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Where Did He (or she) Go?!!
A crash course in skip tracing for the real world
These days there seems to be a false assumption that anything, including people, can be found on the computer. Or more specifically, the internet. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. if so, we wouldn’t need p.i.’s for that, anyone could just fire up the computer, punch a name in, and voila, person found.
There are different types of missing persons, or skips as they are sometimes called. One type is the person that has just lost contact over the years through moving, change of employment, family, moving out of the area, etc. If you are going to find anybody from online databases, it would possibly be them. They are not hiding, they just got lost in the shuffle. These are the easiest locates to do, compared to to other types of skips.
The other type of skip is the person that is truly hiding from someone, or something, however that may be. These can be the tough ones, especially if they’re street smart and have done this before. There are people out there that have been hiding from one thing or another their whole life, so they are practically pros at doing this. They know how to stay off the radar so their information won’t pop up somewhere.
This guide will give you some ideas on how to track down that elusive person that is hiding from you for one reason or another. If you take these basic ideas and philosophies and build on them from there, you will develop your own ideas that will work for you personally. I will put you on the right track, but if you want to get really good at this, you need to develop your own systems.
First of all, you have to have the mindset that you are not going to give up. The biggest killer in solving cases, locate or otherwise, is giving up too soon. Are there some cases that will never be solved, or people that won’t be found? Yes, that’s life. Nobody can perfectly solve everything, it just doesn’t happen. However, most people can be found with enough work and patience. You may have to turn over every rock, look in every nook and cranny, but it can be done.
Okay, let’s start by dispelling some myths about finding people.
You can find anybody these days online..
No, you can’t. Let me qualify that. Some people can be found online. Those who are not hiding can sometimes be found in some online database or public record. Those who have no reason to hide can usually be found without too much effort if you know where to look. However, those that want to keep a low profile and “fly under the radar” are not as easy. You will have to do some actual work in order to locate them. They have a reason and motivation not to be found, usually because somebody or some organization is trying to find them. There could be a number of reasons that someone doesn’t want to be found: They are on the run fro the law, they have some type of collateral they haven’t paid for, hiding from a spouse or ex-spouse, child support, you get the idea. Many of those types of “skips”, as we’ll refer to them, will not be found from some online or public record. Many of these type of skips may be dumb as a box of rocks, but they develop incredible talents for staying hidden. You just have to outsmart them.
People have a right to their privacy, you should leave them alone..
Normally I agree, people do have a right to their privacy. However, the people that I go out to locate are being searched out for good reason. They legally owe for property that they haven’t returned, they are hiding from a large obligation, etc. There are a ton of good reason to track someone down, and I am careful not to put people in potentially dangerous situations. For example, If I am ever asked to find “an old friend”, I always let the client know that I will give the person I’m looking for their (the client’s) info and let them contact the client, or I will get the target’s permission to give the client their contact info. As long as you follow simple guidelines, you can keep yourself and other people out of trouble. The last thing i want to do is to be responsible for someone getting hurt.
It’s not that hard to find someone, just call a few of their friends or family..
Like most myths, there is some truth to that, and some falsehood in it. Yes, I find a lot of people by talking to friends and relatives of the skip, but it’s not usually that easy. You have to be able to convince people to give up information without them getting curious, or suspicious. People have a great built in BS detector, and if you activate it, the conversation is over and good luck getting any info out of them.
You need law enforcement experience to be a good p.i. and able to locate people..
Not at all. I’m not saying that it doesn’t help, but you don’t need it. Some of the best in the business have never had any law enforcement experience, yet they are excellent at finding people. You have to have a desire for it, a real passion, otherwise it’s too easy to give up when it gets tough. Law enforcement have access to databases p.i.’s don’t, but they are rarely any more helpful than databases that a p.i. has. Like I already mentioned, databases don’t find people, they just help.
10 Things You Can Do Yourself to Find a Missing Person
The art of tracking somebody down, or “Skip Tracing” as it is called, is both an art and a science. There are a few different kinds of missing persons, with varying degrees of difficulty in finding them.
The first type of missing person is where the person has just lost contact and moved. These are the easiest missing persons to find. They’re the ones who just move to a different place, but are not hiding from anyone for any particular reason.
The next type of missing person is what we call in the business a “skip”. This is the person that is purposefully hiding from something: legal trouble, creditors, etc. These missing persons can range from easy to downright difficult in locating them. Some have been doing it most of their adult life, and can be professionals at hiding.
The last type of missing person I will mention is the most difficult to find, and that is the missing person where there is some sort of malfeasance involved. Many times these are the tragic cases involving kidnapping of children and cases like this. These, of course, are extremely difficult, and usually involve law enforcement agencies.
Okay, let’s get down to it. Following are 10 things you can do yourself to find a missing person, or “skip” as they are called. These are pretty simple things that anyone can do to find someone. These steps are by no means comprehensive, and probably will not be enough to find the really tough ones, but I always like to try the simple things first:
Use directory assistance and the phone book. I know it sounds obvious, but always try the simple things first. I can’t tell you how many times that has saved me a lot of effort. Many times people aren’t hiding, you just need to check for them. Of course this will not work for somebody who’s really hiding , but it’s worth a try.
Check for any special memberships in clubs, unions, groups, etc. A person can change most things about their identity, but they can’t change their “behavioral fingerprint”. That is a person’s interest, hobbies, etc. Those things almost never change about a person. Find out the kind of things that your skip likes to do. What hobbies do they have, or what they like to collect?
Call known friends and relatives to try to find out where the subject is. Many times they will not be cooperative, but it is a good source to try. There are different ways to get information out of people, just use your imagination. Try to let their friends or relatives know that you’re trying to help the skip in some way. You will find people will be very helpful if you think you’re trying to help them.
Pretext different sources for information. Pretexting is basically misleading people to get information you need. There are many different ways to do this, and you have to be careful to stay within the law. Also, it is not easy to do if you aren’t used to using this technique. You have to be quick on your feet. You have to adapt to the situation quickly when you’re talking to somebody if you only get information out of them.
