Legally Snoop on your Neighbor via the Web

Posted On: April 2009

April 21, 2009,

Sun Times News Group

For 17 years, Jeff Metcalf has been providing public record information to a variety of clients, such as concerned parents, elected officials, and this newspaper.

His company, Record Information Services, collects and distributes data to his clients based on the criteria they ask for. The public record information comes from nine counties in the Chicago area, and the categories of information are varied. Metcalf explained that on the business side of things, his Web site,, is used for database research.

Databases offered include new homeowners, new businesses, new and previously recorded mortgages, bankruptcies, foreclosures, and much more. Many newspapers in Illinois, including the SouthtownStar, use his foreclosure information to provide to their readers.

People in sales will use this information to research demographics, confirm mailing addresses, and to track possible trends in that area. Elected officials will use the site to confirm names and addresses of constituents they may not have known about.

Have you ever had a judgment against you, or filed for bankruptcy, and received mailed offers specific to your situation? It is possible this service was used by attorneys to acquire your information. Some people find this bothersome, while others find it helpful, as they did not know previously where to turn.

The service most interesting to me that Record Information Services is the WatchIllinois Web site, . WatchIllinois is a unique online tool that automatically alerts you when a change occurs in the public record of a person, property or business of your choosing. Let's say your son or daughter is going off to college at Northern Illinois University. As a concerned parent, you sign up for the site using the name and address of your son or daughter. During the time period you signed up for, if this person were arrested, for say, a DUI in one of the counties that RIS collects data for, then you would be alerted of this DUI via e-mail.

Another example would be if you wanted to track a business. You had heard rumors of a bankruptcy. You sign up for the WatchIllinois service using the name of the person or business, and if a bankruptcy occurs, you are alerted.

Metcalf described this particular service as similar to the credit alert services that are so popular now. Put in the person's or company's name and the criteria you would like to follow, and you will be alerted when there is a change in the public record status of the person or business.

Metcalf answers critics who suggest this is an invasion of privacy by simply pointing out that he's providing public information that can be accessed by anyone. His way is simpler and less time consuming, but in no way invasive.

Again, this information is specific to Illinois and the listed counties on the Web site, . If you are curious about someone or want to formulate a marketing or business strategy in these areas of Illinois, this may be a site to look at.

Keith McRae is a licensed private investigator and president of KAM Data Services, 35 E. Wacker Drive, No. 1545, Chicago, IL 60601. Contact McRae at or (312) 422-1500, Ext. 1.

Posted On: April 2009

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