Preliminary Investigation: Using the internet to investigate your enemy

“You’ve never read it?” Gabriel asked.
“No, never.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“Because you were once the most famous investigative reporter in Russia.”
“Investigative reporters are natural snoops.”
“Like spies?”
“Yes, like spies.”
“I don’t read other people’s mail. It’s unseemly.”
– Daniel Silva, The Defector

Toward the end of my tenure working for lawyers, I decided to become a private investigator. One P.I. I knew warned me it wasn’t glamorous. “It’s mostly searching on the computer.” That was fine with me. I’d been living in glamor for all of my working life. I was not looking to run up my glamor score.

Although I did not become a P.I., in certain ways I did. I’d learned how to search records. I’d learned how to snoop. I used what I’d learned to develop my case against the Skush-O’Briens.

Previously I’ve written about searching various web sites for information. Now you should research, i.e., dig into the person and people you will be suing. So here the first lesson in how to snoop on-line:

Google.  Google the name of your enemy–whether individual(s) or company–+ “lawsuits.” If you’re not lucky, you’ll get too many hits on google to make this a productive search. But if you do find your enemy linked to a lawsuit, print out the info.

Hey, though, let’s not be lazy with google. I’ve already characterized it as the largest M.O.P. (mess of papers) in the universe. You never know what you’re going to find, or whether it’s accurate information. I’ve mentioned a friend who kept checking into Wikipedia for her own entry, because it had essential facts wrong. She repeatedly corrected the mistakes but whenever she checked back she found that someone had restored the wrong information.

Start with google, though (which will immediately give you a link to Wikipedia, if the person you’re searching is important enough to have an entry). Sometimes you’ll find interesting things. But you have to exhibit a huge amount of patience to scroll down through every mention of your opponent, and click on links that seem intriguing. And the juiciest links always seem to be toward the end of the long google list.

I had patience a few months ago, when I googled my defendants (not for the first time–you have to keep up with this every couple of months). Their names popped up in connection with the Department of State of New York. Because they had failed to file annual tax statements for the co-op, New York State had dissolved the Little Crooked House Tenants Corp.

Not good. Bad, in fact. Bad for the defendants who’d like to represent themselves as responsible corporate executives. The print-out of the Department of State notification became an important exhibit at the defendants’ depositions.

Next: Fine-tuning your snoop by using the U.S. court systems

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