Public databases. Voter registration records, property ownership records, state and county recorded documents can be good sources of information. That being said, you’re very unlikely to find someone that’s really hiding off of public records, but it can be a good place to start.
Check with the skip tracing departments of other companies. Many companies out there will share information with other creditors to help find someone. Others will not, but it’s worth trying. More often than not this will not help you, but you have to try everything you can think of when you’re looking for somebody.
Sending out mail with “Do not forward, address correction requested”. If the post office has a forwarding address for the subject, this is one way to get it. This is a good tactic to use when you’re looking for a long-lost friend that may not be hiding, but you lost track of them.
Checking employment transfers. If the subject you’re looking for is with the same company, but was transferred, sometimes you can find out the new area of the country they might have been transferred to.
Using professional organizations. If the missing person you’re looking for is a professional of some sort, there is usually a directory for it. The best source would be to call or check the internet as those are usually updated more frequently.
The last thing I want to mention is not necessarily a specific technique, but it is worth mentioning. Here it is: put yourself in their shoes. Think what an average person has to do everyday to live. They have to eat, sleep somewhere (most people), buy things, eventually work at something, legal or not. Just remember that everybody has to live and survive, and they always leave some kind of trail.
Okay, now on with the program. Like I always like to mention, I like to do the simple stuff first. It’s surprising how many times I have found someone just from doing the simple things. That’s how life is, and we seem to make it complicated. I like the KISS acronym: Keep It Simple Stupid. That says it all, don’t make it harder than it has to be.
Pretexting is probably the best weapon in a skip tracers arsenal. When you’re looking for someone that doesn’t want to be found, you’re going to have to get information from other people that will lead you to your skip, that’s all there is to it. Pretexting is define as “An effort or strategy intended to conceal something.” Or “a fictitious reason given in order to conceal the real one.” So basically, a pretext is a lie. Law enforcement on all levels uses this technique continually, not just private investigators and skip tracers.
Chances are, very good chances, is that the person that’s being investigated, tracked down, or whatever is being done, is not a model citizen. Our world is plagued with dirt bag con men, thieves, robbers, etc. The only way to beat these pigs is to get your hands dirty and roll around in the mud. That is too much for most people, and that’s okay. Even a lot of p.i.’s don’t like to do that, they just like to do their surveillance, or background work, or something else that may not require a lot of personal contact, and that’s okay too. Everybody has their own area of expertise that they like to stay in.
Some of the most important aspects of pretexting to get information are misdirection, and appearing harmless. The second you try to be demanding, in most instances, people’s radar goes off and they’re pretty much done talking. Once you hit that wall, you’re done in that conversation. You have to come across as needing some help with something you’re not good or smart enough to get yourself. That doesn’t mean you want to come across as dumb or incompetent, maybe just a little ignorant. Ignorance isn’t stupidity, it’s just a lack of knowledge on a subject. Most people are wiling to help a little if it involves showing off their knowledge. Get them to actually like you, at least a little, and you can get the info you want.
Misdirection involves getting the person you’re talking to to think about one thing, while your agenda is another. For example, you may want to convince a relative that you have a job offer for your skip, when in fact you’re trying to locate them because they defaulted on a $500,000 piece of construction equipment and didn’t give it back. If you can convince someone that you’re truly trying to help them, or someone they know, you can usually make a friend and get some good info. I look at it as a game, and it’s really pretty fun.
Another important fact about pretexting people, whether on the phone or in person, is that you don’t want to give them time to think about what they are telling you. In other words, you need to be and sound confident without rushing. They need to roll off with the information that you want, without giving them time to quiz you too much about it. If you talk to much to them, especially after getting the information, you can arouse suspicion and sabotage your cause. In the business world this is “Talking Your Prospect Out Of The Sale.” Get in and get out, and they will forget you were even there.
When you’re spinning your story to someone, you need to sound like you believe it yourself. Any hesitation will blow your cover, and blow your efforts. I like to remember a Seinfeld episode where his friend George is telling Jerry how to beat a polygraph. I love the line “Remember, if you believe it, it’s not a lie.” That’s how convincing you have to be, you have to sound so natural that it just flows. Even the dimmest bulbs out there have a b.s. detector, so you have beat that if you want to get some good info.
You have to experiment with pretexts and find the ones that work for you. All you are doing is pretending to be someone else for a short time. Don’t break the law and pretend to be law enforcement, but you can be creative. They won’t all work, and even the best of us don’t get what we want. If you find a conversation is not going anywhere, or is going south, get out quick. That’s the only way to salvage it, just get out quickly and gracefully, and they’ll forget about you. If you have the fortitude to do this, just keep trying until you find what works for you. Using pretexts, and polishing your skills in using them, will help you find more people than all the public records and fancy databases will ever get you. That’s how important these verbal skills are if you want to find those difficult people.
Now, I understand that you may have a problem dealing with having to lie to people to get information. I’m an honest person, but I will lie like a rug to get information I need when I have to track someone down. Law enforcement does it to solve crimes, and I do it to solve cases, and I don’t feel guilty about it. You would not want to represent yourself as law enforcement, or any other official capacity, but you can sure pretend to be somebody else when you’re doing this. It takes practice, and a certain amount of fortitude, but you can do it. You just have to remember to sound natural, and to end the conversation as soon as you feel that the other person is suspicious, either in person or on the phone. I enjoy coming up with new pretexts to fool people. Some work forever, some only work for a while before you have to revise them.
I cannot say enough good things about using pre-texting. Without a doubt, it can be tough to do. You have to be prepared to think on your feet, and change her story to make it believable when you’re talking to somebody. Most of the time you only have one chance to convince the person you’re talking to to give you your much needed information. If you mess up, the person will get suspicious and will clam up immediately. You don’t want that to happen. Try to talk as little as possible, but get your subject talk as much as you can. Once you get them to start speaking, information will usually flow and you’ll find out things that you never would’ve gotten anywhere else.
