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.
A well-conducted investigation starts as a well-planned investigation. An carefully laid out investigation plan can help you and your investigation stay on track.
Calendar and personal organization apps are essential for a time-crunched investigator. Some are free, some paid, and there are so many to choose from that there’s bound to be an app that offers everything you need.
Because Google Calendar is linked to your Gmail account, you can seamlessly access your calendar anywhere and from any device. For extra convenience, events are automatically added from your Gmail to your Calendar.
To get the most out of these investigation tools, download our free Investigation Plan Template and start scheduling your interviews and tasks.
A personal calendar can keep your investigation tasks and activities organized. The basic version of this one is free, or you can upgrade to add more calendars and functionality for as little as $8 per month. A quick glance shows you if you’ve got anything pressing today and you can send a link to others so that they can see your availability and book time with you.
Conducting the right preliminary research sets up your investigation for success. Start off on the right foot with free (or cheap) investigation tools that help you conduct effective research.
Open source intelligence (OSINT)
Online research is a must for any investigator in the 21st century. Open source intelligence (OSINT) provides you with information from publicly available sources. There are thousands of ways to use OSINT tools to get the information you need.
3. OSINT Tools
We’ve put together a list of more than 101 OSINT tools for investigators. There are tools for any type of search you want to conduct, whether that’s a person, social media and dating sites, images and video, online communities and blogs, classified listings, background checks, business sites, the deep web or even geolocation.
Keep these OSINT tools on hand with our OSINT Links for Investigators Cheat Sheet.
Capture online data
Using the Web for conducting research is the new norm, but there’s a risk associated with collecting data and information this way. When you do find what you’re looking for online, you’ll need to capture it before it’s been modified, hidden, or erased. Luckily, there are free investigation tools for this.
Record all screen and audio activity that takes place on your computer and easily turn them into AVI video files that can be saved and shared. Camstudio is free for personal and professional use.
Alternatively, Screencast-o-Matic captures your screen’s activity and, if you use your webcam, you can customize your video with narration. There are both free and pro options with varying features.
Capture your screen and/or webcam activity using your choice of layout. Then, edit your recording with Veed’s online video editor. You can even add layers, subtitles and images. Veed is free to use.
Digital forensics tools
You will likely need to perform some sort of digital forensics as part of your investigation research. There are dozens of tools to choose from, both paid and free, and one particularly helpful one-stop shop for digital forensics tools for investigators.
On 4Discovery, the tools are “as-is” and free for both personal and professional use. 4Discovery offers different options to extract metadata (document history, usage, authors and contributors), look at USB history and much more.
When you’re conducting surveillance, there’s a lot to consider. You’re watching the subject, taking notes and trying not to be seen. Applications and software are becoming increasingly helpful, and with a couple of gadgets to take the load off, surveillance becomes a much less daunting task.
TriEye sells sunglasses that let you follow someone without walking behind them. They’ll never know they are being followed. Originally designed for athletes to safely exercise on the road, the integrated mirror helps you keep an eye on someone behind you without turning your head.
Tap the button, start talking, and the app handles the rest. Voice to text transcribes your notes and comments for later use. Keep your eyes on the subject while Nuance Winscribe Dictation takes notes for you.
Helps you to record what’s happening without taking your eyes off the subject. TopTenReviews awarded the VoiceFinger app the fifth spot in their Best Voice Recognition Software of 2017.
11. 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.
GPS and mapping apps
You had the perfect opportunity to survey or confront a subject but you missed it because you were unfamiliar with the area and got lost. Never miss the exit again with apps that offer things like turn-by-turn voice guidance and traffic details.
12. Google Maps
Access up-to-date maps and detailed location information. Use the street view to get a feel for an area before conducting surveillance so that you are familiar with the location.
Take Google Maps to the next level with location search, traffic details, and map navigation. Turn by turn voice guidance and automatic rerouting gets you there.
Layar is an augmented reality application that lets you add real time details and notes to wherever you go. Augmented reality is a newer, more advanced tool for investigators (actually, for everyone) and it can be a little tricky, but it has so much potential.
