Going off the grid is harder now than ever, so what happens when someone you know is nowhere to be found? One of the most devastating things that can happen to anyone is the disappearance of a loved one. Neither the pain nor the questions fade whether it is a recent disappearance or an occurrence that happened long ago. Sometimes, one is searching for a missing person who is simply an old acquaintance that can no longer be found. In any case, it can be possible to seek a missing person without paying the fees associated with private investigators.
13 Ways to Find a Missing Person for Free
Before you rush to the police or post flyers on every street corner, consider why this person is missing. If you believe they have been abducted or are in immediate danger, go to the police as soon as possible. However, if you are simply searching for someone you have not heard from in a while, there are plenty of resources to help locate them.
Maybe you were adopted as a child and want to look for your biological parents, but each time you search, they are nowhere to be found. Or, maybe your child’s father hasn’t been paying child support, and you’re unsure of his whereabouts.
Keep in mind, the following methods of locating a missing person will not apply to every case. How you handle finding a missing person will depend on the situation, how long they’ve been missing, and if you believe they are in danger.
File a Missing Person’s Report
If someone is missing and potentially in danger, the first step is always to file a missing person’s report. In instances of a missing child or other emergencies, call 911. A search will take place that will hopefully uncover the missing person. However, if there is no reason to suspect foul play and the missing person is an adult, you may need to visit a police station in the jurisdiction where the person last lived. The person will then be entered into a database that is accessible by other police departments throughout the country.
After filing a police report, but sure to record the case number and officer’s name so you can reach out as needed to get updates on the case.
Contact Local Hospitals, Jails, and Coroners
Reaching out to hospitals, jails, and coroners in the missing person’s jurisdiction is another step you should take if someone has disappeared recently. This way, you can rule out accidents, death, and incarceration before you continue your search. If you believe someone has been incarcerated, simply get in touch with the police station closest to the missing person’s last known address. Here is a more in-depth look at how to find someone in jail.
It is also advisable to reach out to multiple hospitals during your search. When you call, be sure to give a description of the person’s appearance; if they were in an accident and admitted to the hospital with no ID, the facility may not know their identity yet, so sharing what they look like is helpful. And lastly, get in touch with the local coroner to ensure the person you are looking for is not deceased.
Do an Online Search
Google is the answer to everything. So before you take the time to explore the more tedious ways to find a missing person, try a simple Google search with the information you already have. Hopefully you have their name, but any piece of information may be able to uncover details about the person’s whereabouts.
In most cases, you will end up on a site like White Pages or MyLife.com, where the directory will provide the most-recently collected address, phone number, and age available for the person. A lot of times, however, the information is not up-to-date.
Look into Online Directories
Speaking of online directories, there are several resources you can use that collect people’s information. If available on the web, these sites provide first and last names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. Many online directories will require you to pay to search through their database, but here are a few free ones:
Utilize Social Media
Facebook has become a popular tool for locating missing people. Runaways may set up Facebook pages or stay active on their previous ones, which can put loved ones in contact with them. However, many more times, it is more effective to circulate a picture with as many details as possible. Include identifying marks, the clothing they were last known to wear, and last-known location. Even the smallest bit of information can lead to finding the person. Last, put out a call to action to spread the photograph around the web. Photos can reach hundreds of thousands of people all over the country within a matter of hours.
Another trick to learning more about a missing person is to check the last time they were active on Instagram. If they are someone who is regularly on social media, this can be an important indication of when they went missing. To check this information, go to your direct message inbox and click on the last conversation you had with this person. Under their Instagram handle, you will be able to see the last time they were active on the app.
Check their Phone’s Location
Fortunately for anyone searching for another person, location-sharing has been incredibly popular over the past few years. If the missing person is a close friend or family member, it is very likely that someone in their life will have access to their phone’s location. iPhone users have a Family Sharing option that can be accessed via iCloud. If the person has it enabled on their phone, you will be able to track them. Another common method of location-sharing is the Find My Friends app, available on both Android and iOS devices. If the missing person has shared their location with you, you will be able to view where their phone is at – which is likely where they are located.
A last-ditch effort you can try is Snapchat. There is a locator feature on the app, but it is not as accurate as Family Sharing or Find My Friends. The perk of this locator is that many people have their location shared with all of their followers (safe, right?), not just a select few. However, it only updates every hour or so and does not give you an exact location, but a general area that the person is in.
If you do not personally have someone’s location on your phone, it may be appropriate to ask one of their friends or family members, depending on the situation. If the case involves a person in danger, the police may go to a cell phone company to track the location of the individual.
Post Photos of the Missing Person in Local Places
Getting the attention of passersby is more difficult than it used to be; how often are people looking up from their cell phones when they’re walking from one place to the next? Nevertheless, if you are concerned the missing person is in danger, it is worth it to post photographs of them in local places like coffee shops, churches, hospitals, and parks. If it is a business or organization that you plan to post flyers at, be sure to get permission first or they may be taken down.
Look into a Missing Persons Database
The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, is used by law enforcement officials throughout the country to help find missing people and identify the remains of those who have been found. Anyone can view the database and those who register with NamUs can add their own information. NamUs is run by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Take Out a Free Ad
Sites like Craigslist offer free ads that serve a variety of purposes. One of these is to locate missing people. Craft an ad with a picture and place it in sites like these in every area where the person may be. Include a link to a website or social media page and urge people to share the information in person and online. Remember to keep track of where the ads were placed so they can be removed when the person is found.
Go to Local News Outlets
This one only applies to those concerned about the safety and well-being of the person they are looking for. If you are trying to track down your child’s father that owes you child support, News Channel 21 may not be the best place to turn. However, if you have filed a police report and the person is still missing, it is a good idea to cooperate with the media to tell your story and share photos and information about the individual. Typically the outlet will give viewers a tip line or direct phone number to reach out to if they have additional information regarding the search.
Department of Motor Vehicles
If the missing person has their driver’s license, you may be able to get ahold of some information from the DMV. Some DMV’s will release addresses and dates of birth, but it is all dependent on the state’s laws. Privacy laws are stricter in some states, which would not allow you to obtain any information from them.
Check out Public & State Records
If you are trying to find a missing person that has been away for an extended period of time, look into public and state records. While these records may not point you to the exact location of the missing person, they may be able to uncover details about the individual that you were struggling to find before.
Public and state records are kept for things like bankruptcy, birth, death, divorce, marriage, and crime. You can also look into public records about professional licenses, like cosmetology, nursing, counseling, therapy, law, and medicine. If you find that the missing person recently got their license in counseling in the state of Indiana, you may be able to narrow down your search and find their place of work.
Request Federal Records
If you have exhausted all of your options and have still not found the missing individual, you can go to the United States Department of Justice website to request federal records. The Freedom of Information Act makes it legal for you to request and view military records, IRS filings, pilot licenses, and some post office records. However, once you request any of the above information from a federal agency, you may not receive a response for nearly six months.
Other Ways to Find a Missing Person
Lastly, if you are still unable to find the missing person with these free resources, consider hiring a private investigator. While it may be expensive, finding the missing person can be worth the cost. Private investigators will have connections at police departments and hospitals, as well as expertise in uncovering details that you may not have thought about before.
So, did you file a police report for a missing person yet? If so, check out this guide on how to obtain police reports.