Somebody can change the way they look. The color of their hair, the size of their body, their clothes, and even the color of their eyes (at least artificially). There is one thing they cannot change, their behavioral fingerprints. Behavioral fingerprints are those character traits that usually cannot be changed. If someone likes fishing, flying, comic books, playing in local bands, etc. You get the picture, there just some parts of you that you can’t easily get rid of.
When you’re trying to find someone, whether you just lost touch with them, or they are off the radar hiding deep, their basic character will stay the same. Do a lot of research on the subject and find out their likes, dislikes, habits, type of friends, family, etc. If you ask around enough, it’s amazing what you can find out. Build a profile on him, and you’ll begin to understand how he thinks and acts. This may sound funny, but it works. It takes time, and a lot of people won’t do it, and that’s why a lot of people fail.
Here’s an example from a real p.i. I wish I can take credit for this, but I can’t. So this p.i. was after a man who put up a New York City apartment for a loan, but the residence was not his. The owners were out of town, so he used it for collateral on a very large loan. How this happened is beyond me, but it still happens today in the computer age. Anyway, this guy was really slick at staying under the radar (not having normal things in his name). Upon further investigation it was discovered that he like comic books, especially the justice league comics. The p.i. put out an ad in the area that he had some type of first edition of this comic. he let the calls go to voicemail, and by listening to the messages with someone from the bank that knew him, they determined which caller was the suspect. When they set up a meeting to buy the comic, he was met by detectives and arrested. They found out he was living under a false name of a relative that died recently and was near his age. It would have taken a long time for him to pop up on the radar under his own name.
That’s just one example of using someones singularities to track them down. We all have them whether we admit it or not, which is what makes us unique. We all have habits, or things we like to do that is unique to us. Just dig up enough information on someone, talk to enough people, and you won’t be disappointed. Remember, you’re not using this information to stalk a law abiding citizen, you’re going after the pigs of society. People that have no conscience about ripping someone off, not caring who they hurt in the process. I have no remorse whatsoever about tracking these vermin down. In fact, I enjoy it, it’s a game to me. They may be smart, but if you roll around in the proverbial mud enough, you’ll find their hot button.
For example, your target may be a pilot. That means that either flies for living, for he flies for pleasure. That information is golden. If you dig enough, you can see how often he flies, and where he flies out of. Then it’s just a matter of coming up with a good pretext to find out where he’s living. Maybe you can pretend that you are from some sort of aeronautical company. Maybe you offer him some type of pilot job. Use your imagination, to say within his area of interest and you will somehow hit his hot button.
Put Your Feet On The Street
Part of “getting your hands dirty” is old fashioned work. It’s amazing how lucky you can get when you put a lot of effort into something. Whether it’s pounding away on the phones, or visiting several places to talk to people, it takes work. A lot can be done by working the phone angle. You can talk to a lot of people without having to get out, but sometimes it takes more. Sometimes you have to wear out some shoe leather to get the information you want. A P.I. I know coined the phrase “Neighborhood Survey”. This isn’t the type of consumer survey that you may be thinking of, this is just called that because you are trying to get information, similar to what a consumer survey tries to accomplish. You can develop more good intel on someone by knocking on a lot of doors than any amount of documentary evidence will give you, every time. You can research s someone’s background for hours, even days, and have a stack of information on someone. However, until you start talking to people and asking around to find out someone’s character, habits, and so on, you truly are lacking some good info on your target.
Let’s say you’re l looking for someone to serve court papers on a huge lawsuit. He disappeared, and you tried everything you can think of to find him. The family’s no help, his friend’s don’t know anything, and he moved out of his office space he was in with no forwarding address. His landline and cell numbers are disconnected. Now it’s time to get some exercise. You go to his neighborhood and start knocking on doors. Most people, including investigators, will not do this, that’s what will set you apart. So you knock on all the doors on his street and find about half of the people at home. You may or may not learn any new information yet, so you may have to hit the street again to catch more of the people at home. If you stick it out, you will find some information that you would not have found out any other way. in every neighborhood that I’ve been in, there always seems to be some busybody they’ll be glad to give you some ”dirt” on the subject that will lead you to that elusive skip.
Nothing takes the place of getting your hands dirty. You can spend all day researching information on someone, but you will learn more by being proactive. When you are proactive, you are taking action to make things happen, instead of waiting for things to happen to you. Thomas Edison said that opportunity evades most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. Don’t do what everybody else is doing, be different.
Think Like Your Target
One important thing to keep in mind when you are doing this is to remember that everybody has to exist, they have to live. In other words, think what you have to do in your everyday life that you don’t even notice. You may do it unconsciously because you’re not hiding from anybody, not so for your target.
No matter how hidden someone is, they still have to eat, drink, sleep, work (usually), and breathe. Everything someone does leaves a trace, even if it’s a tiny trace, it’s still a trail you can pick up on. Remember, the smallest thread of information leads to more information leads to success!
Try this exercise and it will open your eyes. Take a day, or even a few days, and make note of everything you do in your everyday life. Most things you do are so repetitious, you won’t even think about it, but take note. You will be very surprised in all the things you do that leave some type of trail. Did you buy gas or groceries? If you did, chances are you used some sort of bank card. Did you talk to any friends or coworkers? Probably yes. You may not even think about those mundane tasks, but you leave at least a whisper of a trail everywhere you go. These are the type of things you have to think about when you’re trying to find someone.
This is where knowing a little bit about someone’s habits comes in handy. The more personal info you know about them, the easier it is to try to predict their daily life. Do they go to the gym regularly? Do they like to go out to clubs, or pound down brews at a local watering hole? Attend sports games? You can find out this type of info from asking around, and that will help you narrow down your search. The more you narrow down a search, the more you exhaust every possibility, you cannot help but find someone. Many times finding somebody is a numbers game. The more people you talk to, the luckier you get.
What Kind Of Cases Involve Tracking People Down?
Actually more than you can imagine. At first glance, you may think this kind of investigative only has to do with locating someone that doesn’t want to be found, but it’s a lot more than that.