Research and information collection doesn’t stop once the preliminary stages are complete. In fact, it’s important to keep digging throughout the entire investigation process in case something new and significant pops up.
Reminder and monitoring tools
Calendar apps are great, but monitoring tools for investigators take it to the next level. Set up reminders and the app sends you real-time updates and notifications on whatever topic or keyword you requested.
15. Google Alerts
Set up an alert on the subject’s name, nickname and alias to monitor what they’re up to and receive notifications when new results appear.
Pick a couple of keywords (names) to keep an eye on and Mention monitors the web and social networks. The app then sends alerts daily or weekly.
File sharing and collaboration
Investigators may need to share large documents to collaborate with others working on a case, and this can be a disaster without version control. In the absence of a good case management software solution, there are free tools for investigators to upload and send documents, write notes, make edits and track activities.
This software offers secure file sharing and storage solutions. Packages include Dropbox Basic for infrequent, basic investigations, and Dropbox Business with extra storage and enterprise-level support.
18. Google Drive
With Google’s file storage and synchronization service, you’ll get access to all of your files from anywhere on any device. Share it with anyone who has a Gmail and let them view, download and collaborate.
19. Google Docs
Like the other pieces of the Google suite, Google Docs are available anywhere, anytime. All of your documents save automatically as you type, so you’ll never fear a lost version again.
20. Google Sheets
Track budgets, schedules, expenses and other spreadsheet files with Google Sheets. This collaboration app works with Excel and offers an explore panel for overviews of data and informative summaries.
Secure your files
If you’ll be using folders containing spreadsheets or some other digital filing system to track your investigations, don’t forget to secure sensitive files with encryption.
Add enhanced security with on-the-fly encryption (OTFE) to protect your important files online and offline.
This app offers strong encryption, password management and multilingual interfaces. For added convenience, AxCrypt lets you collaborate with others, store your files in the cloud and access your encrypted files from your phone.
Best practices dictate that investigators use a system for tracking physical evidence. Losing, mishandling, or tampering with a key piece of evidence can change the outcome of an investigation. Set up your own efficient tracking system to keep an eye on all those important pieces of evidence.
This free template can be used to document physical evidence, track who has accessed it, and record information about evidence disposal.
A cheap label can be used for identification. Label the evidence with subject names, case names, dates, or anything else that works for you.
Need some help reasoning out your theories during your investigation? You’ll need investigation tools that help you think objectively and logically about all your collected information and hypotheses.
This simple model helps you think about complex problems. If the investigation has you running mental laps, this will help you make well-reasoned, analytical judgements.
Investigators tell us consistently that the investigation interview is one of the most difficult parts of an investigation. The right investigation interview tools can make a world of difference before, during, and after an interview.
Prepare for interviews
Brush up on skills with tips and tricks from experienced professionals and experts in the field. There are many books and webinars available for cheap or free to improve your investigation interview knowledge.
Let Don Rabon teach you the fundamentals of effective inquiry in this great, informative book.
Persuasion is the most challenging and problematic element in the interview process. Don Rabon breaks down the basics in his book with practical exercises and application questions.
28. The Peace Model
Every good investigation should know the five steps of the PEACE model of investigative interviewing. This webinar will teach you how to interview effectively using the PEACE model.
In this webinar, expert investigator Van Ritch shares his strategies for getting interviewees to tell you what you need to know.
This one-hour webinar teaches you how to identify the forms of detection and how to know when you are being lied to.
Although it’s a controversial topic, many investigators choose to record their investigation interviews to aid in recall and provide a record of what was said.
31. Digital recorder
This small, cheap, versatile digital voice recorder has 4GB of internal flash memory and stores up to 4175 hours of audio with minimal background noise.
This USB flash drive recorder can record for four hours at a time between charges. Tests by Spy Gadgets show the device records clear audio from inside a pocket.
Today’s smart phones have great cameras, great audio recording capabilities and tons of storage. Use your phone to videotape investigations with a tripod phone holder.
Conduct interviews remotely
Online phone and video chat applications make it possible to interview witnesses remotely. You’ll save time and money if you don’t have to travel across the country to interview someone.
