As an open source of information, the Internet has become a significant tool used by investigators around the world. It is used by everyone, from law enforcement to journalists, insurance companies and large businesses. Presently, more people share their personal information online than ever before and conducting an online investigation can decide how a certain case develops. An effective online web searching can help you find important information to support your investigation. If we take into account social media, domain names, and more traditional sources of information such as newspapers and various archives, online search engines became an important part of legal and criminal investigations.
Many people often find web searching disappointing because it produces poor results. However, there are certainly a number or off ways how to use the Internet as an effective investigative tool. If you employ the right strategies to extract information you will get improved results. There are many tools to use for web searching, however you have to make sure that you are using the right one. It is important to look for web searching tools that will provide you with the correct information easily and quickly.
Searching by Terms and Keywords
Some online search engines such as Google do not recognize what websites are about. However, they do recognize the words and terms that do appear on websites. Therefore, every word or a term you add to your search will eliminate results that do not include your chosen words. Some words that you search for may appear on every webpage and other words might or might not be on the targeted page. The best thing to do is to try avoid using subjective keywords as those might eliminate useful pages from the results. Majority of search engines have a variety of hidden tools and features that can help you focus your search and improve the results of your investigation.
If you do not have determined keywords, you can still build in other possible keywords without impact the results of the search. For example, if you are investigating a case on the heroin use in Germany, your search might not include the word ‘Germany’, since it may result in searching different cities. You can build these into your search as optional keywords by separating them with the word OR in capital letters.
Search by domain
If you want to focus your search on a particular website you can do it by using the search syntax ‘site:’ followed by the domain name. For example, if you want to restrict your search to results from Facebook, you can use this method to focus on the website of a particular company. Search engines in this case, such as Google, will then return results only from Facebook. Search by domain can be focused also on municipal and academic sources too. This is mostly useful when searching countries that use unique domain types for university and government websites.
However, many investigators and investigative journalists have been tricked by malicious websites since it is easy for anyone to buy an unclaimed domain such as .com, .net or .org. Sometimes even a website that appears to have an authentic domain or looks well produced may still be just a prank, a false company or a political hoax. The quality of a certain website, however, can be checked in several ways. If you are suspicious about a certain page you can simply google it and read what other people are saying about the website.
Also, one of the essential steps in controlling websites is searching by the term ‘whois’, which will show the registration details given by the website owner the domain name was purchased by. For example, some investigations and searches showed that apparently there are two websites representing the World Trade Organization – wto.org, which is a genuine website and gatt.org, which is a hoax. A simple look at the website hosted at gatt.org should show most investigators that there is something wrong with the domain. Therefore, using the term ‘whois’ will eliminate your doubts about the domain name registration information. In this particular case, wto.org is registered to the International Computing Centre of the United Nations, while gatt.org is registered to the domain owner Andy Bichlbaum, a member of a group of pranksters called The Yes Men.
The term ‘whois’ is not a definitive tool for website verification since people often lie on a domain registration form and use an anonymizing services like domains by proxy. Nevertheless, combining a ‘whois’ search with IP address tools and other domain name can serve you as a valuable tool in determining the authenticity of websites.
Searching for file types
While conducting an investigation you will often come across certain types of file formats. For example, some reports that were produced earlier may appear in the PDF format, which data, figures and statistics may appear in Excel spreadsheets. In this case, you can specify a format in your search by using the term ‘filetype:’ and then type the desired data file extension such as xls for spreadsheets or docx for Word documents and similar.
Finding people online
Find groups of people online compared to finding a single individual can be easy. Therefore, if you are conducting an investigation you should start by compiling a file or a dossier on an individual you are trying to find and locate. This should include the following:
- An individual’s name, while keeping in different variations of his or her name. For example, if you are searching for a person named Michael, you should try searching by different variations of the name such as ‘’Mike’’ or ‘’Mikey’’.
- The spelling of foreign names in Roman letters such as the name ‘’Yusuf’’, which is also spelled as ‘’Yusef’’, ‘’Yousef’’ or ‘’Jusuf’’.
- Checking if a person’s name changed after he or she got married.
- The town an individual lives in or was born in.
- An individual’s job and company.
- An individual’s middle name or initial
- Names of an individual’s family members and friends
- A person’s phone number, which can be searched in Facebook or may appear in Google searches
- A person’s usernames, especially those appearing on social networks.
- A person’s e-mail address. E-mails can often be found on Facebook which reveals linked accounts.
- A person’s photograph, which will help you finding the right person, especially in the cases where names are common.