For example, let’s say a group of investors are about to invest millions of dollars with a company or individual,and they want to be sure that the person or organization isn’t looking to scam them. Well, skip skills are written all over this. You may not be looking for someone hiding, but you are going to work backwards and find out where he lived, who he did business with, if he cheated anybody, etc. Finding a person, assets, past business deals, etc. is all a type of skip and locate work. It’s all tracking someone or something down, and it uses the same set of skills.
Another example. If a business owner is short on inventory consistently, he needs to find out if he has employee theft going on. I would check out all employees, find their hangouts, what items they own, where they shop, new purchases and bank accounts that don’t match their salary. Yes, other investigative skills come into play, such as surveillance and checking documents, but again you would be tracking down people and assets just like any other skip investigation.
So you see, having skill in finding people spill over into many different categories within private investigations. It is a skill that would serve you well if you develop it. Getting information from people is an irreplaceable skill that is necessary to find someone or something. Remember, no man (or woman) is an island. You have to depend on other people to help you out in finding someone, whether they know it or not. Nobody is successful in any endeavor without interaction with other people.
When you are willing to do what others won’t do, you will get results that nobody else will get. Be willing to do things that make you nervous, it will open doors that otherwise wouldn’t be there. It really can be fun. There’s not much else than the satisfaction of finding some dirtbag who doesn’t want to be found. Remember to come up with your own ideas that will work best for you. Everyone has their own personality, so find the techniques that work best for you. Please, whatever else you may or may not remember from reading this, remember that databases do not find people! They can help you, but they cannot do the real work for you. The salespeople for these companies will try to tell you differently, but those are the facts.
Like any activity in life, it can be scary at first to try new techniques. But, after you do try it, the fear is gone, and it’s easier to do the next time. OK, now reach out and touch someone. Remember, everyone is somewhere...
This is a little website I put together that has links to about every record that’s available to the public. Check it out, you’ll be amazed what you can find.
“Cheaters Never Win”
How to find out if your significant other ceases being so significant...
Domestic disputes are one of the most common calls of service for police officers. I know this from personal experience. I can’t even count the number of family fights I’ve been to, as well as arrested (and even fought) with suspects. That goes for male and female. People in the throes of human emotion do not make rational decisions, and are even dangerous to be around, male and female.
Of course, as P.I.’s we don’t go to people’s houses and break up fights, but a lot of time we do get involved with these types of problems. It’s not fun, and a lot of times doesn’t end well, but I firmly believe people have a right to know about infidelity. If a spouse doesn’t love the other one anymore, have the cajones to call it off, break it off, or whatever. Don’t take the cowards way out and cheat. That’s my personal feeling on that. I know a lot of people will disagree, that’s fine.
Okay, now to the meat of the subject. What are some common signs of someone cheating? Here are a few tried and true signs. However, please don’t take these as definitive proof, proceed with caution. These are just signs I and others have seen from years of being in the trenches. Here they are:
Sudden change in demeanor to the other spouse. I don’t know why this is, but many times a spouse will suddenly get nicer when they are having an affair. Maybe they feel their needs are getting met so they have some sense of happiness. Maybe it’s the guilt they have from having the affair so they want to be nicer to their spouse? It’s hard to say..
The spouse may start taking care of themselves. Meaning what? They start exercising when they didn’t before, or take more pride in their hair, makeup, etc. Many times when the cheater has a new beau, they feel they have to look their best for them. Going to the gym when they didn’t before, just trying to look their best. Smooth, huh?
The errant spouse will be gone more than usual. Last minute business trips, late nights out, more meals away from home, and so forth. When there’s someone new in the cheater’s life, they want to spend every moment they can with their new partner, at the expense of time with their actual family. Whether it’s local or out of town, their goal is to get away with their new plaything. Everything leaves clues.
Unexplained expenses. As much as the cheater will try to hide it, there will always be signs of financial malfeasance. Maybe in the form of credit card charges, or a lot of cash taken out if they don’t want to leave a specific record. Unusual ATM withdrawals can be a red flag. The cheater is trying to impress someone new now, and that usually involves money.
Secrecy with phones and computers. These days everybody at least texts each other, especially cheating spouses. They will start deleting all their texts, contacts, emails, and so forth. Maybe their start taking calls out of earshot from everyone else. Also, being on the computer til the wee hours of the morning (unless they’ve always done that). All of the sudden there’s passwords on everything when there didn’t used to be.Sometimes cheaters will go as far to buy a separate phone to use just for that purpose. That way there’s no record, especially since you can buy cheap prepaid phones for cash anywhere.
Sometimes cheaters get friends to cover for them. Maybe you’ll call a friend that they claim to be with and they will vouch for them, even if you know they’re not with them. It’s a shame that friends will help friends with such deviant behavior, but it does happen. The stories can get pretty good, so pay attention. Most people forget the KISS method when lying, and that is “Keep It Simple, Stupid”..
Okay, you’re probably not going to find something as blatant as lipstick on the collar of your spouse’s shirt, or something that obvious. maybe you’ll find something a little more subtle like a different fragrance of perfume or cologne that they usually don’t use? Even possibly some stray hairs on a jacket or other clothing that doesn’t belong to you? Sometimes little things make a difference. just pay attention if you have suspicions.
Any change of habits. Not necessarily anything specific, just anything new that they may be doing they weren’t doing before. When a spouse is cheating, sometimes they feel the guilt, at least a little, and they may feel that they’re being watched. Cheaters are always afraid of getting caught, maybe even paranoid. They’re afraid they’re always being watched. That will sometimes make them want to change their routine, look over their shoulder, things like that. Believe it or not, it happens. Just like a teenager sneaking out late at night, a cheater most of all doesn’t want to get caught.
Another possible sign that you may have a cheating spouse may be afraid to talk to you about serious matters. They may not ignore you or treat you bad, like I mentioned earlier, but serious talks where they look you in the eye for meaningful conversation may become more rare. Most, not all, cheaters al least have some decency and guilt left in their soul, and it will usually show. I’ve never seen an affair go on indefinitely hidden, it just doesn’t happen. Everything leaves a trail of something.
