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Information Context is Crucial to Investigation Value

Editor's note: This article was written by an industry professional and guest contributor. The views and opinions in this article are of the author and do not reflect the views of PInow. If you are interested in becoming a guest contributor, send an email to [email protected].

Kelly Cory is a licensed private investigator who specializes in litigation support.  She has been sought out for her expertise in background investigations, interviewed for papers and books on the topic of database research and has provided consultation to national database companies regarding the importance of information context. You can visit her site at

Investigation Information with contextA successful attorney wouldn’t go to trial without corroborating evidence to defend their party in the matter, and wouldn’t build a case on just hearsay.  It is equally critical to avoid utilizing investigative research that doesn’t include appropriate context information.

Most anything which happens in life has meanings which differ depending on the context in which it occurs.  Likewise, context is vital to any case.  Investigative results must be qualified.

Background investigations cannot be conducted by simply running a name through a database, searching court records and then putting the findings into a report.  There are many different factors which must be considered and addressed to create a background investigation of value.  That value is created in the context of the research.

Name Context

Many people have name variations or a.k.a.s which they use.  Examples of this include women who have both a maiden name and a married name, and people of nationalities that traditionally to use both the mother’s and father’s last names (ex: Jose Herberto Lopez Gonzales; with Lopez Gonzales being the last names).  Therefore, an investigation should include all of the name variations a person uses in order for the research to be considered complete and accurate.  It is the job of the investigator to identify any name variations a subject has used.  Should not all name variations be researched it must be spelled out in the report that the results only include the name variations that were actually searched.  The report should include a statement such as “the research was conducted using the name Rebecca Johnson however the name Becky Johnson was not searched.” That gives the attorney context for the results identified.

Location Context

 A proper investigation should begin by developing an address history for the person being investigated.  This provides a list of the various jurisdictions in which a person has resided and thus sets the stage for where records should be searched.  The locations that were searched should be notated in the investigative report, as this is imperative to establish the meaning of the results.

Many investigative companies or online pay-per-search indexes will claim that they search records filed for a person in a specific state or nationwide.  They may, for example, entreat you to “search criminal records in California.” Those search results would likely include a simple “no records found” or “one record found” statement.  Such a search would not actually cover all of California, but rather a smattering of localities within the state.  Therefore, it would be unknown if the specific counties, districts, and courts that were actually searched included the jurisdictions relevant to the actual investigation.

Time/Scope Context

Just as location context is crucial, the time frame that is searched, or scope of the research, is also vital to any investigation.  To claim that a certain number of records were found means nothing unless the date ranges searched are listed.  Were no records found for the subject since the year in which he/she turned 18 years old, or, were no records found to have been filed in the past ten years for that person?  Also, how current are the results?  It would be important to know if the results were current as of this year or as of this month.  That’s information that you and your client must know.  

As with background investigations, asset searches also require the context of scope to be accurate and complete. The investigator should notate if both current and historic records were searched.  Historic property records, for example, would likely provide sale transactions and refinance information, which can be just as valuable as currently owned property assets. It is therefore important to understand if both current and historic records are included in the investigative report. 

Context information can make or break a case.  As a client, it is not too much to expect for an investigative report to outline the specific contexts which create the value in the information developed.  Information without applicable context is just entertainment.  As an investigator, it is your responsibility to provide the details which add the value to your product.  Providing research parameters and context in your investigative report is not only simple due diligence but also your responsibility to the client.  Ignoring context can not only hinder an investigation but can leave both the investigator and client liable for missed information.

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This article was written by an industry guest contributor. If you are interested in submitting a guest post or have an article suggestion, send an email to [email protected].



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