Though it's not possible to put a price on your family's safety, there is still an opportunity to be price smart when it comes to the services that you are choosing to employ in order to increase your security at home and away from the house. For most people, this means that hiring a private investigator is completely out of the question.

After all, if you were to use those services to look into everyone in your community, you'll spend several lifetimes' worth of fortunes. The good news is that you can still find out about your whole neighborhood as well as individual people in your life without spending a penny, and without sacrificing the quality of what you find out.

Though you have no way of finding out what people will do in the future, there are some ways to look into what people have already done in their past - things that could indicate to you what they're capable of doing again, and that could put someone you or you love at risk.

These investigations are available online. Of course, not all sites that offer background checks for free are created equal. Make sure you do a bit of your own homework so that you can be certain that you know what is available to you through a given website. Some offer only very basic information. You will want one that offers address lookups, access to the National Sex Offenders Registry, and even broader information so that you can get to know more about your state, city, and community. These stats can give you a very good idea as to how to better protect yourself, and where the biggest threats lie.

For example, is your state one that is known for a high level for assaults, or are robberies more common? Do thefts occur in properties or as muggings? How dangerous is your state as a whole? If you can't answer these questions yourself, then you need to find a site that will do it for you, without charging you any money. With that knowledge, you will be able to make the proper decisions for yourself.

Originally published January 28, 2009 2:09 PM