Ok, last and probably most importantly, is probably the most glaring sign of an affair going on. Here it is, ready? Gut instinct. Yep, that’s right. If you just have a hunch that something is wrong, or even off, chances are it probably is. I can’t think of any instances offhand where a spouse had a feeling the other one was cheating where they were wrong. I know it happens, but usually your gut instinct is correct. Believe it or not, many crimes are solved thru hunches, inspiration, feelings, whatever you want to call it.
Generally speaking, the longer someone’s been cheating, the more lax they get. They figure they’ve been getting away with it for a while, so no one’s the smarter for it. That’s pretty much the criminal mindset anyway. I know, a cheating spouse isn’t a criminal, but they are doing something bad, and they know it. I’ve never seen a cheater get away with it forever, the truth always comes out.
What happens when you find out? It’s up to you of course, but I wouldn’t recommend a public confrontation like you see on reality shows or the movies. Very little good comes from that. Confront them in a calm manner privately, and put it all out on the table. When someone has been cheated on, there’s a lot of emotions: Anger, humiliation, embarrassment to name a few. I won’t say anymore on this subject since I’m not a marriage counselor.
Of course surveillance is always a good idea when trying to find out cheating behavior. Most people are pretty unobservant, but that doesn’t mean surveillance is always easy. if you want surveillance done, it’s probably best left to the pros. Also, you don’t want to be accused of stalking! It can be hard to appear relaxed and to act natural when you are focusing at keeping up with a target. Like most things, it’s a little harder than it looks. Too much eye contact can be suspicious, as well as too much avoidance. There can be a fine line at blending in with your surroundings, and you want to always look like you belong.
Also, humans in the throes of emotion are not good investigators. I almost always refuse a request from a client that wants to “tag along” with me or my investigator when a cheater is found out. At the very least, there’s an explosion of emotions that isn’t fun to be around. At worst, though not probable, the slighted party could pull out a weapon and kill the cheating party. That would be a nightmare for all. It really does happen also. So, to play it safe, don’t confront a cheater caught in the act, it never ends well. And don’t try to get revenge, for this or anything else in life when you’re wronged somehow. A Chinese proverb says that when you go out for revenge, dig two graves, one for your enemy and one for yourself. I promise you with all of my heart that revenge will not help you at all, it will make your life worse in some way. It doesn’t mean that you have ot ever trust that person again, but forget about getting even.
To sum it up, cheaters will always leave clues..eventually. Just pay attention to their words and actions, and something will give them away. It can be hard to keep a lie up because you always have to remember what was said before. You’ll be able to pick up on subtle lies a cheater will spew out if you pay close attention. This aspect of private investigation is many times looked down on. I admittedly don’t do a lot of it now, but I have no problems with it. This can be a sad, disappointing situation, but you deserve to know the truth!
“That Really Bugs Me…!”
The art and science of debugging your place
There’s a fancy name for finding hidden bugs and cameras. It’s known in the investigative world as “TSCM”. That’s an acronym for Technical Surveillance Counter Measures. Simplified that means electronically finding these hidden listening and watching devices. Both electronically and otherwise.
Who would spy on your home or office? That depends.. what kind of business are you in, what are your relationships like? Are you paranoid? A jilted boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, unethical business partners or competitors..the list can go on.
First thing to remember is that just about any listening device that is hidden is highly illegal. Law enforcement even has to go to a judge, whether it’s local or federal, and get an official court order to authorize putting one in, or at least they’re supposed to. So if your phone line is tapped (being recorded) by a government entity, the had to explain it before a judge. Anything else is illegal. In many states, you can record a conversation if you are a part of it, and you don’t have to tell anybody or have permission. It’s not that way everywhere, so make sure you understand the law regarding that.
Cameras are a different thing. You can put them up in your residence, business, or premises owned or leased by you. However, they can only be put up and monitor areas that do not have reasonable expectation of privacy. Obvious places are bathrooms, breakrooms, you know, places like that. If you are a business owner, you may want to be careful of even places like breakrooms. It may still be a public place, but there may be some expectation of privacy for the employees. As usual, always check with a local attorney to make sure you stay within the law.
OK, now how do you know, or at least suspect that you’re being watched, listened to or both without your permission? You can start by physically checking everything. Bugs and cameras can be very small, but they aren’t invisible. They have to be placed where they can take in sound or video, depending on the device. They can be in electrical sockets, fans, lights, vents, cupboards, etc. Cameras are also hidden in everyday items that look like something else, so try to notice if there are any new items around your home or office that don’t belong there. Clocks, toys, cans of food, and so on. They can be hidden about anywhere these days.
There are a lot of things you won’t be able to do unless you have specialized equipment and are trained to use it. However, the best defense against electronic bugs and cameras is knowing how to look for them. Being thorough is your best friend when looking for things that don’t belong.
Look for things that are out of place, or “just don’t look right.” That could be anything from a lampshade a little askew to a mirror that doesn’t seem to be hanging right. Look for any little damage that might be on any walls or woodwork. Any plaster or other dust on the floor can be a sign of someone possibly drilling a small hole for an electronic device.
Other places to look where bugs and cameras are often hidden include A/C vents, in electrical outlets (take the plates off), behind picture frames, picture frames, and so on. There are cameras and bugs that are so small they can be hard to see with the naked eye, but they can be found. If you look around your home or office, you will find dozens of places where devices can be hid. Use your imagination.
If you are checking you or your friend’s house, talk to neighbors to see if they’ve noticed any people or vehicles that were out of place. Someone could have came under the guise of a home service business of some sort to plant a bug or camera. Granted, that is the less likely of scenarios contrary to tv and movies, but it’s possible.
Same thing if you are checking out your office for unwanted electronic devices. Talk to other’s in the office complex and see if anyone’s been around that shouldn’t have. It’s a little easier at an office to plant something since other people around pay less attention to people coming and going from a business. It’s a little less suspicious to walk into an office carrying a briefcase or bag with equipment during the day.