34. Skype Video Chat
Skype is a free and popular tool that works seamlessly on any device and almost any operating platform. There’s a “conference call” feature to allow another person to listen in. Pair this with a screen recorder and you’ll have all your interviews readily available.
Looking for tips on investigation interview questions? Download this cheat sheet on Top 20 Questions to Ask in an Investigation Interview.
You might be a great investigator, but can’t master report-writing. Luckily, there are many resources and tools for investigators available to help, from templates to grammar-checkers to advanced courses.
Report writing best practices
A well-written investigation report showcases a well-conducted investigation and makes the investigator look professional and credible.
Use a report template to make sure you’re producing a report that’s consistent, thorough and accurate.
This is your secret weapon for a well-polished, impressive report. You can be confident that your report doesn’t contain typos and grammatical errors.
If you have time to spare, learn a little more about grammar and the rules of investigation report writing.
This course teaches you how to become a great business writer with simple, effective skills that you’ll need to create impactful documents.
Brush up on your sentence structure, commas and conjunctions with this Grammar and Punctuation Course by Coursera.
In this one-hour webinar, Meric Bloch teaches you how to assess witness credibility, strategies for evaluating proof, best practices for presenting findings and how to avoid common report writing mistakes.
in this one-hour webinar, Angela Reddock-Wright details the type of language to use in investigation reports, proper formatting, the importance of proofreading and much more.
In this one-hour webinar, Xan Raskin shares her favorite tips and techniques for preparing comprehensive investigation reports.
Scan, send and save files
Paper documents are so passé. Today’s investigators store documents and evidence digitally. Use your iPhone or Android device to scan documents and save them into case files.
42. Cam Scanner
Easily scan and share paper documents with the camera on your phone. Plus, this app offers other features that allow you to add hand-written notes and edit images.
If you already have Evernote, you’ll love this app. Capture the content of paper documents quickly and effectively. Then, save or send these high-quality scans by email.
Take it to the next level. This app can translate, scan and save text or QR codes. Then, edit the text, have it read aloud, translate it, send by SMS or email, or share through social media.
i-Sight posts fresh content every week on a variety of topics including fraud, theft, ethics, compliance, investigations, report writing, security and other topics of interest to investigators of all types.
i-Sight’s Resource Center
Stay in the know with our resource center. You’ll find cheat sheets, articles, eBooks, infographics and templates to help and educate you on a variety of investigation-related topics.
Sort articles according to investigation types. Do you identify and analyze risk? Do you investigative bribery, corruption, discrimination, fraud, harassment, or workplace misconduct? There are articles here for you.
Looking for an employee complaint form? A disciplinary action form? A code of conduct policy template? An investigation report template? You’ll find them here.
Our cheat-sheets are fun, informative, visually-appealing tip sheets and how-tos for you to save, share, or print.
48. Detailed eBooks
Are your skills getting rusty? Do you know someone who might like to learn more about a certain investigation topic? Our eBooks can be downloaded as PDF files for easy storage and sharing.
If video is more your learning style, we have more than 100 free webinars on various aspects of investigations. For added bonus: some offer continuing education credit.
Other courses, magazines and blogs
Although we try, i-Sight can only cover so much investigation-related news, strategies and tactics. Sign up for additional magazines and blogs to cover all your bases, or enrol in a couple of courses to really maximize your skillset.
A catalogue of free courses that will improve your investigation skills and knowledge.
51. Pursuit Magazine
A magazine for investigators, journalists and general truth-seekers. The magazine posts strategies, tactics, methods and sources for finding facts and uncovering the truth
Diligentia Group is a New York Private Investigation company, and their blog is chock-full of great information and tips about research, interviews and how to be the best investigator you can be.
53. PI Now
This newsletter caters to private investigators, with news, business tips, events and much more.
The i-Sight Newsletter
And, of course, i-Sight’s Newsletter is the best option for staying on top of new articles as they’re added.
Subscribe to the i-Sight newsletter here to be notified when new resources are added and you’ll never be out of the loop again.