With the vast reach of the internet, locating a missing person is easier, but it’s still not always successful. Whether it’s to locate a former spouse who has skipped out on child support payments, a parent who gave you up for adoption, a child who fell into the drug and alcohol-fueled environment, or simply to find an old high school pal, searching internet sources is your second stop. If the person is truly “missing,” which means he was here but now is gone, your first stop is at the local police station to file a missing person report.
Contact Local Law Enforcement
Take all the information you have, including photographs, cellphone numbers, online social media links, and names and numbers of the person’s friends to your local police department if the missing person has been gone at least 24 to 48 hours. Anyone under the age of 18 or over 65 who is missing or has medical issues, or is the possible victim of a kidnapping or involved in any criminal activity, should be reported immediately. The sooner the information is distributed to agencies throughout your state and the country, the more likely the person is to be found.
If the person has purposely disappeared to avoid a legal situation, is an adult runaway or just doesn’t want to be found, the local authorities can help, but the urgency isn’t there and the depth of the investigation is less intense.
In most situations, the police talk to anyone who has had contact with the missing person. In addition, they search the last-known residence, looking for clues or evidence; monitor his charge card usage; and tap into his cellphone trail for clues to his whereabouts. In many cases, if the person is known to frequent local stores, use a credit card to get cash or traveling with another person, local CCTV cameras point to the person. Physical clues, such as clothing, offer additional clues.
Contact Hospitals and Jails
While it may be frightening to realize it, but when a person goes missing from his ordinary life, foul play may be involved. Contact all the hospitals in the person’s vicinity and even the local coroner. Jails are another outlet, and your search will assist the law enforcement agencies whom you’ve already alerted.
Use Crowd Sourcing
The far-reaching ability of social media sites puts the world on alert that you are searching for a missing person. Facebook may not lead directly to your person; after all, she’s missing and may not want to be found, but it allows friends and acquaintances to offer hints as to what led to her disappearance.
Speak to friends to find out which social media sites your missing person used. It may be an educational site, a hobby or special interest site, or even one in the so-called “dark web.” Pursue all avenues looking for contacts and clues.
Craigslist, an international website that offers a vast amount of information, maintains a missing persons section. Post as much information as you have, plus a photograph and details of the person’s life, to uncover possible connections.
Search Engines Uncover Missing Persons
The various search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and Bing, all use different algorithms and databases to connect information to a specific person. Put the person’s name in quotation marks to direct a specific search.
Although less well-known, Switchboard and Zabasearch may also prove helpful. Just realize that if the missing person is missing for a reason, it’s most likely he won’t communicate online.
Expand Your Missing Person Search
Depending on the reason for your search, what you already know about the missing person may lead to discovering where he is. A myriad of websites and types of in-person assistance are available.
The United States Department of Defense can help find a missing service person. Send your request for information in writing and include as much information as you can.
If the person is a runaway or missing child, contact state, national and international missing children websites. The National Runaways Switchboard, Amber Alert, Missing Kin, television announcements and even milk cartons alert the nation to your search. The U.S. Department of State becomes involved when international borders may have been crossed.
Adoption and Family History Searches
A more frequent search for locating a missing person is through adoption sites. Trace back to the location of the health care facility where you think the birth parent may have been a patient or the adoption agency to get as much information as possible. Many files on adoption are closed to outside searches, but if you have a medical or physical reason, you may be able to pry them open.
The Ancestry website has led to family reunions around the world. While there is no fee initially, it may be worth it to subscribe until you’ve found your family. A DNA test is available for a fee and conclusively leads to genealogical connections.
Search After a Disaster
The International Red Cross is usually the first responder for help after a natural disaster. While immediacy is vital when searching for a missing person in these circumstances, the foundation is focused on search and rescue regardless of who they are. Contact them after the disaster and be patient.
The International Rescue Committee is another organization devoted to finding refugees and missing persons after a disaster. The U.S. Department of State moves in when Americans are among the missing.
Contact Social Services Organizations
If the missing person must be contacted immediately because of illness or a death in the family that may affect the recipient, or another valid emergency, the Social Security Administration has the ability to forward a letter to the person if they are aware of his whereabouts. They will not reveal the person’s location, however.
The Salvation Army has an international reach and is helpful in locating people affected by displacement or the effects of war. They consider children looking for an absent parent as the primary users of their services.
Mentally ill missing persons can be traced through the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Most often, a person with a mental condition ends up on the street, and the NAMI trolls the homeless rolls, local missions, and homeless shelters and facilities dedicated to the care of the mentally ill.
Public Records Offer Information
While the person you are looking for may not be “missing,” but instead, just out of your life for whatever reason, public records reveal information that may lead you to them. Personal records such as marriage licenses, death certificates, bankruptcy filings and criminal records are all available for viewing.
Find out the county and state you think the person lives in and start your search there. If you aren’t successful, expand your search to include the U.S. Department of Justice for federal records, as allowed by the Freedom of Information Act. Be prepared to wait many months for a response, but their search includes IRS filings, federal licenses, military records and even changes in post office address.
The Department of Justice also maintains a database of missing persons that includes the name of a person whose remains may have gone unclaimed. Go online to contact the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUS, with your search information and details. You can even add details that may not already be in the system.
Alert the Public
Many of us remember the fencing that surrounded the World Trade Center after the September 11th disaster. Stuck to the fencing and walls were hundreds of photographs of people who had not escaped from the building or were, perhaps, roaming the streets with traumatic injuries. Pictures help.
Post photographs throughout your community asking for help in finding your missing person. Clues to his whereabouts may be closer than you think, and the public is most often the link to finding him.
- Muni: Missing Persons Checklist
- Inspire a Difference: Missing Person Resources
- North American Investigations: The Critical Difference Between finding a Missing Person and Locating a Person
- Free Phone Search: Free Sites for Missing Persons
- The Law Dictionary: Find a Missing Person for Free
- Einvestigator: How to Find a Missing Person
- Truthfinder: How to Find a Missing Person