This is a little Creepy

Imagine the ability to type in someone’s Twitter handle and find out everywhere that person has been. Their local coffee shop, office building and even the street they live on. A little app called Creepy has made some waves with privacy advocates,  because it does just that.

Cree.py is an application that allows users to gather geolocation related information about other users from social networking sites and image hosting services. The information is presented in a map inside the application’s interface where all the retrieved data is shown accompanied by coordinates or other relative information.

Creepy’s location information is obtained from various sources including: EXIF tags from photos, geolocation feature from hosting API, coordinates from mobile devices and IP addresses transmitted from web checkins. Platforms currently supported are: Twitter, Foursquare, flickr, twitpic.com, yfrog.com, img.ly, plixi.com, twitrpix.com, foleext.com, shozu.com, pickhur.com, moby.to, twitsnaps.com and twitgoo.com. The one catch is that this application only works if the user has location sharing turned on within the platform settings.

Try using this app the next time you have a Skip you’re trying to locate or a target you are trying to serve process. It just may be the tool you need to close that case. Like any application, it has its limitations. But I think it is a worthy weapon in our arsenal.

Creepy may be downloaded from here: http://ilektrojohn.github.com/creepy/

Keep following those virtual breadcrumbs. ~ The Hi-Tech P.I.

Searching High and Low

There are many ways to confirm someone’s residence during an investigation. Now depending on local laws, some of these methods could be illegal, so always verify beforehand. In order to find Intel that will confirm a suspect resides at the alleged address, an investigator will sometimes examine letters in the mailbox, look at trash in garbage cans or just wait around for the resident to appear. In some situations they may even have a neighbor or local mail carrier confirm residence, but that is only if anonymity is not a concern. Now the aforementioned ‘low-tech’ methods of confirming residence are usable, but let us explore a couple of high-tech methods as well.

Our first high-tech method requires a WiFi enabled device, e.g., smart phone, tablet or a laptop. Once parked in front of the suspected residence, open your WiFi device’s Wireless & Network settings. A screen similar to the one pictured below should be viewable, revealing a list of available networks. Each network is represented by an SSID aka network name. Some SSID’s are gibberish, but many will be customized by the owner. So if you were sitting outside my house and searched for a WiFi network you may see ‘The HiTech PI’ (example only), along with a strength indicator, which is an added bonus because the closer you get to that residence the more confirmation you will have. As you can also see I have a neighbor by the name of Wesley and another Madison, both true. I have seen many people use good indicators like “Holmes House” or “Craigs Cave”.

The great thing about using SSID as confirmation is that it is in real-time. You know that the resident has current internet service at the address that is broadcasting the signal.

Another high-tech method used to locate/confirm residence are location based social networking platforms such as Foursquare and Gowalla. Along the same lines of network names, are user created ‘venues’ or places with their own names incorporated in them. For example my friend’s home may be a venue called “Joe Smith’s Garage”, which usually lists an exact address or cross street. Even though it may only list a cross street, since these are GPS enabled apps, the marker on the venue map is often an accurate GPS placement. The Foursquare method can be utilized when you are in the area of the suspected residence, or alternatively, venues may be searched at http://www.foursquare.com, where they can be narrowed by city and zip.

Keep following those virtual breadcrumbs. ~ The Hi-Tech P.I.

Search and Ye Shall Find

What is a search engine? Definitively, a search engine is an information retrieval system that works algorithmically to assist in finding information. Now in Layman’s terms, a search engine is…well Google. Some would argue with me, and say that there are many choices out there, not just Google. Well sure there are, you could use Yahoo, Bing, Ask.com.Or if you are concentrating on people finding, there are Wink.com, Pipl.com, Whozat.com and many others. Some self proclaimed techie PI’s will tell you about a new site every week just to keep themselves relevant, but instead I say we should learn how to use what we have to its fullest potential, then if you need more, move on.

Most people believe that a search engine is like reaching into a hat full of random information and pulling something out with no real control over what they are going to get. They monotonously sift through pages upon pages of errant information just to finally find that single golden result they had been searching for. What if I were to tell you that you could increase the odds of finding your result on the very first page? Well with a few tricks in place, you can do just that. These types of tricks are commonly known as Google Hacks.

Let’s say you are searching on a website like…well cowparade.com. That’s right, cowparade.com. And on that site you are looking for events that happened in 2008. You go to cowparade.com and you notice that there is NO search bar. How do you search the site for what you need?! Have no fear. All you have to do is go to our friend Google and type in site:cowparade.com 2008. BAM! It is as if you were searching on the subject website all along. Using this Google Hack, your results will be restricted to only those on the target website, leaving you virtually no irrelevant results. Try it with social networks as well (ex. site:facebook.com holmesforhire)

A small tip is worth a thousand words. “Quotation marks.” Did you know that if you put quotes around any word in your search term, Google will restrict the results to that exact term? I know it sounds trivial, but it is often overlooked. You can try variations by only placing one word in quotes and others not, or all in quotes. Endless possibilities.

What about searching phone numbers? Have you ever Googled a phone number in this format (972)555-1212? Well the results you got were probably not what you were looking for. This is because Google recognizes the hyphens, but not the parentheses, so your result is a jumbled mess. Instead search the phone number like this 972-555-1212. Your results will reveal the number used in both of the above formats and if you need to narrow it down throw some quotes around it. Google also has a built in Residential phone directory. Try this in the Google search bar, phonebook: john smith dallas, tx. You will be provided results for all residential telephone listings for John Smith in Dallas, TX.

A common misconception when searching is that more is better. It is actually the opposite. When you place words into a search engine, you are telling it to search for every one of those words, leaving you with tons of irrelevant data. People often search with an entire question, almost as if we were talking to a human. This is very wrong. Try to cut out all of the articles (a, and, the, etc.) and use effective key words. For example instead of searching “What is the best place to mount a Garmin GPS in my car?” you should really search “gps placement car”. It is all about the relevancy. By removing the irrelevant words from your search term, you made your results solid.

I will end the lesson with one last simple Hack. Say you are researching “eagles”. Well go ahead and type it in and see what the top results are. Philadelphia Eagles, right?! Well as a Philadelphia Eagles fan, this does not offend me, but it certainly may offend you, while putting a crimp in your online search. Sifting through tons of results with Philadelphia mixed in will be quite annoying (especially for a Dallas Cowboys fan) and time consuming. You can solve this by placing a hyphen in front of the word -Philadelphia. So instead of Googling Eagles, you should google “Eagles -Philadelphia”. Now Google will automatically exclude all results that include the word Philadelphia.

Well I hope this intro to Google search techniques was a little more worthwhile than a self proclaimed expert regurgitating links to websites that are eventually going to lead you to a paid search by Intelius. God I hate Intelius! ~TheHiTechPI

UPDATE– As Tamara Thompson of PIbuzz.com pointed out, Google Phonebook is no longer available and has been corrected in my post.  Thanks Tamara!

More Google hacks to come…