Also remember that unless you are involved in some high level stiff, you’re most likely not going to be the target of true professionals as far as planting bugs or cameras. Again, that’s tv and movie stuff. It will most likely be a business partner, employee, spouse, or significant other that feels jilted in some way. Those types are not going to be that good at setting this stuff up, and their equipment will most likely not be very good. It won’t be that hard to find.
In case you ever get tempted to spy on anybody, whether if be friend, foe, or employee, remember that you can be breaking federal wiretapping laws. Not something you want to do. Video surveillance in public areas is usually ok, but be careful beyond that. I’ve seen where private investigators have gotten in legal trouble for bugging someone. Remember, even the feds have to get an order from a judge to eavesdrop on someone.
If you have a business with vehicles and you want to keep track of your employees, put a gps tracking device on it. That’s legal if the vehicle is registered to your business. That will help keep your employees honest in what they do in your vehicle. Be advised though, eventually they will all know you are tracking them. I don’t care how secret you try to keep it, it always comes out. That’s not particularly a bad thing, it will still serve it’s purpose. Most big city police cars are tracked for some of the same reasons, and for officer safety of course.
The most important thing to remember about electronic devices is that they HAVE to have a power source. There are many that are battery powered, but they have a short life and have to be replaced continually. The devices that are wired have the challenge of having to have wire running to them. It can be hidden of course, but you can’t make them invisible. If you suspect someone is watching or listening, always remember there is no little fairy that is powering these things up, they have to have a power source!
Do Due Diligence!
At the risk of using a worn out phrase, “An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure.” Never is that more true in the matter of getting conned, ripped off, or defrauded. I lost count of how many clients I’ve had that were wealthy and intelligent in their own field of business, but then got involved in an unrelated business and got cheated.
If there is ever a message to get across to people with money, it’s this: Just because you know your own field of business and have made a lot of money, it doesn’t mean you have the midas touch and know what you need to know about other businesses. In my humble opinion, people can get “too big for their britches” and think they’re smarter than they really are. That’s when you get burned. It happens to the best of them.
Due diligence, simply put, is doing homework on someone before you hand over money or sign a contract. Remember, businesses don’t rip people off, people do. Or , more specifically, the people that run the businesses do. A business entity can’t do anything, good or bad, just the people running it.
A fellow PI of mine had an interesting case back in the nineties. A lady, who was overseeing an 11 million dollar investment of an investment group, decided it was wise to hire an investigator to check out the enterprising person that would be receiving the money. Well, my friend checked it out. Lo and behold, the perpetrator was working out of a small, dingy, apartment in Chicago with a fax machine (remember this was the nineties). Of course they cancelled the deal and saved themselves millions of dollars.
There are a lot of red flags when someone wants your money. A red flag itself doesn’t mean its a scam, but a lot of red flags, buyer beware:
Is there an unusual sense of urgency in getting the money and completing the deal? Yes, I understand that can sometimes be legit in some circumstances like a killer real estate deal or something like that, but everything is not urgent.
Is this deal only for you, and is some type of privileged or “insider” information? A con will usually have an element of exclusive information not available to the general public. If that’s the case, why are you so special? Beware..
Are their family members or trusted friends involved in it? Sometimes we as human beings can get the “herd” mentality and follow all the other sheep we know. Crooks not only know this, but they count on it. If they can hook your brother or best friend, they have not only you, but your other friends and family as well. Common practice.
Of course we can’t neglect this red flag..is this the deal of a lifetime? Does it have a return of your dreams? Will it make you rich? Does the idea of it stir your emotions and get you excited for the possibilities? If so, you should slow down and check into it. It’s not worth the heartache of losing hard earned money to a scam.
Another part of due diligence in in the business setting. If you’re looking at buying a business, you need to treat it like a person. Just because it’s a legitimate business doesn’t mean you can’t be scammed. I remember someone telling me about a business they were selling and they described it as a “family” business, so there were no books. I wondered why there would be no accounting just because it’s a family business? Is that a requirement for a family business?
When you’re checking out a business, or more specifically the people involved in a business, check out everything you can. Where have they lived? When you know that, you can find out if they’ve been involved in any court cases? Civil or criminal? If not, try to find out who they’ve been involved with? Some of the slickest crooks haven’t left a trail of court paperwork, but they’ve left a trail of mad people. Even if they’ve never been arrested, it doesn’t mean they haven’t been crooks. A little digging and a few phone calls can really tell you what the person is really like. Put in the time and you’ll find out things that no documentation can ever tell you.
To find out where people have lived, you may have to consult some type of criss cross directory or database. A good one will at least show you past residences of someone. Once you have that, you can check the county courts of where the person lived to see the cases they’ve been involved in. Check to see who else was involved with the cade, whether it was civil or criminal. Then you want to get a hold of those people to find out what really went on with your target. As I’ve said before, you will get your best information from other people without fail, not documents.
You’re probably beginning to see why good P.I.’s get paid well. It’s a lot of work to gather good information, and very time consuming. Even in this digital age I’ve had to send away for court records, and go to the court building quite a bit. Just about anything can be found out, but you have to be tenacious and persistent, and of course patient. many people don’t have the personality type to do that. That doesn’t make them any less of a person. There’s a lot of things that i wouldn’t have the patience for in other fields, but I do for this.
Before you get involved with anything that stands to cost (or lose) a lot of money or resources, take the time to check into the people you’re dealing with. If they’re trying to cheat you, they’ve most likely cheated somebody before, and sadly they may be no record of it whatsoever. The best con men have the cleanest records.
Please don’t be so narcissistic that you think you can’t be conned, even if you’re wealthy (or at least well off) from your own business. I have seen so many intelligent people scammed only because they thought their success in one field made them an expert in all. It doesn’t work that way. I knew a group of doctors that got scammed on some investment scheme by an individual that took them collectively for probably close to a million. They thought they were smart enough to know that they were getting into something legitimate. It wasn’t, and they lost. Unfortunately it’s a lot easier to hang onto money than get it back.
