Private investigators are known to be a pretty secretive group. Kind of like the photo you see above.
While some investigative firms like to perpetuate the “cloak and dagger” image, we are not one of them.
So let’s turn back the curtain on some of those not-so-secret weapons.
If you haven’t figured it out already, people will say and do the darndest things on social media. Like these two geniuses who posted selfies with stolen money and ended up being arrested. Or the Montana man who got arrested after liking his own mugshot. And then there’s the story about the 103 gang members who were indicted after leaving a long trail of incriminating Facebook messages.
Not everyone is that senseless. But it’s amazing what kind of information you can glean from social media – information that either you could never have gotten otherwise if they didn’t tell you, or would have taken tens of hours to find.
Most people do not understand and cannot fully harness the power of social media, like finding hidden Facebook photos, so before you dismiss it, know that there is a lot more to it than just plugging a name into Facebook.
Ahhh…Google. It’s become so popular, it’s become a verb (go Google it!).
Most people use Google in its simplest form, but there are so many advanced features that nobody even touches.
I use a number of its tools, such as Google Keep for keeping track of notes, Google Alerts to monitor cases I have worked on and Google News for keeping up with the latest industry trends (you can personalize Google News to include almost anything).
I also use Google Apps for Work, which has some incredible enterprise-level tools for sharing, collaborating and security.
A smartphone is a modern-day Swiss army knife. It can replace a number of tools that an investigator would have had to carry around. It can take photos with a time and date stamp, take an undercover video, easily record in-person conversations or a phone conversation, and, of course, it can get you where you’re going with a GPS and even scan documents.
The best thing about a smartphone is that (nearly) everyone has one, so if you need to be a bit clandestine when taking a video, photo or recording a conversation, nobody will even notice.
Public records are one of the most incredibly rich sources of information that most people either don’t think about or completely dismiss.
Public records can determine how much you bought your house for, how many building permits you have on your house, whether you have ever been sued or been charged with a crime, if you have filed for bankruptcy, if you owe back taxes, or if you inherited money from Uncle Leo.
And so much more…
Investigative databases such as TLOxp and Accurint are powerful tools that combine public and proprietary data to help investigators find people as well as to research connections and assets by searching millions of data points. They have completely changed the game for investigators by centralizing millions of records into an easily searchable and powerful database.
They do have their limitations. And far too often, investigators rely on them way too much, as they are not comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination, especially when it comes to criminal checks – but they are an incredible weapon.
I get a lot of people who come to me with the same certain problems. For example, I often deal with people who say, “I need to prove that my business partner is a fraud.” In some cases, they will recommend some kind of easy way of proving fraud, like hacking into their partner’s email account, or getting their bank account details or phone records by using some sort of shady or illegal tactic.
After “talking them off the ledge,” I can offer some perfectly legal alternative that would not only help them get some answers, but would keep them (and me) out of jail.
Throughout my life, I have never been the smartest guy in the room. But I know quite a bit about a lot of different things. Most importantly, I am fully aware of my own limitations and the fact that I don’t know everything, so I know when to rely on other people’s brains.
I received a call from a prominent Pennsylvania law firm a few weeks back. Their client was about to be awarded a multimillion-dollar judgment from a U.S.-based corporation, and they were interested in seeing what kinds of assets the corporation held here in the U.S. Their paralegals had already identified hundreds of real estate holdings, but determining the value of these properties and whether they were worth pursuing was not so easy.
They thought we would have an easy answer for them, but I didn’t.
Everyone is looking for an easy answer, but sometimes the answer is that you just have to put in the work.
It can be tedious and boring, but sometimes that is the only answer.
A few years ago, lawyers on opposing sides fought for weeks about serving a Notice of Deposition to an employee of a third-party company. The defense attorneys would not confirm or deny that the person was an active employee at this third-party company; the plaintiff’s attorney saw the LinkedIn profile of the individual, which stated that he was at the company, but couldn’t confirm that it was true.
So the plaintiff’s attorney called me and asked me if I could “work my magic” and determine if the individual was currently employed by the company.
I called him back about 15 minutes later, and told him that the employee had left about four months ago after taking a job at another local company.
“Incredible! How did you find that out so fast?” the attorney asked.
“I called them and the secretary told me,” I said.
I guess he wanted me to tell him something much more exciting.
Sometimes you need brains, patience and experience, and other times you need some social media, investigative database and public record expertise.
But other times, you just need a bit of guts.