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Any general Diligentia news

For the past three years, around this time of year, I’ve been visiting Putnam Valley High School to speak in front of a class of seniors. The class is run by Bob Baker, whom I’ve known since I was 9 years old.

Mr. Baker, as I have been asked to call him in class, teaches math, but once a year he gives a math-applications course where he teaches seniors about applying some of the math they have learned in school to real-life situations like paying taxes, obtaining a mortgage and making investments.

The class also has a bit of career, entrepreneurship and business advice thrown in; the students listen to a few guest speakers in class, go down to Wall Street and attend a career day at MetLife Stadium.

I truly love speaking to this class every year, and I’m not really sure why. First off, who doesn’t like talking about themselves for about an hour?

But I also feel like I have an interesting story to tell, one that high schoolers can relate to.

I think it’s also because by my own definition, I’ve had a pretty successful career and I think I have the best job in the world. When I talk to the students, I share some of my past about how I got to where I am, some of the things that helped get me there and some stories of my most interesting cases.

I also talk to them about being careful what they post on social media, but hopefully I’m not the first one to do that.

While we all have a story, I can totally relate to where they are as high school seniors. This investigative story seems to be the fan favorite.

Here are a few things that always seem to resonate with the students.

Be a Writer

I was a horrible writer in grade school and high school. I literally couldn’t put a few sentences together. I couldn’t collect my thoughts or write anything cohesive. I remember my father literally throwing an entire draft “book report” in the garbage because it didn’t make any sense. I know that probably frustrated my family members; after all, I am the grandson of a novelist and screenwriter.

Things started to change in college. I’m not sure what happened, but I do recall one class where we were required to write no more than two pages for anything that we handed in. I remember being forced to write more succinctly and clearly, and without jargon, fluff or extra words.

Also at that time, I started to read a lot more. I started mostly with the newspaper, which I have been reading religiously every day since. (I think I picked up that little nugget from Rick Pitino’s book Success Is a Choice: Ten Steps to Overachieving in Business and Life, which I highly recommend.)

Ironically, today I write a lot, including this blog, which is up to about 300 posts. I also write investigative reports and memos on a daily basis; for those, I need to be to-the-point, factual and jargon-less.

I still don’t think I am a great writer, but I do know one thing – writing takes work. Lots of it. So my advice is to write. Whatever it is – poems, emails, journals, fiction, fantasy or haiku – just keep writing.

And read too. Whatever floats your boat. (Maybe start with a newspaper.)

Build a Network

There are two things that I credit my “success” to. The first is hard work. I have never pretended to be the smartest person in the room, but I can outwork just about anybody. And that doesn’t require any special skills or superpower.

The other thing that I credit success to is networking. Ten years ago, when I left my cushy salaried desk job with medical benefits to start my own business, I had a wife, two young kids, a fairly substantial mortgage to pay and a whole lot of confidence (also known as ignorance) that I was going to make a living on my own.

One thing I did have was a good network of people I had come to know and trust over the years. When I sat down on day one of my entrepreneurial venture, I called and emailed everyone I had come across in my professional and personal life.

Shortly after, I began my first case, helping my client prepare for a trial. For two and a half weeks, I worked long days and nights, including a 17-hour day on Labor Day. That first client has turned into a 10-year client. The rest, as they say, is history.

What I didn’t know then, but know now, is that my network literally started my business. I had always treated people with respect and made it a point to keep in touch with them, help them out when needed and ask for favors when appropriate. I did it to be a decent human being, not because I wanted to be a good networker.

What I have come to realize is that every interaction you have is literally building your network. A network that might be able to help you in the future. That person next to you at your lunch table might be able to help get you a job in the future or maybe even inspire you to do something that you hadn’t thought of.

So go ahead and be kind to people, take an interest in someone else’s life, or just be a good listener.

You never know when you might need someone in your “network.”

Perseverance

I am a competitor at heart. My younger brother would frequently let me beat him in basketball just so I wouldn’t quit playing. I’ve also been known to get a little too amped-up during family game night.

Early in my career, I was told that I wasn’t a very good investigator. People openly doubted that I would make it when I opened my own business. They doubted that I could run a business since I was insecure, not mature enough or lacked the skills to be a manager.

Sure, I needed to grow up a bit, and some of that criticism was well deserved.

But all the doubters did was put a bit of a chip on my shoulder, making me want to prove them all wrong.

Athletes like to call that finding an edge.

Whatever it’s called, I like to push my own personal boundaries.

It’s worked out pretty good so far.

High School and College

I was a terrible high school student. I broke my arm in the ninth grade and thought that was a good excuse not to do any homework or study for any tests during the six weeks my cast was on (I think I failed every class that semester).

I got kicked off the baseball team in my senior year because I hadn’t shown up to my first-period biology class in months.

