Sunday, February 28, 2016

#3 of 6 Things a PI Won't Tell You

#3 We rarely find that smoking gun. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

#4 of 6 Things A PI Won't Tell You

#4 We don’t have any special powers

“Years of television may lead you to believe that Private Investigators drive Ferraris, have law enforcement powers and have access to secret government records, in addition, you may believe that you are required to talk to a Private Investigator.  While some investigators may drive Ferraris, the rest of it is not true.  In fact, in most cases, a Private Investigator does not have any more power than the average person."

I agree with Brian to a degree.  While his list of 6 Things A PI Won’t Tell You was published in 2012 the laws are constantly changing in both directions giving us rights and taking others’ away. Let me express that real PI’s follow the rules and laws.  Anything PI’s recover as a result of an investigation would otherwise be a waste of time if not legally acquired, besides there is too much at stake for a PI who makes his/her living doing what they love to do.  They can lose their license and face the consequences of their actions.  It’s true that a PI is really just a public citizen and do not have law enforcement powers.    The power that a PI does have is skill and experience.    A doctor thinks like a doctor, a lawyer thinks like a lawyer and a PI thinks like a PI.  Be careful not to underestimate someone who digs around for information for a living, seeks the truth and knows how to find it.
PI’s  have power in the sense that they have the skill set to do what might be necessary to solve a case and it certainly helps when they investigate someone who has nothing to hide.  People who have something to hide will not be so forthcoming.  For example, when Shawn Hornbeck went missing and I sat down with his parents in an appeal to help find their son, pro bono, they were eager to cooperate with me and answered every single question asked.  Once during a rescue {of a women who was being controlled by her husband and held hostage} the bad guy in this case lied about everything and {in his own mind} justified his behavior to take the blame away from himself. 
One kind of power Brian is talking about is the kind of power a police officer has with a badge, for example, a PI cannot make an arrest.  I personally would not want to have that right.  If I wanted that right I would have become a cop. And, PI’s are more comparable to a Detective where they investigate not arrest. We have the same rights as the public to make a citizen arrest where allowed.  In fact, although some PI’s have a badge it is unethical to use it under unnecessary circumstances.  If you saw a person wearing a badge you wouldn’t think “there’s a PI”, no, you would think “there’s a police officer”.  It can almost be considered a form of misrepresentation if a Private Investigator or Private Detective were to walk around wearing a badge.   In fact, most PI’s don’t wear their badge and might keep it in their back pocket.   When my firm bought badges back in the day we had to ID ourselves as a legitimate Detective Agency but I am confident these days you could buy one no matter who you are and believe me when I say that people do and they misuse them, misrepresent themselves, and impersonate.  That’s the Internet for you.  But, why does a PI have a badge if it’s of no use to them?  Some PI’s have a badge as a token of accomplishment.  PI’s go through a lot of training and most are highly educated with degrees in criminology and more.  Most states require PI’s to be licensed and are required to take continuing education classes yearly or every two years in order to maintain their license.  Even as a Research Analyst I have 48 CEU’s in the field of Investigation.  I have had my badge for many years and back in the day it came in handy when working on missing children cases.  It was a form of ID that people took more seriously than had I just stated "I'm a PI so give me all the information you have" and expect the family to believe me.  These days’ people are on guard more so whereas anybody could get a badge and lie about whom they are even the child’s abductor.  Remember the three girls who went missing in Ohio?  Their abductor, Arial Castro, was there to help advocate for the return of one of his abductees. If I am acting on a professional level it helps to have a form of professional ID.  If I needed to I would not only use my badge but my professional state ID card.  

Secret government records are not accessible to anyone without legal right.  If a PI has legal means of obtaining secret government record I guarantee that they are using them.   It takes years for a PI to establish resources and contacts in order to achieve a great amount of success and while the information they access must be legal and with permissible purpose there are different ways they can go about getting it.  One way is to call in a favor to a friend and more than often that friend is a colleague.  You know who to trust and who not to trust in other words a PI who has morals and boundaries will stay away from the dirty PI’s who act like big shots among their peers bragging about the illegal information they can get.  Most PI’s have the same record access and resources and anything beyond that may not be legal.   And, if they are using information in the court of law and it was obtained illegally I guarantee it will be of no use to the client.

