In May 2007 I participated in a two-city three person panel continuing education event that was all about using the Internet for research.  “Find it Free and Fast…” a seminar sponsored by National Business Institute was an all-day event with a focus on legal research using Internet resources.

I presented the sections on company research and public records.  I became a reluctant “expert.”   Reluctant, because that area of accessible information is a tease.  Find a phone number, get an address and maybe we can just keep going.  The information is often free or very cheap.  The path you follow is twisty and sloping until suddenly stops dead at a high cliff or an impenetrable wall.

I’m referring to public records information that is available on-line.  This article about the Money Trail and The Transparency Train discusses how the Internet has opened up the amount of public records on-line in Rhode Island.  Some public records have become easier to find as agencies take full advantage of the Internet’s power to provide access.  Other records have become that needle in the haystack that makes you tear your hair out because you know you are just a click away.  The reason for that frustrating cookie crumb trail is that other agencies have tightened regulations regarding the amount and type of data they will make available on-line.

A while back I told you to search yourself, this goes for public records research too.  Identity theft is sometimes aided by less than careful oversight of the information made available on-line.  Sometimes, scary though it is, SSN’s and other private data just might not get redacted despite best efforts and there you are…exposed.

Another caution about public records research is that all is never all and cheap isn’t always affordable.  A thorough search of pubic records requires an investment, if not in dollars for a full-service aggregated report then you will invest significant time to do a thorough investigation.

The power of public records should never be underestimated in your daily business.  Is Mr. Smith a good investment partner?  Check property records and other assets thorough public records.  Is Ms. Tess really Ms. Tess or is she Mrs. Avery?  Public records allow you to know who you are dealing with from criminal records to assets to other seemingly personal information.  Remember that every transaction you perform with the government is a part of the “public” record.