Fishing for Debtors

We frequently get calls from lenders and debt-management companies that are looking for a resource to help them cast a net for all new debtors with judgments or tax liens. Often they notice our Bankruptcy, Judgment & Tax Lien pay database and inquire about the search criteria. Can they run a search by area and date and get a list of all debtors with recent judgments and/or tax liens?

Regrettably, the answer is No. While that database contains nationwide bankruptcy, judgment and tax lien filings going back ten years, and updated weekly, we can only query the database by Name, or Name and Address, or Social Security Number/Tax ID Number (although the last method is not recommended for judgment searches). So it is a great resource if you need to search for filings belonging to a specific person or company across an entire state (or nationwide). It is not designed to give you a list of all debtors in your city, county or state.

If you require a search for the latter, you might consider a few of these options:

1. The large legal research solutions like Lexis-Nexis, WestLaw and ChoicePoint often have judgments and tax liens in their mega databases. Those services can simultaneously search many different types of databases at once, by almost any type of term or keyword. Once you understand the search logic they employ, you can craft very targeted searches. The downside to using these mega services? Typically they require long-term accounts with very high monthly fees. Also, their data is often weeks old, as it must be sent in batches by the courts and other government agencies, then processed internally.

2. Some companies are able to set up accounts with specific county government offices, and pay a monthly fee to acquire direct data uploads on a regular basis. Essentially they have cut out the middle-men like Lexis-Nexis.

3. You can also try doing simple searches right at the county clerk-recorder websites. Often those online databases include tax liens and judgments, and allow a search by date range in addition to the traditional searches by name or filing number. Each county is different, so you’ll have to investigate them on a case-by-case basis. To find those types of recorded documents databases, use this directory, and select your state from the list under the “Categories” heading. Each state page will include a list of clerk-recorder links organized by county.

Time Off for Bad Behavior

Public records are like historical facts. Each one is part of the story of someone’s life. As we often discover when we research public records, some of those stories are quite outlandish. For example, take a look at the FBI Most Wanted List from their Cincinnati, Ohio field office, found on this criminal wants and warrants directory. The saga of Lester Edward Eubanks reads like a character back-story in an Elmore Leonard novel:

“Lester Eubanks is wanted for escaping from jail. On May 25, 1966, Eubanks was convicted of murdering a teenage girl during an attempted rape in Mansfield, Ohio. Eubanks shot the victim twice. He then returned to the victim’s location and smashed her skull with a brick. At the time of the offense, Eubanks was on bail for another attempted rape.”

That’s absolutely horrible, but that isn’t the outlandish part. Eubanks is still at large, and as described above, he’s wanted for escaping from jail. The truth is, Eubanks didn’t exactly escape from jail. He escaped from a mall during a Christmas shopping spree. Here is the rest of the story, quoted verbatim from the FBI site:

“On December 7, 1973, Eubanks walked away from an honor assignment from the Ohio Correctional Center in Columbus, Ohio. Reportedly, Eubanks was taken to a shopping center in the south end of Columbus and dropped off to go Christmas shopping by prison officials. Eubanks failed to return to his scheduled pick-up point and was reported by prison officials as a “walkaway.” Eubanks had been sentenced to death in the electric chair, and after three unsuccessful appeals, his death sentence was commuted to life in prison. This was due to a 1972 Supreme Court decision that ruled the death penalty unconstitutional.”

So first Eubanks catches a break when the death penalty is abolished in Ohio (Note: Ohio has since reinstated the death penalty, as evidenced by this list of current death row inmates). Eubanks then asks the warden if he can buy some Christmas gifts for his family. He catches another break when the prison officials “drop him off” at a shopping center and instruct him to return an hour later for his ride back to prison.

It is hard to believe that prison officials were so gullible.

The FBI bulletin about Eubanks sprinkles in other interesting facts about the fugitive. He was a former Air Force medic (possibly in the Vietnam War?), and held menial jobs after that. He holds a degree in martial arts and a black belt in karate, and is described as a practicing Baptist. The FBI site also indicates that Eubanks was living in California in the early 1990’s. So apparently witnesses spotted him two decades after his initial escape. A federal arrest warrant was put out for him in 1996 and there is currently a $10,000 reward for information leading to Eubanks’ capture.

So if you see Mr. Eubanks, at your local shopping mall or elsewhere, do NOT try to apprehend him. Report the sighting to the FBI.