Again, the skill and experience of a PI is what makes a good PI.  A seasoned PI who has a specialty will typically know exactly what needs to be done including the shortcuts in order to solve a case.  For example I have training in skip tracing.  Skip tracing is the process of locating a person.  Skip tracers can legally also trace telephone numbers, credit cards, and just about anything that has a paper trail.  A good PI will know the right questions to ask their client in order to establish the best shortcut that will get to the requested ending result.  The process of skip tracing involves as many steps as it takes, however knowing which direction to go and how the information can be used is the key to success.  It’s simply putting a puzzle together in the right order.  Some of the puzzles are small and some can be very big.  Some are more time consuming than others.  I also must add that I interrogate my perspective client before I accept a case.  I always have to know why they want the information and what they intend to do with it when they get it.  Their answers will dictate whether or not I accept the task and what resources I can use.   PI’s, Skip Tracers, Investigators, Financial Institutions and more must have permissible purpose in order to access records that they most likely had to jump through hoops to access in the first place.  These are the resources that are not available to the public and must be used in a responsible and ethical manner by those who use them. 
Now, about the Ferraris.  Successful PI’s can easily bring in a six figure annual salary.  On average, in 2012, the annual salary of a PI was right around $50,000.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

# 5 of 6 Things A PI Won't Tell You

#2 We hire subcontractors to do most of the work.

Brian says, “There are independent investigators everywhere, many of whom do subcontract work for other firms.  It’s the nature of the business, in part because investigators rarely have a steady, normal workload.  Hiring subcontractors makes companies nimble, and it allows companies to hire outside experts who they wouldn’t be able to keep on staff or investigators in areas where they don’t have any coverage.”

There is nothing wrong with hiring a subcontractor to do the work especially if you know they will get the work done properly and timely.  It has been my experience that when someone calls you for your professional expertise they don’t care where it comes from and only want the results.  I am referring to an anxious husband who wants to know if his wife is cheating on him or a parent who wants to reconnect with their adult child having not seen them in over 20 years. 

Fortunately, I have never had a problem doing work in house.  I have been blessed with a fully staffed office for over 20 years.  Seldom did I hire a sub contractor on a case by case basis. If I did not have a staff I would happily help sub contractors keep busy with work.  But, it would have to be someone I know and well. When I started working for Dash Investigations in 1995, now known as Consumer Detective Corporation, my boss told me a story that taught me a lesson at someone else’s expense.  My boss, Mark, was hired to find ownership of a license plate on a car that parked in his driveway every night while he was at work leaving his wife at home, alone, so he thought.  He suspected his wife may have been cheating on him.  Mark knew why the man wanted the information but didn’t ask him what he would do with it once he had it.  Mark learned the car belonged to a man his wife was having an affair with and gave the information to his client including the name and address.  As a result of these findings Mark's client took a gun, went to the guys house, and shot him!  I cannot recall whether he survived the attack.  It was a long time ago.  I do recall that Mark had to give testimony to the fact that the shooter came to him for the information.  I will never forget this story and as a result I always ask my client what they plan to do with the information that I give them before I even take the case.  I would never hire a contractor whom I was not acquainted with.

 Throughout my career I often received phone calls from people who wanted to get into the industry especially police officers who wanted side work or wished to retire from the force and do what they do best without a badge short of making arrests.  I have hired a few police officers on a contractual basis and I have been hired to investigate police officers.  I have had people ask me to train them in skip tracing but there are tricks of the trade and secrets that you don’t reveal.  It's like a magician giving away the secrets to his magic tricks.  It took me many years to build the relationships and resources that contribute to my success.  It would not be wise for a PI to hand their secrets over to just anybody.

If I were to hire a contractor that contractor would have to come with their own resources, skills, and knowledge.  In order to get the experience they have to have the opportunity to work.  It’s not easy breaking into this industry without the clientele.  It’s like any start up business in an professional capacity such as accountants, plumbers, electricians and PI’s.  You have to have experience to get the clients.  If you can't get the work how do you build experience?  I support the efforts of those that wish to get into this industry.  
If you are interested or know someone who is interested in getting into the PI business please read my posting titled Adventures in The World of Investigations.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

6 Things a PI Won't Tell You

#6. Our work is really boring.   