I finished exactly 106 out of 212 students in my class, just between the biggest burnout and the class clown.

I applied to exactly one college, 30 minutes from my house, only because all my friends were going to college and I didn’t want to be left behind. After a year, I dropped out, realizing that I had exactly zero ideas about my future.

I ended up working in the sports industry for a local photography firm that licensed professional sports photos. That led me to pursue a degree at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which at the time had (and maybe still does) the best sports management program in the country.

I graduated cum laude and ended up working in the sports industry for a few years before determining that wasn’t for me either.

All this experience led me to work as a private investigator at the age of 25, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

I was 17 years old when I graduated from high school. I had no idea what I wanted to do, which scared the hell out of me.

The reality is that most graduates really don’t know what they want to do. My colleague just found his passion at the age of 40.

I love what I do, but frankly, I could have loved 30 other things too. Who knows?

If you are 17 or 18 years old, you have time to figure things out, so be patient, don’t settle, work hard, persist, hustle and keep following your passions until you find one that sticks.

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Private investigator Scott Ross called me a few months back and relayed a story about a Florida investigator whom he had spoken with a few years ago. Scott is a nationally renowned expert on cell phone towers and has worked some really high-profile cases. The Florida investigator had called Scott a few years back, wanting to pick his brain about a case that needed some analysis of cell phone records.

Scott and I share a similar philosophy. He is happy to share some insight and information about his expertise, knowing that if there is a serious need, he’s the guy that they will think of. Plus, it’s just a good human trait to want to help people.

Scott helped the investigator out. Never charged him a penny and didn’t think much about the investigator until several months ago, when Scott was about to be retained on a Florida murder case. Scott needed some police reports from a local Florida police department, so he called the Florida private investigator. The Florida investigator said he had a source in the police department who could get the records. Scott told the investigator that he hadn’t been retained yet, but if his source could get the record without too much trouble, it would be helpful.

Shortly thereafter, the Florida investigator sent the two-page document—and a bill for $100.

Even though he was a bit surprised by the bill, Scott sent the investigator $125 as a thank-you for his time. The Florida investigator said that there were several more police reports relating to the person in question. Scott told the investigator to hold off, since they hadn’t been retained by the attorney.

But shortly thereafter, Scott received six other police reports along with a bill for $300.

Scott was a bit perturbed, given he had explicitly told him not to do any additional work, but paid it anyway.

And that was that.

Or so Scott thought. 

Some time thereafter, Scott was making some inquiries about getting an autopsy from the same Florida murder. Unlike in California, where you have to pay a $76 fee and jump through hoops, he was told that the report was free. (Gotta love Florida Sunshine laws.)

Curious, Scott called the police department that had the police records he wanted. First, Scott asked about the original police report he had inquired about. The search was free, and not only did they have the record he was inquiring about, they had six others. The officer at the police department told him that the fee would be $10, copies cost $0.15, and that he could email the request.

So much for that “source.”

And the $400 in invoices.

And the professional courtesy of helping out another private investigator.

I too have had some similar experiences. 

There are a couple of things to learn from this.

  • When your source is an open records request, you have to rethink your business model. It’s 2019—people are too smart and have access to too much information to have the wool pulled over their eyes.
  • Nobody likes to be nickel-and-dimed. Nobody.
  • The investigative business is a small world; people find things out.
  • Investigators need to work together. Enough of the BS of your secret sources and desperately needing to increase your self-importance.
  • There’s plenty of work out there for all of us—if you are good at what you do. 

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Ten years ago this month, I was about to take the biggest risk of my life: starting my own business. And I was doing so with a mix of excitement and exhilaration, along with a healthy dose of fear and terror.

It was also kind of bittersweet. I was leaving a firm where I had formed so many important relationships and I had literally learned everything I had known up until then about this business, having started as a complete schlep.

I wasn’t just any schlep, though; I was the boss’ son, which always complicated things. I always felt I needed to prove something. I never wanted anyone to think I was handed anything. And was constantly fighting the urge to prove everyone wrong, including the boss.

I always had the bug to start my own business. I’m not totally sure why. Maybe it was the entrepreneurial bug that I always read about? Or just the idea of running my own business? Or not having to take orders?

But I do remember thinking that I wanted to be able to do whatever I wanted to do and wanted more freedom to escape from regular work hours.

And despite my confidence (or complete ignorance, depending on how you look at it) that I can make a living on my own, looking back, it might be one of the dumbest things I have ever done.

I’m not exactly sure what I was thinking.

I had two small children under my roof.

If you are 33-year-old private investigator who suddenly has to fend for himself, you better have some qualifications up your sleeve other than the fact that you worked for your father’s private investigation firm.

My wife was a stay-at-home mom and my salary was the sole source of our income.

And I had only been a private investigator for eight years, which puts me somewhere between an infant and a toddler in this business.