Even Fictitious Detectives Use Search Systems

In these blog posts we’ve shared several real-life examples of how the services at Search Systems can be used for public records research, but did you know that a fictitious detective uses our site as well?

Follow the investigations of Crispin Darke, Thrilling Detective, via his online blog at Darke Detective. Not only does Crispin lead you through his mystery cases chapter by chapter in first-person detective noir… he also teaches investigative techniques using the Internet. Every chapter has database links and explanations about how and when to use those public record databases.

Modern detectives know that solving a case requires more than door-to-door interviews, stake-outs, and car chases (although Crispin has his share of those). It also requires a contemporary knowledge of public record databases, especially those found online. Each time Crispin performs his research, you get to look over his shoulder as he finds another piece of the puzzle.

We think Crispin is humorous, thrilling, and well-informed. But don’t take our word for it. Read Crispin’s breakthrough story “N is for Knife” or the follow-up case, “The Hobart Ghost” and you’ll be entertained while learning some cool P.I. tricks you can do on your computer.

This is one case where the expression “Don’t try this at home” does NOT apply.

Criminal Records Help

We feel that we provide the best criminal records resource available on the Internet.

Here’s why:

We’ve worked for 15 years to find and organize available free criminal court, inmate, and offender databases so that you may easily find the background information you need—for free.

That’s great if you only need to search a few counties, but it would take hours just to search all of the available Ohio county court and inmate databases. So to help you save time we offer the largest single criminal record resource available on the Internet—over 400 million records—which now includes over 70 national and international terrorist, wanted, and debarred persons databases. We do charge a fee for this, but we feel it’s nominal considering the breadth and scope of coverage– $6.95 for a state search and $14.95 to search the entire database.

In addition we have reorganized the databases for each state and now feature a short guide that contains instructions on how to do your own criminal background searches in each state.

Take our Florida Criminal Records page as an example. Statewide databases are now listed first under the Featured Public Records heading. County and local databases are listed in alphabetical order below those, under the standard Public Records heading. Free searches for city, county, and state databases are easily accessible. More importantly, we now provide information on how to do official criminal history checks through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

There’s no more guesswork about which databases to focus on or what you need to do an official state search. We tell you what is available through each method so you can quickly decide which fits your needs.

If you still have questions about locating records in a certain state or jurisdiction, feel free to send us a message and we’ll try to respond back quickly with an answer.

Popular and Useful Databases

Some of our users have asked us about the links found on our Popular Databases page and our Useful Databases page. Why do these categories exist when all the other links are organized geographically or by category?

We created the “Popular Databases” page (found under our Categories menu) as for databases that people find most helpful and we wanted to give them a home of their own for easy access. Examples include: the Active Duty Military Status finder; Area Codes by City; ATM Locators; Birth Records; County Finder; the Social Security Death Index; Ellis Island Immigration Records; and Worldwide Phone Directories.

We also created a page called “Useful Databases” in our United State Nationwide menu. This is used for useful nationwide database that don’t easily fit into categories. Rather than shoehorn them into not-so-obvious directory pages where they’d be hidden to the user, we wanted to highlight them by giving them a special page. Examples include: Better Business Bureau Reports; Famous Graves; Home Prices nationwide; Offbeat Roadside Attractions; and Employer Tax ID Numbers.

If you know of useful databases that we don’t have, drop us a line here: Contact us. We’ll give you credit for the submission in the database description.

Beware of Bait-and-Switch Background Check Sites

We are alarmed that some companies on the Internet are deliberately misleading people about background checks.

One user called us to complain about not finding criminal record results when she used our Premium Criminal Records database, which was surprising because it is the most complete criminal record database available online: over 400 million records, including over 70 debarred persons and terrorist. When we asked why she expected a record to turn up for her subject, she explained that before coming to our site, she ran a free preview through another online service that provides background reports. That site had a very slick interface that promised to provide all available criminal records from all states, and it gave her a list of matches for the person she searched, indicating that all the names on the list had criminal records in the database.

Instead of paying for those results, the customer came to Search Systems to take advantage of our lower search fee. She expected our results to be identical, but when no records were found, she assumed that our database was inferior to the one provided by the first company.

We knew something was wrong because 1) only the FBI’s database has close to “all records in all states” and it’s only available to law enforcement; and 2) most people DON’T have criminal records.

