50+ Free (or Cheap) Tools for Investigators

Useful resources and must-have gadgets to help you conduct better investigations

Posted by Dawn Lomer in on November 1st, 2016

Today’s investigators have at their fingertips a plethora of useful tools and resources, from software and smartphone apps to digital research resources, state-of-the-art communications technology and nifty spy gadgets. But many of these are costly and require company budget approval or a large personal bank account.

Fortunately, there are thousands of free and cheap resources for investigators that can help you conduct your investigations more efficiently and effectively. Here’s a collection of useful investigation tools and resources that are either free or close to it.

 

 

To get the most out of these tools, start by downloading our free Investigation Plan Template.

Tools for Planning the Investigation

Calendar apps can be a lifesaver for time-crunched investigators.
A well conducted investigation starts as a well planned investigation. An investigation plan can help you get the ball rolling in the right direction.

Calendar apps can be a lifesaver for time-crunched investigators. Some are free, some paid. Google Calendar, part of G Suite, can be had for as little as $5 per month.

Online phone and video chat applications make it possible to interview witnesses remotely, no matter where they are. Skype Video Chat is free and popular enough that it’s likely your witness will already have it.

Learn how to plan your investigation by watching this free webinar on Creating an Effective Investigation Strategy.

Investigation Resources for Conducting Research

You will likely need to perform some sort of digital forensics as part of your investigation research.
Online research is a must for any investigator and there are thousands of ways to use open source intelligence (OSINT) tools to get the information you need.

If you’re conducting surveillance, it’s always nice to have a gadget or two to help. These reverse view sunglasses allow you to follow someone without walking behind them. They’ll never know they are being followed.

Taking notes while you’re on a surveillance mission can be tricky. You don’t want to take your eyes off your subject, but you need to record what’s happening. That’s where voice recognition software such as e-Speaking and VoiceFinger comes in, translating your verbal notes into text. If you don’t mind spending a bit of money for a truly mobile voice recognition app, for about $15 per month you can get Dragon Anywhere, a professional, web-based product that you can access from your Android or IOS mobile device and share files using cloud-sharing services.

And when you find what you are looking for online, you’ll need to capture it before it’s deleted or changed. You can do this by downloading a free desktop screen recorder, such as Camstudio.

An alternate free tool is Screencast-o-Matic, which you don’t have to download. You can upgrade to the pro version for $15 per year.

You will likely need to perform some sort of digital forensics as part of your investigation research. While there are dozens of tools to choose from, both paid and free, you can find nine free digital forensics tools for investigators in one place at 4Discovery.

MetaExtractor can be particularly useful for revealing metadata, including a document’s history, usage, authors and contributors. USB Historian provides a list of all USB drives that were plugged into a computer. These two as well as seven other useful forensics tools can be downloaded from the 4Discovery website.

 

Looking for help with research using Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)? Download the OSINT Links for Investigators Cheat Sheet.


Help with Managing Investigations

Best practices dictate that investigators use a system for tracking physical evidence.
The research phase doesn’t stop while your investigation is under way. In fact, it’s important to keep digging throughout the process. Setting up Google Alerts on the subject’s name and any nicknames or aliases they use can help you monitor what your investigation subjects are up to.

You may need to share large documents and files with others in your network. When files are too large to email, you can upload them to Dropbox or Google Drive.

Investigators may also need to collaborate on documents with others working on a case. In the absence of a good case management software solutions, Google Docs and Google Sheets can be used to collaborate with colleagues, store and share files and track activities.

Best practices dictate that investigators use a system for tracking physical evidence. This free chain of custody template makes this task easy. And you can use this cheap label maker to label each piece of evidence before you put in into storage.

Need some help reasoning out your theories during your investigation? This Open Source Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH) will help you think objectively and logically about all your collected information and hypotheses.

Google Maps provides up-to-date maps and detailed information on more than 100 million places. Investigators can use the street view to get a feel for an area before conducting surveillance or visiting an investigation subject.

If you have an iPhone TextGrabber can make your job easier by providing the ability to scan, translate and save text or QR codes. Once scanned, you can edit, hear the text spoken aloud, translate it into more than 100 languages, send it by SMS or e-mail, or share it through social media.

If you’re using folders of spreadsheets or some other digital filing system to track your investigations, you’ll want to secure your sensitive files with encryption. Two free options are Veracrypt and AxCrypt.

Investigation Interview Tools

Although it’s a controversial topic, many investigators record their investigation interviews to aid in recall and to provide a record of what was said.
Investigators tell us consistently that the investigation interview is one of the most difficult parts of an investigation. Brush up on your interviewing skills with a couple of effective, yet inexpensive, books by investigation interview expert Don Rabon: Interviewing and Interrogation and Persuasive Interviewing.

Another great way to update your investigation interviewing skills is through watching webinars. Here are three free webinars you can watch at your leisure: The Peace Model, Elicitation Techniques and Detecting Deception.

Although it’s a controversial topic, many investigators record their investigation interviews to aid in recall and to provide a record of what was said. For this purpose an inexpensive digital recorder is invaluable, as is this memory stick/voice recorder.

Many investigators prefer to have a full videotape their investigation interviews, which you can do using your phone with this cheap and handy tripod.

 

Looking for tips on investigation interview questions? Download this cheat sheet on Top 20 Questions to Ask in an Investigation Interview.

 

Resources for Writing Investigation Reports

Paper documents are so passé. Today’s investigators store documents and evidence digitally.
A well written investigation report showcases a well conducted investigation. Use this free investigation report template to ensure you’ve covered all the bases, and make sure it’s error-free with this free grammar checker.

Get even more writing instruction with free courses from Coursera, such as Writing for Business and Grammar and Punctuation.

If you have just an hour to spare, check out these webinars: Investigation Report Writing: A Nuts and Bolts Approach, Writing Effective Investigation Reports and How to Write Stellar Investigation Reports.

Paper documents are so passé. Today’s investigators store documents and evidence digitally. That’s where Cam Scanner comes in handy. Use your iPhone or Android device to scan documents and save them into your case files. The basic app is free and you can upgrade to premium for $4.99 per month. The free Evernote Scannable for iPhone and iPad is another scanning up with great functionality, including the ability to edit and share documents quickly and easily and save business cards into your phone’s contacts.

Ongoing Investigator Education 

You can subscribe to the i-Sight newsletter here to be notified when new resources are added.
Keep learning by watching almost 100 free webinars on various aspects of investigations (some offering continuing education credit).

Scroll through the catalogue of free courses offered by Coursera to find topics that can help you improve your investigation skills and knowledge.

To stay on top of issues and read interesting news, opinion and how-to articles on investigations, check out Pursuit Magazine and the Diligentia Group blog. Sign up for the PI Now newsletter.

And, of course, keep reading i-Sight’s online article archive and keep an eye out for new articles as they are added. You can subscribe to the i-Sight newsletter here to be notified when new resources are added.

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.