I also had zero law enforcement experience. Which is not at all necessary in this business, but if you are 33-year-old private investigator who suddenly has to fend for himself, you better have some qualifications up your sleeve other than the fact that you worked for your father’s private investigation firm.

Lastly, having only worked for one firm for my entire investigative life, I really had no idea whether I was really any good at what I did. I was pretty confident I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t know how well I stacked up against everyone else.

I was about to find out.

With $10,000 of my own money, I set up an S corporation; designed a logo; registered my domain; applied for a New York private investigator license; bought a Dell desktop computer, two monitors, and a laptop; and built myself a home office in the basement of my condo.

It was mid-August and about five days into my new adventure, with dozens of “feeler” emails having been sent to old friends and colleagues, when I got a call from an old colleague of mine that his firm needed assistance on a case that was about to go to trial.

Monday, August 24, 2009, I started my first case, helping to prepare for a trial. For the next few weeks, I commuted from my suburban New York home into New York City. For two and a half weeks, I worked long days and nights, including a 17-hour day on Labor Day. 

I noticed the irony in my circumstances on working on that Labor Day almost immediately. I was trying to have more freedom and escape regular work hours by going out on my own, only to be stuck in a Manhattan high-rise for 17 hours while my family barbequed the Labor Day away.

But by the end of September, I was turning a handsome profit.

The next month, I hooked up with some other investigators working on the Bernie Madoff case.

A few months after that, I was spending weeks at a time in Alaska, working on a high-profile case.

As I look back, it was probably the most exhilarating few months of my professional life.

I got to work on cases that I would only read about in the newspaper.

But more important, I learned pretty quickly that I belonged.

And I’m still here…

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It took me 41 years and plenty of trial and error, but I finally found my calling.

I became a private investigator.

Here’s how it happened.

The Backstory

So there I was, 41 years old, blindsided by corporate bureaucracy, out of a job and staring into the face of an uncertain future. It was December 2017, and I had held an office job in the construction world for 15 years, too easily accepting its (and my own) complacency and always too tired or too busy to think about how stagnant it really was. When I found myself unemployed, like a moth to a flame, I began applying for jobs in the same industry.

As I pored over every internet job search site (Indeed, Monster, LinkedIn, etc.) with my updated resume, I asked the questions, “Okay, so what next? I’ll get one of these jobs, then what?”

It was safe to say I was not very happy in my old job; it’s actually very safe to say that I was quite unhappy with it. But it was income, and it was steady. How much more could a non-college graduate really ask for? I used to have passion, drive and ambition; but 60 hours a week at an unfulfilling job will swallow all of that up without you even knowing it. At my age, I had no choice but to dive back into the field where I had all my experience, right?

Maybe not. Maybe this was my chance to change my future. I took some time for personal reflection and thought about what exactly I was truly passionate about.

Since the position of Jennifer Lawrence’s personal assistant was already taken, I had to look to my next passion. Coming from a family of law enforcement, I was always fascinated by investigations and detective work, and had an (almost) obsession with “finding the answer.” I’m also an empathetic Pisces with a need to help everyone. I thought to myself, “How can I harness those feelings and passions into a career?” You see, I’ve always had jobs, but never a career. I thought it would be great to be able to say, “I am a…” rather than “I work at…”

I knew my old friend Brian was a seasoned private investigator with his own firm, and I had picked his brain here and there over the years about the field, but never had any serious discussions about it. But now was the perfect time for one.

I always thought becoming an investigator would require a long process of schooling and training and passing tests. I never had the time or freedom to explore all of that, but now I did, so why not at least ask?

He was gracious enough to take some time from his very busy schedule to meet with me, without any knowledge of the nature of my request. We met for coffee and I explained my story to him. I asked what the process/timetable would be for acquiring a private investigator’s license. He informed me that you did not personally need a license if you were working for a licensed investigator. That shocked me, to say the least, and got my wheels turning.

Knowing that Brian had connections at other firms, I now hoped that at least maybe he could put in a good word for me somewhere. He said that he would call a few people and see what he could do for me. Almost in passing, he had mentioned that he himself had been considering hiring someone. Brian’s was a small operation, and he’d done so well for himself over the past nine years that he’d found himself often turning down work. He quickly iterated that he, however, would not be the one to hire me. I was totally inexperienced, a friend, and he didn’t think he necessarily had the time to devote to my training. In any case, I thanked him for talking to me and waited to hear back from him.

Brian was able to get me an interview with some close colleagues at a large local firm. I went in for an interview, and while I thought it went well, I would be a 41-year-old new hire in a job populated mainly by kids fresh out of college. I wasn’t sure I would be a perfect fit, but was willing to take that journey since I was quite sure this was the direction I wanted to move in.

