to a professional like Stillinger Investigations, Inc.