We decided to foot the bill and take the Challenge. We went to the first website the customer had used and we paid for their full search results for the same subject. When the results arrived, we discovered that there were NO criminal records for the subject. Instead, the service gave us “people finder” results, which are name and address matches. They fraudulently induced us with a misleading preview, then provided people-finder records after we paid to view the details.

The lesson here is that if an online service purports to sell you criminal record information, they should also provide you with a list of the sources for each state (the coverage). If you don’t see that coverage available to view before you buy… beware.

Another red flag is that most reputable criminal record database providers do not provide a “free preview” indicating the number of actual criminal records matching your subject. This is typically the procedure for people searches, so if you see this in practice, be careful. The site may be pulling a bait-and-switch.

How to Visit an Inmate

In the Criminal Records section of our directory, we link to quite a few inmate databases. One popular resource is the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmate locator where you can find the location of federal inmates nationwide. Also on the BOP site are stringent guidelines for inmate visitation at federal institutions. We took at look at those and for the purpose of this article compared them to the guidelines for inmate visitation at California state institutions.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) manages the California prison system. According to their guidelines, each inmate must mail a visitor questionnaire form to each visitor they approve on their list. Visitors must then fill out the form, including details on criminal records, arrests, or charges on their own record. The CDCR will run a background check to verify this information and make a determination if that person can be approved for visitation. The CDCR seems especially keen to determine if visitors are being honest.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has a similar procedure, though they seem mostly concerned about whether they can allow convicted felons to visit current inmates. It is a federal felony for anyone convicted of a felony to be on federal prison grounds without the permission of the warden.

Federal inmates get at least four hours of visitation rights per month, unless these rights have been revoked as a disciplinary measure. The California CDCR guide explains that some inmates are allowed up to 40 consecutive hours of family visitation in an “apartment-like setting” on the state prison grounds. Sounds like a weeklong conjugal visit to us. By contrast, the Federal BOP makes it explicitly clear that no conjugal visits are allowed.

We acknowledge that it can’t be easy to be in prison, and it may be emotionally difficult to see a loved one in prison. Knowing what the rules are before you visit is helpful. In this article, we explain those rules. Some may sound a bit silly or extreme. So if you get clearance for a contact visit at a typical state or federal facility, here’s what to expect:

Your vehicle will be subject to a visual inspection, trunk inspection, and possibly a go-round from a drug-sniffing K-9 unit.

You’ll need proper ID and you’ll need to be on the approved visitor list. Some state facilities may require an appointment due to overcrowding. Even so, you may be required to wait a few hours if there is a lockdown or head-count going on inside the prison. You will be subjected to a metal detector scan and personal search.

If you bring minor children, have their birth certificates with you. They will be subjected to the same security search.

Some facilities will only allow you to bring in one key ring with two keys on it. Apparently if you own more than two keys you may be flagged as an escape artist. Really.

What to wear? On the Federal site, there’s a whole list of clothing articles that are verboten. Most apply to women’s clothing – no leotards, spandex, mini-skirts, transparent clothing, sleeveless garments, open-back dresses, etc. Did we mention no spandex? That rule probably goes for the men too, regardless of the 80’s rock band you idolize.

California also says nay to wigs and hairpieces… unless medically necessary.

Of particular interest is the ban on clothing that resembles inmate or staff attire. It seems they don’t want visitors being mistaken as someone else. So if you’re thinking of donning an orange jumpsuit as a show of solidarity, you may want to think again. California says that blue denim is restricted too, as the state prisons may issue uniforms in denim. Another outfit you should avoid… muumuus… especially ones that resemble prisoner muumuus. We can only assume they are referring to female inmate attire here.

Oh, almost forgot: No shower shoes. That should be a general law for all of us. Leave your shower shoes at home.

Obviously, weapons, drugs, and other contraband are not allowed. Don’t bring gifts for an inmate, unless you make advance arrangements with the warden.

The California prisons provide vending machines to visitors, which offer food and beverages for sale. No outside food is permitted, so this would be your only option once you are inside. They also provide digital cameras for photo ops with your inmate (since you are not permitted to bring in cameras or phones). Inmates can then purchase copies of these photos. It seems no opportunity for monetizing has been overlooked by the corrections department.

Pets are not allowed, unless you have a service animal. Religious texts must be approved before they can be brought into the visiting room; however, most rooms are already stocked with Bibles, Korans, and Torahs you can use.