I called Brian immediately after my interview to let him know how it went and to thank him again. He shocked me for the second time when he told me to hold off on accepting any job offers, as he thought he may, in fact, want to hire me after all. I thought that would be a dream scenario, as learning a whole new profession with an abundance of fluidity and moving parts would be a lot easier with one-on-one training from any single investigator, let alone one of the best in the profession.

We met again and went over his concerns about hiring someone with zero experience who was also a friend. We discussed all possible scenarios: Maybe he would think I wasn’t a good fit with his firm, maybe the job wouldn’t be what I had expected, or maybe I would just flat out be bad at it.
I assured him that no matter what the outcome was, I would not harbor any bad feelings if things didn’t work out. He needed time to think it over.

It was New Year’s Eve 2017 when I got the call that would change my life. On my way to an annual New Year’s Eve gathering, Brian called and told me he wanted to give it a go. I was going to be a private investigator! Needless to say, I now had a whole different outlook on the coming year when the ball that brought us into 2018 dropped.

I had been fully prepared to spend at least the next few months flooding the market with my resume and going on countless interviews for jobs that deep down I didn’t want. Instead, on January 15, 2018, I was going to embark on my new career!

I hoped I was ready.

Desk

The Job

Most people’s idea of what a private investigator is and does usually consists of following cheating spouses and sitting outside sketchy motels with binoculars. Brian made it quite clear to me from our first meeting that those were not the kinds of investigations we would be doing; our work was primarily done from the comfort of our desks. As long as we were helping people, it didn’t matter to me in the least where we were doing it from.

On my first day, I was introduced to the world of the modern investigator. A large bulk of my job consists of background investigations, searching for people, and finding and identifying contact information for former employees of specific companies. What surprised me most was exactly how much information you can find out about people’s lives through publicly available information. It’s quite astounding actually.

Using nothing but social media accounts, you can find out people’s friends, family members, birthdate, interests, where they live, where they vacation, where they work, groups they belong to, people and pages that they follow, and places they’ve visited. If the information isn’t available right on their Facebook profile page, it can be attained through America’s new favorite pastime: posting photos of everything they do and everywhere they go, even being kind enough to name the people that are with them. Instagram is more of the same. Twitter opens the door to their opinions and viewpoints on a wide variety of topics, giving you an even deeper look into the subject.

Another deep resource pool when looking into someone’s life and history is also publicly available: court records, criminal records, bankruptcy records, sex offender registries and, in some states, divorce records. These can give you invaluable insight into the life story of the subject. Most, if not all, of this information, is readily available to the public if you know where to look and whom to call.

The next world I was introduced to was that of online databases. The professional-grade databases require paid accounts as well as a “permissible purpose” (“a good reason” to the layman). But once you have those, the sky’s the limit on the information you can find. These databases are populated with past and present addresses, possible phone numbers, birthdates, Social Security numbers, properties owned, vehicles owned, professional licenses, etc. We also heavily utilize databases populated by news media and public records. These, too, can help identify or confirm property owned, licenses, corporate filings, etc.

One of the first lessons that Brian has very strongly emphasized is to always multisource your findings. No one resource is 100% dead solid accurate all of the time. Verifying multiple sources is an absolute must. The truth is, there aren’t a lot of names out there that belong to just one person, and a lot are more common than you think. You might be looking into the background of Argyle Lindermueller, a seemingly unique name. So you may see in the database that someone named Argyle Lindermueller was arrested for drug possession in 2011. You’ve struck gold! Right? Maybe not.

You note that the arrest happened in Marfa, Texas, but there is no evidence that your subject has ever lived west of Philadelphia. Now you’ve got to find other points of reference. The main one is the birthdate; does the birthdate of the arrested Argyle match the one of your subject? Did your subject ever attend school in Texas? Is there a totally different Argyle Lindermueller who has lived in Texas?

Multisourcing will help you verify that you have the right person. An offshoot of multisourcing that Brian has also taught me is not to run with a piece of information just because it’s the answer you want. This goes hand in hand with the old saying “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” The short time it takes to verify your information is worth a lot more than the egg on your face if it proves to be false.

The Fun Stuff

Coming from my office job, where the bulk of the work was mindless, head down and repetitive, I have found that the digging and searching in different databases and social media sites is very exciting to me. Even within a basic structure of our typical background investigation, each case presents a different story, just as all our lives do.

I am a born people-watcher and a pretty astute observer, as human behavior has always fascinated me. For the short time of each investigation, I get a unique insight into the subject’s life, and with each life being so singularly nuanced, that work has been very exhilarating for me.

Another aspect of the job that I find fascinating is people-finding. Whether it’s a long-lost relative or a missing friend, someone is at their wits’ end and has exhausted all of their resources, and now they’re turning to us for help. Once again, maybe it’s the empath in me, but I instantly feel like it’s our responsibility to “save the day” for the client, even if it’s just to ease their minds. All people-finding cases present different challenges as well. If the client tells us the name, date of birth and the childhood home of the subject, we will most likely find them quite easily. If the client tells us her name is Jennifer Smith and “I think she was a nurse at Northern General in California in 1998,” that could prove to be much more difficult.

