When and How to Search for Online Evidence by File Type

When and How to Search for Online Evidence by File Type

Save time and resolve cases faster using this easy Google command

As an investigator, you probably find yourself wishing there were more than 24 hours in a day.

With multiple investigations on the go at once and pressure to resolve cases quickly to mitigate risk, you need to find information and evidence as efficiently as possible. But you don't need a bunch of fancy tools to find a wealth of valuable information.

When you search Google by file type, you'll turn up relevant results in a fraction of the time it takes to sort through websites or physical records. Here's how and when to do it.

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How Do I Search Google by File Type?

To search Google by file type, you simply need to type a command before your query. It looks like this:

filetype:type query or ext:type query

So, if you are looking for .pdf files about 2009 Ford Fusions, you would type

filetype:pdf "2009 Ford Fusion"

Or, if you wanted to find images of a small business called Diane's Donuts in Syracuse, NY, you would query Google with

filetype:jpg "Diane's Donuts" Syracuse

You can search by all the common file types, including:

  • .jpg
  • .ppt
  • .pdf
  • .doc
  • .xls
  • .png
  • .txt

For a full list of file types Google indexes (that you can search for), click here.

RELATED: 3 Google Search Skills Every Investigator Needs

When to Search by File Type

When searching Google, you can click on the "Images" or "Videos" tabs. But what if you are looking for a spreadsheet, Word document, PDF or text file? Searching by file type unearths these results quickly and easily.

This tactic is also helpful to use in tandem with other Google search commands. For example, say you wanted to access Starbucks Coffee's code of conduct. If you search

Starbucks code of conduct

you'll get webpage results and results from other websites. However, if you search

filetype:pdf site:starbucks.com code of conduct

your first result should be a PDF version of the document straight from the source. This query tells Google that you only want PDF results found on the Starbucks website and that they should relate to employee conduct (Starbucks' document is actually called "Standards of Business Conduct").

Public Records

Searching for county and state records can be a challenge, especially for smaller municipalities with less sophisticated websites. If you don't know what you're looking for exactly (or if the county website's search function is poor), you could end up combing through thousands of results, or none.

Instead, search Google for .pdf or .doc files with your subject's name and location. For example:

filetype:pdf "Jennifer smith" Delaware county pa

This query would help you find .pdf results for Jennifer Smith who lives in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. It's important to contain the subject's name in quotes so you don't receive every result with "Jennifer" or "Smith" but just those with "Jennifer Smith."

Because you searched by file type, you're likely to find court documents, deeds, marriage licenses and other public records. Without the command, social media profiles are usually the top results.

RELATED: 101+ OSINT Links for Investigators

Company Documents

Looking for information about a company that isn't easy to find on its website? Search by file type.

According to Cynthia Hetherington, MLS, MSM, CFE and founder of Hetherington Group, investigators can find brochures, reports and presentations about companies and even events using this tactic.

Trying to find these documents using the website's search tool could be challenging to impossible. The company might hide them from their website's search results and/or their search function might not work well. Google helps you uncover them without spending too much of your precious investigation time.

Nonprofit Documents

Similarly, searching Google by file type (specifically PDF) can help you find key information about nonprofit organizations. Hetherington notes that this is a quick and easy way to "find donor information . . . [and] annual reports often released as PDFs."

While you could find these documents on the organization's website, searching by file type lets you find what you're after in seconds, without having to dig through layers of irrelevant web pages.

Ready to go beyond Google? Download this free online searches cheat sheet to learn how to find helpful information for your investigation.