Area of Law: Private Investigation
Answer Number: 995
Finding missing personsRegion: Ontario Answer Number: 995
Searches for people may be necessary for many reasons, such as to notify a beneficiary of a will, serve legal documents on a litigant or a witness, or locate a child, parent, relative or friend who disappeared for unknown reasons. Of course, if a crime is suspected in the case of someone’s disappearance, the police should be contacted right away. Otherwise, in Canada, a person must be licensed as a private investigator if he or she undertakes searching for missing persons on a “for hire” or reward basis.
RCMP National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR)
The RCMP’s National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR) provides law enforcement, medical examiners and chief coroners in Canada with specialized investigative services to support missing persons and unidentified remains investigations. The Centre has created a website, CanadasMissing.ca, which provides the public with information and gives them an opportunity to provide tips on specific missing persons and unidentified remains cases.
Skip Tracers and Information Brokers
If crime is not suspected, people may want to hire private investigators or skip tracers to locate a missing person. These people are investigators who, by various means, locate persons who have made themselves scarce, such as because they are being sued, are a witness in a trial, are avoiding paying a debt, and so on. Information brokers are investigators who provide time and cost efficient searches through public and private record vaults.
Use of pretexts
Skip tracers and information brokers use the timeless art of pretext calling. Pretexts are ingenious plans and stories to convince people to give up information that they would normally withhold. There are generally four steps to successful pretext inquiries. First, identifying the information sought. Second, identifying who is the keeper of the information. Third, figuring out who the custodian or institution would release the information to and under what circumstances. Then, try to be that person.
There are a number of potential legal problems with pretext calls. For example, the Criminal Code makes it an offence to personate a peace officer, or any person, living or dead, for personal gain or to cause disadvantage to another person. It is important to note that the word “person” means a real person, not a fictitious person. Generally, private investigators avoid using the guise of being a lawyer, a doctor, a fire-fighter, a police officer, a government employee or any type of utility worker.
Information brokers can tap into many public sources for information about individuals. For example, driver’s ‘abstracts’ are a record of the basic driving history of any individual with a driver’s licence. They include information such as when the driver’s licence was first issued, driving tickets or other offences. Depending on the jurisdiction, they may be made available to private investigators and other select persons from the provincial Ministry of Transport through the Internet for a modest fee.
Land titles, property assessments, liens or personal property records are also publicly available for a fee. Federal information that is available includes civil aircraft databases offering the names of licensed pilots, patent and trademark databases, and divorce registries.
In addition to government records, corporation records can also be very informative about the individuals who run them. Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada is the federal department responsible for the registration of federally incorporated businesses, and can provide information about boards of directors, incorporation dates and the registered offices of corporations listed in its database.
Corporate records held by some large corporations generally list the board members of other publicly held companies. For example, LexisNexis is an excellent resource for commercial records. SEDAR has Canadian publicly held corporate filings and is searchable online. Some major public library systems have fee-based research entities available. Common business records, such as boards of directors and business credit reports, are publicly available and searchable online. Accessibility varies across the country.
In contrast to publicly held companies, there is very little information available online about privately held companies.
Who to use
There are many other investigative techniques that can be utilized to locate a missing person. Generally, anyone seeking information about persons or businesses is encouraged to contact an established and reputable private investigation agency in their province. If such a private investigative agency does not have an expert on staff, they will probably be able to put you in contact with someone who is.
For legal advice and assistance, contact a lawyer.
To have someone conduct a missing persons investigation and for other investigation services, contact our preferred Investigators, Smith Investigation Agency .
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