This is where the third shock came to me, but it was a good and profound shock. It was the first time I heard Brian tell a potential client that they shouldn’t hire us. I remember thinking to myself, “Huh? What?” This client was willing to pay our fee … what else do we need to know?

Brian explained something to me that seemed a tough pill to swallow, but also would be invaluable to me moving forward in this profession: You will not always find the answer. At least not within the budget and time frame agreed to with the client. Yes, if we had an unlimited budget and time, there isn’t anyone we couldn’t find, but we have to stay within the constraints of the agreement, and sometimes it is just not possible to do as much digging as we would like.

Brian always wants to help the client, and we will do whatever we can to do exactly that—whether it’s taking on the case, pointing them in the right direction, offering an outsider non-biased opinion or, yes, even telling them that there is no case. Making money is always a goal (we are running a business!), but serving the client the best way possible is the number-one priority.

Hearing that made me very happy and cemented in my brain that Diligentia was the best place for me.

The Challenges

I knew there would be many challenges embarking on my new career, and I was certainly not wrong about that. Since there is such a wide array of different databases and websites used in different ways on each case, it can very easily become overwhelming when figuring your approach to each case. I am learning to step back, take a deep breath, formulate a game plan and then execute it. This method has worked so far and helped me tremendously in my development as an investigator.

Easily the most challenging part for me stems from one of our most popular services offered: the “Deep Dive” background report. This is a report that, as the name suggests, goes much deeper than your average investigation. These are mainly requested when a multimillion-dollar corporation is appointing someone to a high-level position (e.g., board member, CEO), and doesn’t want to be surprised to learn that their new CFO claimed bankruptcy 12 years ago under an alias.

This type of investigation/report needs to encompass the subject’s entire career and any relevant and/or adverse media findings during their tenures. This can present a huge challenge when the subject has been on the board of 22 companies over the past 30 years. We are tasked with scouring the internet and databases containing news articles for each of those companies during the targeted time period of employment. Once we have stockpiled any and all information for each company, we will then “dig for gold”; sifting through all of the articles and posts to create a narrative for the subject’s time at each company.

That proved more difficult than I had anticipated. When I first found out that a big part of the job would be writing, I was thrilled. I consider myself a pretty good writer and an even better editor. But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. You see, not only do we have to create the narrative and write it out cohesively for the report, but we have to do it within the budgeted time frame, because as I stated earlier, the firm has to make money too.

By the time I had identified what I thought the story was, Brian had identified it, written it and edited it. This proved to be the biggest struggle for me, as I felt I needed to justify my hiring by proving that I was a value to the firm. Not being able to provide the services within the budgeted time meant that not only would I not be making our firm any money, but I would actually be costing the firm money. My work ethic and conscience would not allow for this. I promised myself that I would do whatever I needed to do to prove myself—even working extra hours at night and on the weekend off the clock.

Final Thoughts

I was the supervisor at my office job—the best and most knowledgeable person, the one who did the training and who everyone else came to for answers. Now I was the one who needed the training. I was the one who needed the answers. While that was extremely frustrating for me, it was also kind of exciting. It meant that I was growing. I was getting outside the box I had lived in for 15 years and was expanding my knowledge.

I would turn this feeling into a positive. I promised myself I would do whatever it took to learn. In between working our very large caseload, I watched Brian’s online Masterclass (I highly recommend anyone in the field watch this), as well as other online private investigator courses, and I’ve tried to read whatever books I can.

I am now almost four months into my new career, and I’m still learning something new every day. Brian has often told me that he too is still learning, and becoming the best private investigator in the universe (my ultimate goal) is not something that is going to happen overnight. Brian saw enough potential in me, even at my lowest, to take a chance on me (something for which I am eternally grateful), and I have vowed to do everything in my power to assure him that he made the right decision.

This ride has just begun, and although I know there will be (and already have been) bumps in the road, I am very anxious and excited to see where this ride takes me.

After 41 years I have found my calling.

I am a private investigator.

pieducation.com/open-source-intelligence-landing-page

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2017 is (finally) over.

I know that people like to think of a new year as a blank slate for a new set of dreams, goals and possibilities. I’ve never been one to think that way. But this year, I hope those people are right.

There were a lot of good things to take out of this year from a business standpoint: Diligentia had its best year yet, which included two of our best months in our nine-year history, and my Master Class on mining open source intelligence (which launched in late 2016) continued to gain momentum and provided some good (much-needed) passive income.

But on a personal level, it was a totally different story. Some personal and family health issues absolutely sucked the life out of me for months at a time. All of this was happening while I was doing a renovation on a new house that we bought back in August, which sucked more time, life and money out of me than I could have ever imagined.