If you require use of a cane, wheelchair, or crutches, you will be asked to leave these items outside the visiting area and use a substitute device provided by the facility. One can imagine the reasons why this rule is in place, but perhaps it is best not to speculate here.

In general, the rules and guidelines for inmate visitation in state and federal prisons are quite similar. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation provides a more comprehensive online guidebook than the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

We also took a look at the inmate visitation guidelines for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Jail Facility. They are quite relaxed compared to the state and federal guidelines. LA County says that members of the general public may visit inmates at any county facility. Proper ID is required, and they will ask about your criminal background. The inmate information site for LA County does not specify whether contact visits are allowed for everyone. If their posted guidelines are for non-contact visits (through a glass window), it would explain the relaxed security requirements. To be on the safe side, we would still skip the muumuu.

How to Hide Your Home Address

We’re not talking about dyeing your hair, getting a fake passport and bus ticket to Mexico. We’re talking about concealing your personal information from public view. And we aren’t suggesting that you hide from creditors. This information is for people who have been attacked, threatened, or fear for their safety. After years of finding people for a living, we know which techniques work, and which do not. There are no guarantees here as a good investigator may still find you, but here’s some sound advice:

Home Address

First of all, move and start fresh. Move to a new home or apartment. If you can pay cash to stay in a spare room at the home of a friend or relative, you’ll be even more “off the grid” but only if you go for a non-obvious choice. Someone who knows your background may stop by or call your parents or your siblings. So don’t be at those places, and make sure those relatives have your back and won’t disclose your real location. Another advantage to renting a room from someone else is that the utility bills are not in your name. The reason you don’t want utilities in your name is that the utility companies and be tricked into giving up your address.

If you buy a new home, do it via another entity, such as a trust. Celebrities use this technique frequently as it hides their identity from view in public records. Otherwise, your deed will be viewable for free at the county clerk recorder’s office, and anyone can match your name and address there. Make sure that the trust doesn’t have your name in it. If your name is Willy Loman, the “Willy Loman Family Trust” isn’t going to help.

If you plan to rent from a proper landlord, that’s fine too. Just be sure to create a separate mailing address. In fact, whether you rent, buy, or couch-surf at a new place, create a separate mailing address at either a post office or private mailbox company. Inform all of your creditors to forward mail to the new mailbox address, so all of your bills and incoming mail will go there. Professional detectives, process servers, and skip tracers can still track your real address through a Post Office Box (POB) or Private Mail Box (PMB), because by law, those entities that rent the boxes must supply the physical address of the box holder when asked by a professional in the legal field. But there’s a way around that. When you rent the mailbox, list a different nearby address than your real one. Put down your brother’s office address or your parents’ home address. Make sure those dots will not connect directly to you.

If you have a POB or PMB, forward your mail to the box and don’t update the registration. Anyone who tries to get the forwarding information from your old address will find the Box address. Then if they try to find the registered address of your Box, all they’ll find is your old address. This effectively creates a frustrating “loop.”

Use that new mailbox address anytime you are required to fill out a form. Don’t give out your new physical address. Use the Box address if you apply for a new credit card, join a gym, update your professional license online (if you have one), or if you file a UCC form for a business loan. Information from these sources can be found online and through credit header reports (which eventually are resold as people finder data). You don’t want to spoil all of your work by subscribing to a newspaper and having your new street address then be resold to a people finder site. Newspaper delivery staff can be tricked into giving up your address, so if you love morning newspapers as we do, mosey down to the corner store.

Phone Numbers

If you set up a landline at your new place, make sure it is non-published, and have them mail the bill to your Box. This will stop 95% of the people from finding it. Detectives can still hire special phone hacker types to turn over your non-published number, but it will cost them. If you go for the mobile phone only approach, make sure your carrier makes that number non-published, and that they do not resell their customer databases. Again, use your PMB or POB as your address.

Online Records

Contact people-search companies and opt-out of their databases. Usually this requires an email to their opt-out department. Do this BEFORE you move and you should be able to keep them from showing your new address.

If you must participate in social media, be sure your profiles do not give out information such as your address, neighborhood, or city. Plant misdirects if you wish. Blog about your new (fictional) home in Buenos Aires.

Online records can also include traffic tickets, court records, criminal records, judgments, marriage & divorce records, property records, etc. You cannot scrub address data from these databases, so to be sure your new address does not get recorded on one of these documents, try not to be involved in any civil or criminal cases. Good advice to anyone, really.

And don’t list your home address or email address online. Period.