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Social Media Skip Tracing: Everything the Modern Process Server Needs to Know

Social Media Skip Tracing: Everything the Modern Process Server Needs to Know

Recorded on July 28, 2016 with Joseph Jones

As the use of various social media platforms grows in prevalence, process servers and investigators alike are benefitting from using social media as a skip tracing tool. In this ServeNowEDU webinar, Joseph Jones of Bosco Legal will discuss the difference between a basic Google search and real OSINT searching, how to locate accounts, hidden photos and the other various pieces of information to help you locate your subject, even when it’s not obvious. Joseph will also discuss non-public information and how it can be located, how online searching for skip tracing purposes differs from a true social media investigation, and will explain supplemental skip tracing techniques and tools.

Joseph Jones is a licensed private investigator and the Vice President of Bosco Legal Services, Inc. Joseph has worked in every position at Bosco, starting with taking out the trash and sweeping the parking lots and as such has an intimate knowledge of all aspects of investigations, process serving, records retrieval and various other attorney services. Joseph has a degree in psychology from California Southern University, is a member of the California Association of Licensed Private Investigators, the California Association of Legal Support Professionals, the National Association of Professional Process Servers, and the National Council of Investigation and Security Services, and has received specialized training from the military, various law enforcement agencies and the nation’s top private intelligence firms. He is also a CALSPro Certified Process Server.


Watch the Webinar

This webinar was presented as a part of the ServeNowEDU Webinar series. To watch other previously recorded webinars and to register for upcoming webinars, visit ServeNowEDU.

In the webinar, Joe walked through an example of some of the tools, searches, and settings process servers can use.

Browser Settings

Joe first warns that your browser grabs everything that you do and tracks all of your personal information. Joe recommends starting with a new browser so that it doesn't include all of your previous searches or your personal searches. One option is to use one browser (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer) for your everyday use and a separate browser for investigative work (cleared before starting).

For your new search, go to Google preferences and...

  • Turn off safe search
  • Select never show instant results
  • Change results to show 100 results per page
  • Turn off location-based searching

browser settings social-media-skip-tracing-everything-the-modern-process-server-needs-to-know

Boolean Searching

Boolean searching, or search engine manipulation, helps ensure that you are getting the most accurate and relevant results. Boolean searching involves using quotation marks, plus signs, and minus signs to generate more specific results.

Adding quotations around the items you are specifically searching for will instruct Google to only return searches containing those terms. So, for example, searching for Joseph Jones Private Investigator returned 1.5 million searches, most of which were irrelevant.

social media skip tracing boolean searching search engine manipuation

A search for "Joseph Jones" + "Private Investigator" returns searches with both terms on the same page, and only returned a little over 1,300.

social media skip tracing boolean searching search engine manipuation

Substituting an asterisk for the plus sign will return results for pages that have Joseph Jones on a page with the term private investigator within 15 words of each other, which filtered it down to 8 results, and returned exactly what he was looking for.

social media skip tracing

Social Media Searching

Joe recommends using a decoy social media account for doing your searching, as you don't want your target or their cohorts to be able to connect with you. It should not be tied to your email address, have any of your personal information, and should be completely separate.

A couple of important notes for decoy accounts:

  • If someone is involved in a case and representing an attorney, you cannot send them a friend request.
  • If you are using fake photos, you must make sure they weren't taken in the United States.

If you cannot friend them directly, consider friending some of their friends, as a friend of a friend will often have greater access to the information on the person's account than one with no connection. Joe has some tips on how to further use social media for skip tracing below.

Reverse Phone Number Lookup Using Facebook

One of the tricks that Joe recommends is using Facebook for reverse phone number search. Joe entered a phone number into the search bar in Facebook, which returned a profile linked to the phone number, even thought the phone number isn't publicly available on the profile.

Facebook reverse phone number search

Use Boolean Searching to Find Other Accounts with the Same Username

Since many people use the same username for their social media accounts, you can search for the Facebook username (or whatever the initial account you found was), place it in quotation marks and search for other accounts in Google. When Joe did this, he was able to find an additional Twitter and Instagram account, in addition to recent images.

username searches in google

Use The Target's Friend's Accounts to Locate Additional Accounts

If a search for the username doesn't turn up results, one tactic Joe recommends using is finding a person in your target's friend list with an unusual or uncommon name, finding their accounts on other platforms, and then searching their friends and followers lists for your target.

How to Find Non-Public Information

Joe recommends a tool by Intel Techniques that allows you to find other things in Facebook that aren't always shown. You can see things like all of the photos the person has been tagged in, all photos she has commented on, photos the person has liked, etc. This gives greater access to relevant information posted by others, and a plethora of options for search. This is helpful for tracking a person down, establishing character, and gathering information on the target.

If your target has a very private profile, this tool can help show what they have been tagged in and commented on through friends' public profiles.

facebook search photos liked by a person

You can sign up for training and free access to use the tool here: http://www.inteltechniques.com.


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