So after taking the past few days to do a bit of a self-audit on my year and my plans for 2018, I’m determined to make this a better year.

Here’s what I am going to do.

Do Less Work

I’m a perfectionist.

And probably a workaholic.

I can’t tell you how many early mornings, nights and weekends I have worked this year. My routine for about four straight months was to be at my office at 6 am and home around 9 pm. Weekends were my downtime – I would put in only eight-hour days. Most of the rest of the year was much better, but not that much.

I justify it by telling myself it’s what I need to do. And that it’s going to pass. But I can’t keep that pace. Nobody can.

I need to delegate, turn down work and focus on the things I need to focus on. And get out of the office more.

Here’s the thing – I love doing the work. I really enjoy running my business as well, but doing the work is what gets me up in the morning. That mentality has probably kept my business from growing as fast as it should, but hopefully, doing less work may actually change that.

More Face-to-Face Time

Yesterday I spent a few hours trying to get a better understanding of where my new clients were coming from. Turns out that 95% of my new client income came from either personal or professional referrals (2016 was at about 80%). That’s a staggering number. I kind of knew that in the back of my mind, but that number just blows me away.
How do I continue to build on that?

Part of it has to do with continuing to build my professional brand via writing (more on that below) and social media, but a lot of that has to do with meeting people face-to-face. Traveling (or just being out of the office) can be a drag, but it’s necessary and I need to make the time for it.

Focus

Maybe I have had too much on my plate these past few years, but I find myself not being able to stay as focused as I used to. It could be the 20 times per hour that my phone alerts me about some useless piece of information. Or the dozens of news sites I check daily to make sure the world hasn’t imploded. Or it could be the onset of adult ADHD.

Whatever it is, I am determined to not let that affect me this year. I’m not exactly sure how I am going to do that, but it might be a combination of listening to music for concentration, planning my day ahead of time, breaking my day into smaller chunks and getting more sleep (thanks to my trusty Fitbit, I know that I got about one hour less sleep per day in 2017 compared to 2016).

Health

Two years ago, a week after I turned 40, I decided that I had to do something about making myself a more healthy human being. I joined a local CrossFit gym and have been going pretty religiously since that time. CrossFit is certainly not for everyone, but it fits my competitive, goal-based mindset perfectly.

At times, I have certainly fallen off the wagon, but I need to keep it up. Not just to give me the energy to get through the day, but for the benefit of my future self.

Read Less AND More

I read two newspapers every morning. I check my favorite news websites dozens of times a day. I subscribe to hundreds of blogs. I like to be informed enough to keep up with world news and topical events, but it’s just too much. That needs to be pared down. For the sake of my sanity.

Even though I should be reading less, one thing that I have not done much of in the past year is read long-form articles and books. It’s something I need to do more of. In part, because I find so much inspiration in reading long-form work. And although I mostly concentrate my long-form reading on business and fraud-related topics, it really doesn’t take all that much for ideas to start percolating when I am reading long-form work.

Write More

In 2017, I wrote fewer blog posts (I wrote only eight) than in any other year. I also contributed less to PursuitMag.com, PI Magazine and ACFE than in years past. I used to write a blog post a week and contribute about a dozen articles a year.

Not only is writing therapeutic (it helps me gather my thoughts and ideas), but it has been an integral part of my success over the past nine years. It’s gotten me several speaking engagements and invited to lead some training seminars. It’s put me on a list of top private investigator blogs and produced hundreds of thousands of page views and dozens of clients, and it landed me on the set of American Greed last year – a show that I have watched for years.

So why did I stop?

Time.

But that’s not a good excuse. I need to find the time.

Starting with this post right here …

So what are you going to do to make 2018 better?

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In October 2006, two male friends from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, packed their car and headed out on a road trip that would eventually take them through the Rocky Mountains on their way to Crater Lake, Oregon. One evening of their journey was spent at a campground in a small town in Idaho, where they met two local 20-something-year-old women, one of whom was Ashlii Laine. The four of them spent the evening together, with one thing leading to another. Early the next morning, the two friends from Wisconsin packed up their car and continued on their journey west while the two women returned to their nearby hometown.

They did not exchange contact information before parting ways.

A few weeks later, Ashlii realized that she was pregnant and immediately knew who the father had to be. Embarrassingly, she could only remember a few scant details about him — and his name was not one of them. Her friend couldn’t remember his name either. She decided to return to the campground where they had met to see what information they had on file.

Reluctantly, the owner of the campground provided the recorded name and address for one of the two young men who had been at the campground that day: Colin Johnson, who said he lived at 3913 Washington Avenue in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Sadly, whether the result of a deliberate ploy or a typo, this address immediately proved to be a dead end. What’s more, Colin was not her baby’s father; Colin’s traveling companion, whose name she could not recall, was who she really needed to find.

