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There is nothing funny about having a friend or family member fail to be where you expect them to be. The problem becomes even worse when you are unable to contact them via a cell phone call.

Many people who are in this situation mistakenly believe that their loved one must be missing for a full 24 hours before they should contact the police. The truth is that you can contact the authorities and set about filing a missing person report as soon as you suspect that something has gone wrong. If the police tell you that you must wait, they’re wrong. You’re legally allowed to file the missing report right away.

Not only are you legally allowed to file the missing person report right away, but doing so is a good idea. The sooner you report your loved one as missing, the sooner the police can be on the outlook for them. It can even be the thing that prompts the police to do a wellness check which could reveal that your loved one isn’t missing, but simply sitting at home ignoring your calls.

If you’re reporting a minor as missing, the police will start looking for them right away. If you’re reporting someone who isn’t a minor or considered an at-risk person as missing and remains at large for more than 72 hours, the police contact the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and have your loved one officially listed as an endangered adult. This is a crucial step as it gets your loved one’s information into a national database, making it easier for different law enforcement groups to report a sighting or to take an interest in the case.

Don’t assume that just because you’ve reported a loved one as missing that the police will bring your loved one directly to you once they’ve been found. If your loved one is over 21 years old and doesn’t have a history of mental health problems and hasn’t committed a crime, there is little the police can legally do once they’ve been located.

While the police can’t force your loved one to return and they can’t provide you details about where your loved one is currently located, it’s highly likely that they will let you know that you’re loved one is safe and appears to be of sound mind and spirit.