Features - A New Choice for Public Records: DBT's AutoTrak Plus

 Sue Taylor is a Reference Librarian
Katten Muchin & Zavis, Los Angeles

Pros:
  • Menu system is easy to navigate.
  • Ability to create electronic profiles of individuals or companies from a variety of sources.
  • Low rate of $1.50 per minute. No minimum, pay as you go pricing.
  • Includes utilities such as zip code finder, county look-up, etc.
Cons:
  • Billing by the minute increases pressure to get online and offline quickly.
  • No immediate access to civil and criminal databases.
  • Currency and coverage of data cannot always be ascertained.
Contact:
  • Database Technologies, 800-279-7710


I first discovered AutoTrack Plus at Legal Tech in 1996. I was impressed with its ability to search public records nationwide and its inexpensive cost, but the database seemed lacking in content and depth. Now rich with operating capital from a recent public offering, Database Technologies' AutoTrack Plus contains close to 4 billion records, collected and purchased from over 1,000 public and private sources. Started in 1992, DBT now has thousands of users and is adding 80-90 new customers each week.  They're beefing up their sales department in an effort to try to maintain and improve this level of growth.  Accredited users include law enforcement agencies, insurance companies, journalists and attorneys. Even CDB Infotek's recent change in pricing structure in an effort to be more competitive with DBT has had little impact on DBT's growth.  With the additional lure of no setup fee, no minimum and pay-as-you-go pricing, my firm subscribed.

I was frustrated at first. AutoTrack is DOS program, which we access through PC Anywhere for Windows, and I wasn't anxious to learn yet another new software and search strategy. Having relied primarily on transactional based CDB Infotek for my public records research, I now had to remember to get online and offline quickly. Even the low $1.50 per minute rate can add up if you are not prepared or are interrupted when online. However, after an hour of phone training and an unlimited use demo period, I felt comfortable and confident. The menu driven system is easy to navigate, with search results displayed in an alphabetical listing of exact matches and close matches. The ability to scroll through and select from the list allows me to cover all spelling and spacing variations. I prefer this "look" into the system over other services' typical message of "no results."


DBT Online, Database Technologies, or AutoTrack Plus: What's in a Name?

Everyone seems to have a different name for AutoTrack Plus. I recall the trade show rep telling me in 1996 that DBT was the new name, because to potential customers AutoTrack sounded like a service to track autos. But the name didn't go away and this provider of inexpensive and efficient online access to public records is now being referred to as AutoTrack Plus, DBT, DBT Online, and Database Technologies.

DBT Online, a public holding company, was formed by the merger of Database Technologies and Patlex in 1996. DBT Online, with headquarters in Las Vegas, operates its business through subsidiaries Database Technologies, Patlex, and the newly acquired ICON. Database Technologies is the online provider of the AutoTrack Plus public records service. Patlex is engaged in the exploitation and enforcement of two laser patents and ICON is a provider of database services to the insurance industry.

Although perhaps possible, the public records of AutoTrack Plus did not give me this information. I used a combination of SEC filings, news articles,
and company information from Dialog, including D&B records. My best resource, however, ended up being a detailed in-house report supplied to me
from my stock broker at Edward Jones. And, oh yes, this report also gave me lots of details about DBT Online's stock. With the stock selling at 78 times earnings, they are obviously anticipating a lot of growth, but it is
too high for me too add to my buy list!

AutoTrack's most powerful feature is the ability to link together its many scattered bits and pieces of information into an electronic dossier, or profile, on an individual or company. With just a name, you can obtain current and past addresses, telephone number, social security number, date of birth, and information regarding neighbors and friends. Profiles may be customized to include all or just some of the available information. Neighbor information is one such choice, and deselecting it decreases the retrieval time of the profile, resulting in less online time and a lower cost.

In addition to its own database of records, AutoTrack offers extended and real time searches. For an extra charge, AutoTrack dials into the databases of other computers to perform an extended database search, providing up-to-the-minute address information. Real time phone searches actually connect to the phone companies' directory assistance operators.

AutoTrack has several convenience features. The utilities menu offers a city to county look up, zip code finder, mileage finder and more. AutoTrack Jr., phone book content only with no linking, is priced at only $.50 per minute and may be searched by name, number or address.

With all of the linking and the sheer volume of data, I uncovered a multitude of facts on every name I searched. Unfortunately, these facts did not provide me with much more than locating and identifying the person and tracking where and with whom they have been over the past years. Civil and criminal index files, which are online with CDB Infotek and other providers, are available from AutoTrack, but only by completing an online order form and receiving online results at a later date. Plus there is a separate charge for each index searched. AutoTrack does contain some online files providing background and asset information such as bankruptcies, liens and judgments and real property records. But source, currency and coverage cannot always be ascertained, and AutoTrack will not reveal the providers of its data.

AutoTrack is a good starting point for most searches. Within a few minutes you can determine the location of an individual or company and verify the name. With so many records, it is rare to find nothing. Although I still turn to Lexis or Information America for Secretary of State searches and CDB Infotek for litigation searches, the investment in an AutoTrack search has enhanced my overall results.

Of course, occasionally, AutoTrack can be the first and last stop. When finding a person or company is the goal, it gets the job done, quickly and inexpensively. Also, when I search for a name that does not appear in any of AutoTrack's records, I am not going to spend much time and money looking elsewhere.

In a perfect world, I would be able to search one comprehensive, current database, with pricing to match each individual situation. In the real world, I must piece together the best information from a variety of databases, weighing the cost of each against anticipated results. With its pricing and quantity of data, AutoTrack Plus is a welcome resource.