A stationary vehicle can be a gold mine of informational intelligence just by walking around it. An observant investigator can obtain a great deal of information about the owner or driver. From each angle, here are just a few of the pieces of information which can be discovered through analysis of what is observed.
Front of vehicle:
Front plate –
A vanity plate can reveal name or profession
An HOA plate discloses residence/subdivision
A novelty plate can reveal what business or company the driver frequents or prefers,
A dusty outline indicates the plate was recently removed
The presence of previous renewal stickers can show how long the owner has had the registration
A plate frame can disclose which dealership the owner purchased the vehicle from or where it is serviced.
Parking stickers for schools, employers, sports venues, or airports reveal activities
Valid smog/emissions sticker shows the date and location of inspection, can indicate an area the driver frequents
Back of rear view mirror stickers – can be guard-gate entry credentials
Windshield replaced? Check for non-non factory glass
GPS installed, or mounting residue – Vehicle GPS devices are a good source of discoverable information
Military base access tags – Vehicle access stickers are technically no longer required, many remain on vehicles
School carpool identifier tag (what time and grade does it indicate, lives outside jusrisdiction?)
Receipts on dash show where the subject shops, and purchased items
Parking receipts – location, date, and duration of parking. May also be a location to pick up surveillance
Valet stubs (time/date/location) – valet attendants may be able to provide info on other parties with the subject
VIN# – In any case, take down the VIN# from the cowl. Depending upon the type of case, there may not be permitted use to run a plate, but there are public databases where VIN number lookups can disclose some useable info. You can even get some basic information from Carfax.
Get numbers off any sticker no matter how insignificant – serial numbers on stickers, tags, passes or devices may be useful to connecting credit card accounts, addresses, or users name at a later date
Wrappers & bags from merchants – Restaurant bags, store packages and product wrappers can help pinpount habits or connect purchases
Store cards – many individuals leave store loyalty cards in view for convenience.
Dashboard / sun visors –
Are there pictures of family attached to the dash or gauge panel?
Are there directions to a location placed within view?
Parking acces cards – Gate cards are often left in the visor or dash panel.
You can sometimes view a registration, ID or insurance card with address in the sun visor pouch.
Passenger side –
Existence of damage, repairs – evidence of repaint or overspray can lead to a body repair facility and turn up insurance information, other parties to an accident, or financial account records
Cigarette ash residue around the window indicates a smoker
Kid handprints /dog nose prints on side windows reveal family makeup
Vanity stickers – Subjects may have window stickers relating to hobbies, travel locations, or social interests visible
Check the tires for condition and to see if all 4 match. A new car with one mismatched tire can lead to a conversation about the circumstances
Side scuffs / wheel rash – Light damage to wheels or fenders can sometimes be matched to a fixed object where they park
Rocker panel marks from entry shows if a vehicle occupant regularly wears boots, or drages an object into the vehicle
AAA sticker – Auto club info can be obtained to check travel history or roadside assistance calls
Get the plate number first, and if possible check that it matches the vehicle and driver
Plate decal nunber is important, in some states you can see if it belongs with that plate
Prior years and numbers – Many individuals leave prior years decals visible, which can show how long the vehicle may have been owned.
Plate frame lettering – compare the dealership name on the plate frame with any dealer names on emblems or stickers. If different it could indicate the vehicle was purchased as pre-owned. See below for a possible use of dealership info.
Rear window stickers – these are the same types of indications as described in side window stickers. Also helpful is the trendy group of stick figure character stickers which portray the family members, and pets.
Travel clubs, aircraft owners, hunter clubs, NRA, and even Apple iTunes stickers are common – these may not seem like a big deal but are excellent sources of personal preferences which can be used for social engineering, establishing rapport, or finding online forum activities and statements
Does the rear window have a defroster or not? It may indicate that the vehicle was purchased in a market with a different climate
Recently removed stickers leave a residue in the shape of the cutout, might be a lead
Are there aftermarket accessories which indicate financial status, activities, or vehicle use? Chrome rims, truck winch, tow hitch, wide angle mirrors, tinted windows, etc.
Debris or mud underneath the wheelwells can suggest use on alternate types of roads
Check to see if there is a key under the bumper. If you have the opportunity while you are at it, you might even see if there is already someone elses GPS tracking unit. Some types of cases increase the odds that more than one person it interested in your subject.
Package tray items might include receipts, toys, blankets, etc.
Drivers side –
On the drivers side, also look for cigarette ashes, handprints, and stickers as on the passenger side. Also check to see if there is a mark on the window for where it is rolled down to on a regular basis.
Check the seat placement to see if the subject is tall or short, and record it so that you can see if it stays the same on subsequent checks of the car
The types of items in car are endless. You will likely see business cards, open daily planners, directions, credit card bills, financial statements, phone number lists, even checkbooks out in plain sight. In one case we were able to get the phone number of an associate because the subject left his cell phone on the seat and it had a “Missed Call” message on the screen from a named person we knew was an out of town colleague.
Does it appear other passengers use vehicle or not? If the passenger seat is covered with junk, the subject is probably driving by themself in that vehicle. Back seat positions can have the same indications.
Notes and business cards are often left on the console in easy reach and view of the driver, but also to outside observers
Phone numbers can be anywhere, even written on napkins. The numbers you see in a car are often those associated with recent activity, not old ones stores in a phone.
Check to see if Bluetooth is active in the vehicle. You can look on your own Bluetooth device to see if there is one showing up. You will not be able to connect but can see what type of device it is and what security it has. We know of a case where a private party was able to view the Bluetooth code on a radio when the vehicle was running and synced his device to the car without the clients knowledge.
If there is another type of handsfree device, check the security and details on it as well.
Dry cleaner packaging can be strewn on the floor. See the “Vendor tips” section below for ideas.
Aftermarket items such as a CB radio can be a source to legally monitor communications.
Is there a handicap pass or sticker?
If you can check the fuel gauge level or even odometer (on older vehicles) you can sometimes get an idea of how far the subject drives to work or home.
Droppings from trees or birds are indications of outside or garage parking.
“Next oil change sticker” gives the name of the facility where the subject brings the car for service. This may be a source of information through legal pre-texting or subpoena.
Why is something as minor as a mismatched tire important? A some later date you may wish to sit down with the subject for an interview, or an attorney may conduct a deposition. Asking about several random known events can keep the subject off balance and result in them being wary of being untruthful. “If they know about stuff as minor as my tire repair, they must know about _______ so I’d better not lie….”
Anytime you are casually walking through a parking lot, notice what you can learn about the vehicles as you walk by. You will be astonished at the volume of personal information and identifying items left in plain view of a car.
Vendor tips – Any contacts found are sources of legal pretexting, location, interviews, e-discovery, financial records. For example, if you know the name of the dealership where the car was purchased, you may be able to get a significant amount of information from that business. The store would have a copy of the drivers license, insurance information, a full credit application, possibly pay stubs, copy of a personal check, signatures, and information on the last vehicle traded in. If there was a co-signer on the car loan that person may come in handy. There are several methods of getting the information from the dealer, but consider how much depth if information exists there.
Even a dry cleaner has information such as cell phone number, credit card numbers, and possibly email address. These can be matched with known information to discover deception or new accounts, and even unknown associates. What you can do with all of this information is limited only by your analysis skills and the type of case. A variety of intelligence such as this can be used for interview prep, witness examination, locating other parties, financial discovery, asset recovery, and much more.
Putting this information together with other observations, private database records, electronic data, and retrieved documents can create a robust profile on any subject and is the true skill of an expert investigator.
Good luck with your cases.