I don't necessarily agree with Brian and suspect he is talking about surveillance and that indeed can be boring, but not always.

A long time ago when I first started out in my career as a PI surveillance was one of the first things I learned how to do.  I was taking on a new position with a PI firm as manager and head investigator and although I knew how to make the bread and butter for the company I had other areas to study and surveillance was one of them.  Anybody could follow someone to see where they are going and what they are doing but if you lose your subject do you know how to find them again?

Here is an example:  I was hired by a husband to follow his wife.  He suspected she was cheating on him.  I said to him what I said to all of my cheating spouse clients, "if you suspect it then it is probably happening. What are you going to do with the information if you find out you are right?"  I am not going to risk my life and that of my partner for the sake of someone else' infidelity.

This case took place in the city where there were one way streets and parallel parked cars on the neighborhood streets that had rows of houses with little room for side yards.  My client was desperate to find out if his wife was cheating on him.  He said she was coming home late at night telling him she was working late which he learned was not true.  He had an idea of where she might be going after work but did not know the address and if there was anything going on that shouldn't have been.  Short of entering the house and seeing with our own eyes she was doing the deed with someone other than her husband our abilities were limited.  Our efforts were handicapped by the surroundings such as trees, cars, other buildings, etc.  

Now, there are certain things I will not divulge for the sake of giving away too much information. I assure you that no laws were broken and nobody ever got hurt during any of the investigations I had anything to do with not to mention we always contacted the police in the jurisdiction we were in and they were always made aware of our purpose and were most likely familiar with our activities.  If any of the neighbors called the police due to 'suspicious activity' they were told that they were aware of our being there.

Our client gave us a starting point.  We picked up our subject at her place of employment and started to follow her.  There were a lot of turns at stop signs and if we did not stay close enough, due to rush hour traffic, we would lose her but we also had to keep a short distance away so she would not feel as if she was being followed.  That could be disastrous.

Once we were hired to follow a young woman from her job one night after she got off work and we lost her in the process.  We learned that later that night while on her way home from a party, drunk, she hit a brick wall and was seriously injured.  Had we been following her naturally we could would have thought she was trying to get away from us and as a result slammed into a brick wall.  It was meant to be that we lost her.  Thankfully she survived in the end and as I recall we found out she was not cheating on her husband that night.  Out of all the surveillance jobs I had worked on this is the only subject I had ever lost.

Due to the continuous stops we did eventually lose our subject but we managed to pick her back up at another cross street.  When we lost her we felt our hearts drop down to our feet.  We failed but we didn't give up.  We used our skills to navigate ourselves around the neighborhoods in order to catch up with her again. Speeding through neighborhoods, hitting more stop signs, and keeping our eyes open as wide as can be we found our subject at a stop sign.  It was a sigh of relief.  Once we had her in our sights we followed her to a house where she parallel parked her car. Of course we kept going down the street but came back around and parked our car within eye shot of the house we thought she entered.  First, we had to verify she was in the house and once we did we sat and waited.  This is where the boring part comes in.  You sit and take turns keeping your eye on the subject and any movements made.  While we waited we did our computer searches to find out who owned the property and then did a background on the resident of the home.  He was a single man that she worked with.  They appeared to be the only ones in the home at that time.  There was only one light on that was visible from the outside.  You have to have the guts to get out and walk around to the back of the house to see if there were any activities or areas that were more visible.  To be successful at surveillance you have to have the guts to do pretty much anything that needs to be done but as long as nobody gets hurt.

In the end we concurred that our subject was in deed cheating on her husband.  Their marriage ended in divorce down the road.

An exciting surveillance job I did was a highway speed chase.  We were following a subject from one state to another and it became very dangerous.  It ended with successful results and nobody got hurt.  

After putting in two years of surveillance training I decided it was not the area of investigation I wanted to work in. The only time I ever needed to use the skills I acquired was years later on a criminal investigation.  I have not had the need to use it since and I hope I never do.   -The end

"There is no hole big enough in this world to hide from a PI."

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