Months later, Ashlii gave birth to a healthy son whom she named Tucker. And for nearly 10 years, Ashlii held onto Colin’s contact information, every once in a while doing some research on her own, hoping that she could find Colin and, ultimately, Tucker’s father.

In October of last year, Ashlii emailed us. “I need to find my son’s dad,” her note started out. Its overall tone was desperate because, as in the dozens of other similar requests we receive weekly, by the time their pleas reach our inbox, the senders are usually pretty desparate. In some cases they have been searching for years, while in others they have hired other investigators who have failed them.

After speaking with Ashlii, I quickly determined that we had a few challenges that were going to make this particular search more difficult than usual. First, we didn’t have the name of the father, so securing Colin Johnson’s help was going to be crucial. Second, based on the results of a few Google searches that I did while Ashlii and I were on the phone, 3913 Washington Avenue in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, did not appear to be a real address. Lastly, there are about 30,000 people named Colin Johnson in the United States, so if the address didn’t pan out, we were stuck.

It seemed as though we were at the end of our journey to find Tucker’s father before it had even started.

I explained to Ashlii the risks she ran in paying me a retainer to proceed, but promised to give it the best shot I could if she asked me to move forward. I have a pretty good success rate with these kinds of jobs, but the honest truth is that you never know how difficult it’s going to be until you get your “car in gear and hit the open road.”

Ashlii said that she wouldn’t forgive herself if she didn’t even give it a shot, so she gave me the OK to start looking.

Ashlii Laine and her son Tucker

I was quickly able to find a few interesting tidbits. For one, there is indeed a Washington Avenue in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, but there is no 3913 Washington Avenue. Based on my initial research, this was not totally surprising; it was completely plausible that either someone took down the wrong address or the friends were intentionally concealing their residence(s).

What was troubling, though, was that none of the four investigative databases that I regularly consult had any record of a person by the name Colin Johnson ever living on Washington Avenue. And expanding the search to include any Colin Johnson in all of Oshkosh gave me so many possibilities that my head was spinning.

But I wasn’t ready to give up. From experience, I know most people are not good liars —including me. If they do lie, they usually sprinkle in a few truths. So I took a shot that maybe his first name was actually Colin and that he actually lived on Washington Street, but that he had not been so truthful regarding some other details.

Bingo! This was the lucky break I needed.

I found a Colin Peters who lived at a different address on Washington Street in Oshkosh and who was exactly the age that we thought he would be (36) now. More important, he lived at the address on Washington Street in 2006, which was exactly when he reported it to the campground.

Without even thinking about it, I picked up the phone and called Colin. He answered the phone.

“Is this Colin?” I inquired.

“Yeah,” Colin replied.

“This is completely out of the blue, but were you in Idaho about 10 years ago, traveling with a friend across country?” I asked.

After a seemingly eternal pause, he admitted that he was.

“Holy crap!” I thought to myself, with my heart racing and adrenaline pumping.

I caught my breath and explained why I was calling. I outlined that I was working for a woman in Idaho who had met two people from Wisconsin 10 years ago and believed that he was one of the two. Colin seemed a bit guarded as he listened.

“I don’t think that was me,” he backtracked. “I’ve only been there with my parents — and that was about 10 years ago.”

Shit!

What were the possibilities that two different young men named Colin from the same street in the same town with the same approximate year of birth happened to be in Idaho at around the same time?

I quickly decided that the odds had to be astronomical.

Normally, I would play it cool and try to develop a rapport before proceeding further with someone like Colin, but for whatever reason, I went straight for the jugular.

“Listen,” I said, cutting to the chase, “I am working for a woman in Idaho who met two people from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, back in 2006. All she is trying to do is find the father of her child, who hasn’t met his father and…”

Click.

Colin hung up the phone.

I don’t blame him. In my haste to get some answers, I didn’t really explain myself very well. And I didn’t even tell him that his traveling companion was the father, not him. I tried calling him right back, but he didn’t answer.

Over the next few days, I left a few messages.

I didn’t hear a thing.

Given Colin’s response (or lack thereof), I knew I had the right guy. But I couldn’t harass him. He wasn’t the father, and the only way I could get to the father was through Colin.

Together with Ashlii, we considered what our next step should be. If I showed up at his door, he would completely freak out. If I started calling other family members, I could put him in an awkward spot. So, we decided I should send him a letter. But not just any letter. I crafted the kind of letter that any person with a soul would have a tough time not responding to.

The letter took me hours to pen. I had one shot, and I was throwing all the chips on the table, so I had to perfect its contents.

Colin received the letter a few days later via one of the post office’s restricted delivery methods that requires the missive to be delivered only to the intended recipient.

Still no response.

Weeks went by.

Then months.