Con men may not be that smart, but they are good at their craft. They know the hot buttons that get people interested, especially professionals. They know how to be specific enough to satisfy questions, but vague enough to keep facts from being verified. How are most people going to verify a gold mine in the mountains of Peru? You can’t, and the scammers know that. Also con men know how to play your family and friends against you to pressure you into joining. They find the easiest mark in your circle of family (or friends) and nab them. They know if they get one, the rest will fall-herd mentality.
Remember that no one is too smart to be scammed. Just about everyone has been scammed sometime in their life in some small way. We all want a good deal, something free, or a great return on our money. We are all vulnerable at some time in our life, it’s human nature. Just try not to jump into anything before you check it out. Better a little caution than a great regret.
He Did What?!?
People, men and women, are accused and arrested everyday. No surprise there, but surprisingly many are arrested for something that they either didn’t do, or more of an extent than what really happened. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not soft on crime. If someone committed a crime, they should do the time, as it’s said. However, it truly isn’t fair the way things turn out much of the time for the accused. I can go on forever about a lot of the silly laws in this country, and the bafflingly amount of new laws being passed. But, I’ll stop there since this isn’t the purpose of this book.
When you or a loved one, or even a friend is accused of something that you think is incorrect, there are things you can do for yourself. Technically you can’t do investigative work for others as a hired PI unless you are licensed, but there’s nothing against doing a favor for a friend or family member.
When someone is accused of a crime, it’s initially investigated by the police. Now while they do as thorough a job as time and resources allow, they are limited. They are looking for the elements of the crime to make a case against the accused. A police detective has many cases that he, or she, is working at once and is limited to the attention that can be put towards it. That’s not to say a good job isn’t done, but the motivation isn’t to help the accused.
When I’m hired on the side of the accused, I’m motivated to objectively find the facts. I’m not necessarily trying to prove someone innocent, because they may not be. I’m trying to find out exactly what happened and try to ferret out all the facts. That only happens by following up on every lead available and following until it takes you to the next lead or it dies.
You can do the same thing. There’s nothing magical about conducting an investigation. Granted, there’s the forensic science of crime scenes, evidence, etc. That is very important in investigations, and it has freed people that were unjustly imprisoned. I’m thankful that forensic science is available and continually getting better.
That being said, there’s a lot more to solving a case than the crime scene evidence. I’ve said this many times, and I’ll say it again and again. The best information you will ever get will come from other people. You may have to wade through a ton of misinformation, but you’ll eventually get to the truth. When you are trying to find out what really happened in an alleged crime, you will have to talk to a lot of people and sort through a lot of bad info.
Okay, now how exactly do you go about investigating a criminal matter? For starters, you want to thoroughly study the police report of the alleged incident. Now I didn’t say read, I said study. Depending on the police department, reports are usually available to the public. If it’s a serious crime, parts of the report may not be available until the police are complete with their investigation. So, get what you can and study it.
Look for all the elements of the crime in the report. What physical evidence is listed in the report? Where was it found? How does it support or prove that the crime was committed? Is there forensic (scientific) evidence that supports the investigation against the accused? If so, why?
Next is where the real investigation comes into play: Follow every lead and talk to every person that may be remotely involved in the incident you’re looking into. I know it sounds simple, but this is what separates real P.I.’s from lousy ones. Many investigators won’t go that far out of their way to find the facts. It’s work, I admit. It’s not ditch digging work, but it’s work nonetheless. It takes a lot of effort and time to follow a lot of leads that may go nowhere. It takes stamina to go around the city and talk to everyone that you think might just have a strand of information that might be helpful. Persistence is the key here. It’s not always fun, but it’s very useful!
Case in point. Once upon a time I had a case from a high end car dealer. They wanted me to find their vehicle that someone purchased on a contract and stopped making payments. I ended up going all the way to the border of Mexico to talk to family, only to find out the subject was back living in the Phoenix area. Now did I waste that trip several hours down to the border? Heck no!! I wouldn’t have found out where she was at if I didn’t go all the way down there.
The point I’m trying to make here is that answers don’t usually come easy. It takes actual work to conduct a good investigation. Unfortunately there are a lot of P.I.’s who are content to sit in an office all day and only do investigative work that doesn’t require them to leave their cave. That’s fine if it works for them, sounds like hell to me. You can find a lot of information online, and just about every case I do involves sitting behind a computer to get some good info. However, you will never get all the info you need on a case without getting in front of people. If you have a fear of that, you have to get over it. Luck is usually dressed in overalls and looks like work.
The best advice I can give is that you have to ferret out the facts. As you investigate something, it may appear as if you have a bunch of random occurrences. But then when things start to come together, you’ll see why it was worth driving all over creation just to talk to a few people. Knocking on doors in a neighborhood, talking to business employees, and so on. I know I keep repeating myself, but all these are things that most people aren’t willing to do, and that can make a difference in a criminal case. Even seasoned police detectives can miss out on important facts just because they didn’t think to check on something. That and they have a tremendous workload that can prevent them from putting the time that you can...
If there’s forensic evidence, the results of it can be available to you, depending on the pending investigation and the severity of the crime. Forensic evidence generally refers to evidence that is studied and processed in a technical setting. For example, getting data off a computer hard drive, blood and DNA sample analysis, and so gunpowder residue, and so on.I have studied autopsies before and was able to make sense of them. My medical training is limited to being a medic in the Navy, but if you read over something, and have a dictionary handy, you can make sense of about anything. You may not come to any conclusions that aren’t already known, but you will understand more about the case after studying forensic findings.
As I mentioned before, if you’re not an actual licensed investigator, you can only perform investigations for yourself, or maybe if you’re helping out a friend or family member. Like anything else, the more you do it, the more you understand. There’s nothing wrong with developing skills in the investigative field, it can always come in handy!
I Think Somebody’s Watching Me..
