Just who do you think you are?

As an everyday Joe, being able to find out who is behind a phone number could help identify a crank caller, scammer or phone threat.  As an investigator we have long had resources for this type of thing, some that are free and many which cost money.

In my previous post titled Jenny 867-5309 I detail many sources used to help identify phone subscribers. Those were sources utilizing either caller ID data or directory assistance. But what if the phone number you are trying to ID is a mobile phone and is not listed in an online database? You could call the number and listen to the voicemail, but that would compromise your own phone number. Drum roll please…..here’s the turn.

Super-sleuth Robert Scott author of the “The Investigator’s Little Black Book” and proprietor of www.skipsmasher.com has created a nifty little investigative tool for the masses called Spy Dialer. How it works is you submit the subject’s mobile number into Spy Dialer and it anonymously queries the voicemail system of that number. The cool part is what magicians call the Prestige; a surreptitious recording of the subscriber’s voice and that’s not all…the ability to download the recording to your PC!

Well now you may ask, what’s the catch?  No catch. There is both a free and a paid service. The only vice of the free service is if your perp calls the number back it will play a short quip about Spy Dialer. The paid service is a very reasonable at $9.95 per year. There is even an Android app currently available and an iPhone app in the works.

So the next time you get this Prank Caller (offensive), the only question will be, do I want to be the victim or victor? Spydialer.com

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

A Virtual Ghost Town

When the sub-prime mortgage crisis hit the US in 2007, many people lost their homes, either due to financial issues with their mortgage, unpaid taxes or both. This naturally created abandoned real estate, or ghost towns. These empty properties continue to make nice neighborhoods look not-so-nice and in turn, drive down property values.

I am no financier, mortgage broker or salesman. I am an Internet investigator. So the real estate I deal with is not “real” at all, it is more like Virtual Estate. Lately, when I  walk around my neighborhood (the Internet), I increasingly find ugly, unkempt ‘Virtual Estate’ everywhere. You see, when sites like Geocities (of 80’s & 90’s fame), or more recently Myspace, discontinue proper upkeep of their websites, it creates an abundance of pages with broken links and improper formatting. This equals ugly.

Now until these slumlords of the Internet decide to fix-up or shut down their abandoned Virtual Estate, the task is left to the user.

The average user may not necessarily care that their old Myspace or Bebo profile lay in disarray. But the unsightliness of these webpages is not the only reason a person should close down unused profiles. The other is the big ‘P’, Privacy. You would not think it prudent to drop a copy of your driver’s license and credit card in envelopes all around town, would you? By leaving these abandoned profiles online, data is left open to not only investigators like myself, but also criminals. Think for a minute about how much data is stored in your online accounts (ex. Name, Address, Phone, E-mail, Secret Questions, etc.)

If you look at the extensive list of companies and their customers that were recently effected by data breaches, you will see just how susceptible we all really are. As Internet users, we need to be responsible, keep our lives somewhat private and be careful with whom we share our details. I personally do not accept friend requests on Facebook from those who I only consider acquaintances. After all, they are called ‘Friend’ requests for a reason. I also closed my Myspace account over a year ago, due to the same non-use as described above.

As an Internet investigator and privacy fanatic, I implore everyone to sit down and make a list of all websites they have ever created a profile or account with, then determine which ones are no longer in-use and start spring cleaning. Just go to the target website, where you will likely find instructions on how to close your account, which are usually searchable in the FAQ or Help sections.

For additional reference you may also utilize a helper website like www.deleteyouraccount.com, which assists in finding the instructions for you.

Now help make our Virtual World a nicer place in which to live and place that trash at the curb! ~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…