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How to Figure Out What Someone Wants for the Holidays, According to a Private Investigator

A very respectful guide to stalking your mom’s social accounts so you’ll finally be able to get her a gift she won’t have to pretend to like

If my mom doesn’t return what I get her for the holidays, it’s a Christmas miracle. She’s just one of those people that’s hard to shop for (either that, or I suck at gifting). So this year, to ensure I select a gift so glorious that even my picky mother can’t part with it, I called in the big guns — namely, private investigator Trevor Haywood, president of Haywood Hunt & Associates Inc., a P.I. agency in Toronto. 

Here’s how he suggested I identify what she’s into. If you have an equally choosy person to shop for, read closely.

Disclaimer: While figuring out what someone wants for the holidays is important, they also deserve privacy. In other words, don’t obsessively stalk anyone. It’s not that serious.

Investigate Their Online Footprint

Haywood says open-source intelligence (OSINT) is likely the ultimate tool for exploring someone’s interests. In short, it involves pulling information from publicly available sources — the internet being the most relevant for our purposes — to create a character profile.

This can be as simple as poking through someone’s social media accounts to see what businesses they’re following, which sports teams they’re commenting on, what goods they’re “liking” and so on. Even a positive comment about a friend’s clothes can provide good insight into what a person might appreciate as a present. You might also find out, for example, that they recently attended an event like Comic-Con that reveals their hobbies. Then you can get them something accordingly.

If that’s too surface-level, the “OSINT Framework” website has a comprehensive directory of search engines and websites that can direct you to more specific publicly available information like a person’s Amazon Wishlist, their Reddit comment history, their archived tweets and other gift registries they may have.

Follow Them Around (Respectfully)

When a case calls for it, Haywood says following someone throughout the day can produce great intel. However, he emphasizes that a creditable P.I. would never take such an invasive approach just to find out what someone wants for Hanukkah. In other words, while you can learn a lot about someone by catching them window shopping, entering a certain facility or restaurant, attending a specific class and so on, maybe don’t go so far as to perform 24/7 surveillance on your friends and family. 

That said, if they’re off social media and you just so happen to spot them sneaking into a Cheesecake Factory on their lunch break, hey, now you have a great gift card idea.

Ask Around

Canvassing a person’s haunts is another go-to method performed by P.I.s, per Haywood. If the person you’re shopping for frequents a certain bar or restaurant, it might not hurt to pop in and ask some questions of their friend group. For instance, where else has so-and-so been spending their time lately, or what have they been talking about? 

Just don’t want to be so obvious that they go and tell your buddy or family member that you were asking about them. You’ll also want to act casual so you don’t come off as a weirdo or a narc. But again, if you’re simply looking into what someone might want for the holidays, Haywood says the internet should have all the answers, and you probably don’t need to hunt someone down like an undercover cop.

I guess that means I’ll go check out my mom’s Instagram. Wish me luck.