We talked about surveillance as a part of some of the other subject’s we covered, but now let’s talk specifically about surveillance. The thing about surveillance is that it’s the backbone of a lot of different investigations. When most people think of surveillance they think of tailing a cheating spouse, but it’s so much more than that. law enforcement and intelligence agencies use constant surveillance, both physical and electronic, all the time. We’ve already talked about electronic surveillance, so let’s talk about the old school stuff.
Surveillance isn’t just about catching somebody in the act either. More often than not it’s about getting to know your subject. I’m here to tell you, if you watch and follow your subject long enough, you can read them after a while. By that I mean you can know what their thinking. We’re not mind readers of course, but if you watch someone’s actions and reactions long enough, you can start understanding their thought process. It’s really uncanny how it happens. Similar to what you learn from watching your kids. After a while, you know how they’ll react in certain situations just from observing them for so long. Same thing with surveillance, you watch someone long enough to know what they might do next, who their friends and associates are, and so on.
The first rule of following someone is to not get caught (burned). I learned years ago that people are generally unobservant. That’s what makes surveillance possible in many cases. However, even unobservant people will take notice if they see the same person several times in a short amount of time. The key is to be able to stay out of sight out of the time. If they don’t see you, they can’t remember you. So, don’t be seen by your subject if you can help it. If you are in a situation where you will be seen, try to do it in such a way that you are as unremarkable as possible.
There’s a few broad types of surveillance. One is static surveillance and mobile surveillance. Both types of surveillance have their place, and their challenges. I’ve done a lot of both, and I admit I’ve been burned on both. It’s embarrassing, but I don’t sugarcoat things. Any P.I. that claims they’ve never been burned in a surveillance is either lying, or they haven’t done much of it. When you’re dealing with human behavior, it’s very unpredictable and can be surprising to say the least.
Okay, let’s talk about about static surveillance first. Basically that means that you’re just sitting (or standing or laying) there waiting for something to happen. Maybe it’s waiting for someone so show up, someone to leave, a theft to happen, or some other event. It could be one of a thousand things, but most importantly means you could be sitting there a while. It’s boring, long, and not fun. But it pays off if you can stick it out. Many, many cases have been solved because of patient surveillance. It’s always best to have at least 2 separate people on a static surveillance. Two different points of view, 4 eyes on the point of contact in case one misses something. The most important aspect of this is attention which has to be kept on the subject. That can be hard to do for hours at a time, so having at least one other person helps. Also having the other person at a different angle to the building you’re watching is very beneficial.
Try not to eat much when you’re on a static surveillance, it can make you drowsy. Have enough water, maybe some light snacks, but that’s about it. yes, eventually you’ll have to go to the bathroom. Another benefit of having at least 2 people, you can leave for a short time to go. Again, if you’re not a licensed investigator and you’re doing this for yourself or someone you know, it could be construed as stalking, so you want to be very careful.
One thing to watch out for on a surveillance is having a place to park your vehicle where it can’t be noticed, or at least not look suspicious if it’s sitting there for a while. That can be hard to impossible in some neighborhoods. Sometimes you just cannot be near the house, that’s all there is to it. If it’s a tight knit neighborhood and nobody parks in the street, then you’ll have a hard time parking on the street with your vehicle. Even the pros with surveillance vans stick out like a sore thumb in some neighborhoods. There’s nothing magical about that, that’s just the reality of it. The only solution is to park where you can for a while, and move periodically. You may have to park at one of the exits from the neighborhood. Anybody sticks out if you’re there for an extended period of time, nothing you can do about it.
Okay, let’s say you have a decent spot where you aren’t being seen. Now you just watch and wait. This is the fun part, but few people are willing to sit somewhere for hours waiting for that one event that will make or break a case. I have waited for hours on end to wait for subjects to show up, and it can get mind numbing, but stick to it. I have caught high dollar bail skips by showing a few days patience waiting for them to show up. There is always someplace that somebody will go back to, whether it’s some hangout, or a friend or family member’s place. It’s not fun, but it’s worth it.
Mobile surveillance is a whole other animal. This means that you’re moving with the target, you go where they go. This is usually a more difficult surveillance to do. It can be tough to do in the city because of street lights, traffic, weather, and about a thousand other things that you can’t control. If you’re out in the boonies, it can be really tough also. If your car and the target’s car are the only one’s for miles, how long can you stay inconspicuous? Not too long.
It’s just about required that you have more than one car for a mobile surveillance. Common sense should tell you that. how easy is it to get stuck behind a red light when you’re following someone? I’ve done it, and it happens continually. You have to plan for everything to go wrong that you can imagine, and it sometimes does. If you’re going to follow someone, get someone else to help you.
The simple way to cover the basics of mobile surveillance are this: Whether in a car or on foot, only one person worries about keeping eyes on on the actual subject. The second person just keeps eyes on the first person, and that’s all.,.
Surveillance is one of those things that get better with practice. Even with that, the best of us sometimes still get caught. Even the most average man or woman can become a tough subject if they’re expecting something. I have had clients that have actually told their significant other that they have a p.i. that will be watching them. No, it’s true, that really has happened a few times as crazy as that sounds. the point being, nobody’s perfect, even if you’ve been doing this for a dozen years or more.
Once again, if you’re not a licensed private investigator, you need to be careful doing surveillance. You can’t be hired by somebody to do it if you’re not licensed, and it could be construed as stalking, harassment, or whatever. When in doubt, just don’t do it. Going to jail, or court, or even getting stopped by the police is no fun.
Stories and Lessons Learned
Whether embellished or not, P.I.’s love to tell stories about their conquests. For every successful and exciting case, there’s always some less than successful story. I’ll start with one of those just to show you I don’t think I’m high and mighty, which nobody is.
OK, Here’s probably the most embarrassing one. I like to start with a big goof so people realize I don’t think too much of myself, it’s always good to stay humble.
I was asked by somebody out of state to take a fugitive into custody that was in my area. There was a man that they’ve been in contact with that supposedly knew where he was.