What is OSINT?

I am a private investigator who specializes in social media and open source investigations.  A few weeks ago, I blogged about the uses of a social media investigation.  Open source investigations are a little less well-known among readers, so it is the topic of this week’s blog.

If you’ve ever seen the terms OSINT or SOCMINT, they stand for Open Source Intelligence and Social Media Intelligence, respectively.  So what IS open source intelligence?  It is intelligence collected from publicly available sources.  That’s it.  So let’s talk about those publicly available sources.

As a private investigator, one of the most valuable tools in our tool belt is surprisingly, public records.  It seems crazy, I know, and almost a waste to hire a private investigator to dig through records that are just as available to YOU, the client.  But there are several reasons why you might choose to hire a private investigator to access public records instead of attempting it on your own.

To keep it simple, private investigators know WHAT to search, HOW to search, WHERE to search, and how to get the job done in the most efficient manner.  We know what is available TO search.  The average person doesn’t realize the breadth of public documents out there and the valuable information that can be gleaned from them.  We know how to get our hands on these public documents.  We know if they are located at the local courthouse, online, at the state repository, or a local health department.  Maybe the piece of information we need is at the public library or the genealogical society.  Private investigators also know how to get our hands on these documents, whether there is a fee involved, if a face-to-face visit is necessary, or a phone call might do.  Sometimes it may be prudent to write a letter, send an email, or find a verified court researcher to access a hard-to-find record on-site that is states away.

So CAN you access the public documents you need on your own?  Of course.  Especially if you only need to access a few specific records, absolutely do it on your own.  But if your need is less of a quest for a few specific records and more of a comprehensive investigation that utilizes public records as only part of the investigation, find a private investigator.  It will save you time, money, and lots of headache to find someone who has walked through the steps before and really has a handle on accessing public records.

So what public records are we talking about that private investigators often use in their investigations?  Here is a list that is, by no means, comprehensive:

  • vital records
  • marriage records
  • divorce records
  • probate records
  • court records
  • criminal records
  • property records
  • bankruptcy records
  • church records
  • voter registration

Why access public records in investigations?  Because there is a wealth of information in them.  Just through viewing public records, I can often uncover past and current bankruptcies, find personal property listings and valuations, determine if an individual has been married and/or divorced previously, discover past criminal history, find out if they have been involved in any civil proceedings, find their current location, and uncover many of their personal details such as full legal name, address, birth date, children, assets, etc.  There is often lead information that can take an investigation into a more specific direction, depending on what details are uncovered.  So lessons learned, open sources should never ever be glazed over or forgotten altogether in an investigation.  Also, if you want to attempt your own public record search, go for it.  If you don’t find what you need or become overwhelmed, call a private investigator who conducts open source investigations.  If it’s there, they should be able to find it.