Is there such a thought as an online private detective? A kind of Dick Tracy for the Internet world? Can’t you see the dark and smoky research room with laptops scattered everywhere?

If you google things like internet detective, cyber investigator, or online detective, you’ll find tons of information on how to conduct private investigations yourself, but very little on live private investigators willing to track down perpetrators online. Actually, this is a whole new industry that is starting to form.

If you’re simply trying to find someone, say an old friend from high school, then there are plenty of online services to help you accomplish that task. As an example, NetDetective (which I have no affiliation with), is probably one of the most popular sites. According to its website, NetDetective “lets you discover the information you want to know about your doctor, boss, friends, neighbors, lover, and even yourself.”

While this type of service is extremely useful for the right applications, it doesn’t offer solutions for the second type: I need to find, stop, or prove that someone is doing something wrong online for me, my business, or my loved ones. Now this is a horse of a completely different color.

Let me give you an example. We were recently contacted by a high profile individual who was being targeted by former associates and friends. The attacks were relentless, including social networks (facebook), anonymous blogs and blog comments, emails, etc. To the point that that person was also concerned about physical safety even though she wasn’t being openly threatened.

Unfortunately, people who are targeted in the online world will often not get help from traditional lawyers and law enforcement. Lawyers are very good at litigating and taking all legal action once they can prove that someone is attacking their client. But how will they do that when the online attacker is hidden by layers of security and masked IP addresses? Most law firms do not have the resources for such investigations.

Unless the threat is serious enough, conventional law enforcement probably won’t be able to help, as this doesn’t really fall under their statute.

What should the client do? For the people who work in this small specialty, they have received a number of calls from both companies and individuals who are desperate that their online reputation is under attack. They literally don’t know where to turn.

What the individual really needs is an Internet researcher, or online sleuth, to help them gather the necessary information and then be able to point them to the appropriate legal or law enforcement resources.

So, as you can see, there is a big difference between an online investigator and a service like NetDetective. Each has its own specialty and application.

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