4 Useful Types of Information Investigators Can Find Online

4 Useful Types of Information Investigators Can Find Online

Conduct your discovery without leaving your desk

There's almost no limit to what you can find online these days. From digitized records to personal social media accounts, investigators can access the entire world from their desks, making finding evidence faster and easier than ever before.

Whether you're just starting out as an investigator or need a refresher, this guide to the common types of information investigators can find online will make your investigation go more smoothly.

You don't need fancy tools to uncover strong online evidence

Many of the best sources of information for your investigation are budget-friendly (or free) and accessible to everyone. Download our free cheat sheet for a list of our favorite OSINT resources.

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1. Messages and Other Communication

Online communication involving your subject can reveal a wealth of information. For example, did your subject post in a forum for a hate group? Did a "friend" mention your subject in a post about engaging in illegal or questionable activity?

Messages that could help your investigation can hide all over the internet. Some places to look include:

  • Social media: (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest)
  • Messaging apps: (Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat)
  • Forums: (Reddit, Quora, Stack Overflow)
  • Review sites: (TripAdvisor, Yelp, Better Business Bureau, Angi)

Start by searching these types of sites to see what public intel you can find. Then, consider asking the subject to hand over access to their private messages and chats on the platforms if you suspect they could help your investigation.

2. Social Media Profiles and Posts

Social media provides users platforms to share their thoughts freely, making these sites the perfect place to start when searching for online evidence.

First, find all of your subject's profiles. You can start by searching their name (including variations) on Google. To find a profile on a specific platform, conduct a site search, such as site:facebook.com Susie Jameson. 

If you know your subject's user name or handle on one site, try searching for profiles on other sites using that name. For example, if you know Susie has an Instagram account called @susiej2001, type that user name into site searches for other social media platforms: site:twitter.com @susiej2001

Once you find your subject's profiles, look for posts and photos that could prove or disprove allegations against them. In addition, scroll through their friends and groups to see if they are connected to anyone or anything that could reveal information related to your case.

RELATED: 101+ OSINT Resources for Investigators

3. Public Records

Public records can tell you a lot about a subject's past and now, thanks to the internet, you don't have to leave your office to access them.

Most municipalities have digital databases of their records where you can search through criminal records, deeds, court documents, licenses, political campaign records and more. If the municipality's website is hard to navigate, there are a few other options for finding public records online.

Start by searching the public records database on Search Systems or Black Book Online. Search Systems is more sophisticated, letting you search by name and narrowing results based on location and/or type of record. Black Book is a simple search bar, ideal for quick searches by exact keywords.

To save even more time, search Google by file type to find direct links to records. For instance, searching filetype:pdf "Susie Jameson" Madison Wisconsin will return just PDF files about Susie. If Susie's municipality digitizes their records into PDFs, you should be able to find them this way.

RELATED: When and How to Search for Online Evidence by File Type

4. Business Information

Does your subject own or run a business? Does it factor into your investigation? Social media and the company website aren't the only places you can find information about the business.

As mentioned above, check out review sites and platforms. Do customer reviews accuse the subject's business of scamming them? Are their reviews too over-the-top positive to be real?

Next, look at old versions of the company website using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. Using this tool, you can view archived pages on the site from its creation to present. This is ideal for uncovering information that's been hidden or deleted from the site.

Want to learn more tips and tricks for finding online evidence efficiently? Watch our free webinar, "Search Engine Skills for Investigators."