I was disappointed, and so was Ashlii. We had gotten so close!

I thought regularly about what I could possibly have done differently or about other things I could do to help her out. And I talked to dozens of colleagues who helped come up with some ideas regarding how to find Tucker’s father.

From an investigative perspective, I knew I could have done a number of different things; but like most clients, Ashlii did not have an unlimited budget. The most direct and reasonable next step for her, I decided, was for her to explore talking to a Wisconsin attorney who might be able to help her vet her legal options.

I spoke to a few attorneys and passed along the information to Ashlii. Although I wasn’t all that optimistic they could help, I knew we were so close to the answer we were seeking that we had to try something.

Then, out of the blue in the middle of January, someone named Joe left a message. “I just received a letter, and I believe you are trying to contact me,” the message stated.

I called Joe right back. He was Colin’s travel companion! Colin had given him the letter just the day before. Joe lived quite a distance away from Colin, and they hadn’t seen each other in months. Besides, Joe said, “I had a lot going on in my life over the past few months, so I am kind of glad he didn’t give it to me earlier.”

Joe expressed that he was shocked by the news. He remembered the road trip and the night he spent in Idaho with Ashlii. He, of course, never thought that he would have had a child as a result of the experience, but if Tucker were indeed his child, he wanted to have a relationship with his son.

Joe was hesitant to call Ashlii and was hoping that I would reach out to her first. So I did. I told her that Tucker’s father had called me and wanted to speak to her. Ashlii was overcome with emotion.

Ashlii and Joe later spoke, and after 10 years of not knowing his father, Tucker finally got a chance to speak to his dad. And next week, Joe is flying to Idaho to meet Tucker for the first time.

Ashlii wrote me an unforgettable note: “I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your help. You have lifted a weight that has been on my shoulders for 10 years. Your job has got to be so rewarding.”

She’s right.

I love what I do and think I’ve got the best job in the world, but it’s cases like this make it so incredibly gratifying.

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Over the past several years, we have traditionally given out some custom made gifts to some clients, colleagues and friends during the holidays. While every year, it seems to get harder to come up an interesting memento, this year we teamed up with Oxford Pennant to create a one-of-a-kind pennant.

As a sports fan, these vintage-style pennants – handmade in Buffalo, New York – remind me of great American sports traditions. The pennant bears the words spoken by Ronald Reagan nearly 30 years ago, but I think these words still hold true in today’s day and age, particularly for people associated with my line of business.

I can’t thank Dave Horesh and his team enough at Oxford for pulling it off.

I hope you all enjoy the holiday season.

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In the seven years that I have run my private investigation business, I have come to the conclusion that I have the best job in the world. I am fairly certain that others might fight me for the claim to that title, but I would challenge (pretty much) anyone.

So why do I have the best job in the world?

My Work Matters

That’s not to say that all my work matters. I have worked for plenty of well-to-do people who simply had the money to dig up some dirt on the opposition in a lawsuit. I have also worked on a number of white-collar criminal defense cases where the person I was working for was clearly on the wrong side of the law.

But that is coupled with helping find a biological father, helping a client avoid an embarrassing and costly mistake, or helping avert significant damage to a company’s reputation. I’m not always making a difference or doing work that matters, but when I do have that chance to alter the course of the matter at hand, it feels pretty good.

I Have the Best Boss (Me!)

There are advantages and disadvantages to being your own boss, but for me, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. First, I get back every single ounce of blood, sweat and tears that I put into my business. Secondly, I can truly focus on the work that I care about. I’ve always got to keep in mind that I have to pay the bills, but if I have a bad feeling about a client’s intentions, I can easily kick them to the curb. Lastly, I have nobody else to blame (or thank) but myself, which you can pretty much never say when you’re working “in corporate America.”

I Have Flexibility

I have coached my children’s baseball and basketball teams, and when it comes to my family, I’ve been at nearly every sporting event, teacher conference and ballet recital – and have made it to nearly every single “family event.” It’s not all perfect – I was in Alaska for my son’s first T-ball game and I flew back on a red-eye from the Middle East one Christmas Eve, which did not make the family happy. I’ve also worked about 35 weekends each year and more hours overall than I like to admit.

But work is different when you can do it on your own schedule; I don’t think anyone should ever be tied to a desk from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. I work on my own terms.

Every Day Is a Different Adventure

Looking at my calendar as of today, I have absolutely no work scheduled a week out from now. I am sure it will come, but I’ve got absolutely nothing on tap.

That might be terrifying to some, but it’s part of the thrill. Cases come and go at a fairly rapid pace. Each and every one of them is different, too, which keeps me on my toes. And it’s rare for a case to hang around for more than a few weeks, which means that even if it’s the most boring case in the world, it’s not going to be around all that long.

So there you have it.

I’ve laid out my case; let’s see what you got!

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