How to report a missing person
When can a person be reported as missing?
- a person can be reported as missing at any time, there is no time limit or period to wait – you do not have to wait 24 hours to report someone as missing
- persons who are vulnerable due to health, age or impairments, should be reported as missing immediately and without delay
- if, after making initial enquiries yourself, you wish to report someone as a missing person, you should go to a police station – where possible, this should be nearest to where the person lives or was last seen
- a missing persons report must be filed in person at a police station, and cannot be taken over the phone
Reporting a person missing in Australia
If you have serious concerns for the safety and welfare of a person in Australia, and their whereabouts are unknown, then you can report them missing to your local police immediately, and make a Missing Person Report.
What information should be provided to police?
Victoria Police gathers the following information to assist in the processing and investigation of missing person reports. To help police, you should be in a position to provide the following information when attending at the police station, in the first instance:
- personal details of the missing person, including their full name, and any aliases they may use, address, age, date of birth, and place of birth
- a recent photograph of the person
- a full physical description, including any scars, tattoos, birthmarks and jewellery usually worn by the person
- a list of the clothing and footwear the person was last seen wearing
- details of where and when the missing person was last seen or heard from
- any vehicle they may be using or travelling in, or usual transport details
- details of any bank accounts, credit cards or other financial accounts the missing person may be using, or be in possession of
- details of phone numbers and email addresses the missing person may be using, or have access to
- any places the missing person may visit and a list of places the person will often visit, including any possible destinations
- names, addresses and contact details of friends, relatives, work colleagues, associates and fellow students
- any relevant medical/mental health information, including doctors and dentists used by the person
- details of any medical conditions suffered by the person, including any medications required and what they treat
- any known travel plans or destinations
- details of anyone in the company of the missing person
- details of any enquiries you have made to locate the person yourself
- information about whether the person is an Australian resident or travelling temporarily within Australia or overseas. If travelling, please try to provide an itinerary
- any other information that may assist police in their investigation
Questions police will ask you when reporting a person as missing
- what does the missing person look like?
- does the person have anything unusual about how they appear?
- do you have a recent photograph of the missing person?
- where and when was the person last seen or heard from?
- are there places the missing person may visit often?
- does the person have any medical problems or need any medications?
- what are the names and contact numbers of relatives and friends associated with the person?
- can the missing person speak English?
Do you need help to make a report?
Where practicable, you can request the presence of a police officer of the same gender as yourself when making a Missing Persons Report.
If required, and where practicable, police can arrange the services of a professional interpreter and translator either over the phone or onsite (face to face) to assist you when making a report at the police station.
What to do if you lose contact with a family member
A person who has lost contact with family and friends is different to a person deemed as missing. There are a number of reasons why people lose contact with each other, such as moving house or family conflict, and it is understandable that they seek to reconnect.
However, if there is no indication of vulnerability or concern for safety then this is considered to be a tracing request. Police do not provide a family tracing service, nor are they able to help with people who have lost contact with friends and family over time.
The Salvation Army in Australia provides a Family Tracing Service for people trying to locate a family member or relative who has lost contact over time and there are no fears for their safety. This service helps bring families together through its wide local and international network.
However, if a family member or friend is missing (their whereabouts are unknown) and you hold serious fears for their safety and welfare, contact your local police in person immediately to report them missing.
What to do when you sight a missing person
- even if you are not sure, you still need to contact police
- if you see a missing person, a person who you know is missing, do not approach them
- contact police at your first available opportunity via calling ‘000’ or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000
- do not try to approach or contain the person
- if you observe the person getting into a motor vehicle or using a form of public transport, endeavour to obtain the relevant details to allow police to make further enquiries, such as the:
- registration number of vehicle
- make and model of vehicle
- public transport identification
What happens after filing a missing persons report
The report will be entered into the Victoria Police database as a missing person case. The case will then be assigned to a Victoria Police officer who will work with you and inform you of any progress being made.
Investigation process of a missing person
Missing person investigations are managed by local police and escalated to local detectives of a criminal investigation unit, or to detectives of the Missing Persons Squad at Crime Command, depending on their level of risk or the suspicious circumstances of their disappearance.
Police will use the information you have provided to consider all lines of enquiry which are appropriate and necessary in the circumstances to try and locate your loved one. Speak to the investigating police officers about the steps that are being taken to find your missing loved one. Police may provide information, where possible, on what is being done.
Filing a missing persons report from outside Australia
If you are outside Australia and want to report someone missing in Australia, you will need to do so in person to your local police. Reports of this nature need to be made in person so that the identity of the person making the report, and the reasons for locating the missing person, can be verified.
The report and subsequent request to locate the person will be forwarded through the appropriate Interpol bureau for action.
Australians missing overseas
Family and friends travelling or working overseas may fail to make contact after being in touch regularly. In many countries the communication network is often difficult to access and can be unreliable, and language barriers make it difficult to maintain contact.
In cases where there are genuine fears for the person's safety, or concerns for their welfare, that are justified, a missing persons report can be made at any police station within Australia. If fears for safety are only based on the fact the family has lost contact with each other, then that is not justification to commence an overseas investigation. For these matters, contact the Salvation Army Family Tracing Service
If you have concerns for an Australian citizen's whereabouts overseas you should make enquiries to:
- establish contact with family, friends and travelling companions to find out if anyone has had any contact with, or has heard from, the missing person
- seek information about the missing person's possible movements by contacting the missing person's last known address or the missing person's employer
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
If all available avenues of enquiry have been exhausted and you are genuinely concerned for the missing person’s safety whilst overseas, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) will try to locate the missing person through their network of overseas posts and links with foreign missions by:
- following up on contact details you may have
- posting messages in the public areas of overseas offices requesting the person to make contact with staff
- checking the Register of Australian Citizens at the appropriate post
- checking with immigration authorities, police, major hotels, guest houses, hostels, hospitals and other likely places (where this is feasible under the local law)
After a missing persons report has been made to your local police, it will be forwarded to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) who will coordinate the investigation into the missing person. Consular staff will contact you and explain the missing person processes and will also confirm family consent for DFAT to provide information to external agencies including Interpol.
DFAT will pursue enquiries that are based on a serious concern for the welfare of an Australian overseas and a belief that the person concerned needs consular assistance. You can also contact the Consular Emergency Centre in Australia on 1300 555 135 (for the cost of a local call) or from anywhere in the world on +61 2 6261 3305, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
DFAT will not help to find someone unless extensive searches have already been made. They will not help locate individuals involving temporary lack of contact, child custody, maintenance support, debt collection, or provide a tracing service for persons who have simply lost contact with friends or family overseas.
Easy English Guide – how to report a missing person
Victoria Police provides information in easily accessible formats and has developed an Easy English resource guide on how to report a missing person to assist people who may have difficulty reading or understanding English or who may have cognitive or intellectual disabilities.
The Easy English – reporting a missing person resource guide covers:
- what is a missing person
- how to make a missing persons report
- the information you will need to provide to police
Reporting a missing person brochure
Victoria Police has produced a brochure for culturally and linguistically diverse communities with information on how to report a missing person. These resources are available in 27 languages and address some of the more common questions asked by members of the community.
Reviewed 01 March 2019