Monday, September 2, 2013

5 Tips for Hiding in Plain Sight While Working as a Private Investigator

Hiding in plain sight is when people see you but don't pay attention to you or forget all about you as soon as they see you. 

That is our art. But how do we do it? There are some very simple tricks you can use to hide in plain sight that most people (non-investigators at least) wouldn't readily think about. Magically, no one pays much attention to you and thus, you can hide right in view of them. Other than having tented windows on your vehicle, here are some of the best tips I have.
  1. Sit in the back seat of the vehicle. Not all states allow tent on the front side windows. If not, sitting in the back seat where you have tinted windows is a good option. I tested this recently and sat someone else in my back seat and I couldn't see them, not even from the front windshield where there is no tint. Most people also don't look toward the back seat normally.
  2. Park in a public parking lot. This is one of my favorite hiding spots. Of course you can't find these on every case but if you can, you're sure to blend right in. It's completely normal for someone to sit in their car in a parking lot. People will pass you by without giving you a second thought. 
  3. Park between two of their neighbors homes, approximately 50 yards away from the house or more if you can. Sure, they might see your car but will think you're visiting a neighbor. They won't know which one because you're between houses. 
  4. Drive through the surrounding neighborhoods. Sometimes the best parking spaces with the best view are not on your suspects/claimants road at all. You could have a significantly better view from the next block over (between 2 houses) or on the hill behind their home. Either way you have to look for it. For suspects with a back patio or yard, this could be your best bet for catching activity. 
  5. Park out of their neighborhood completely. If you need to follow someone to see where they go and their activities at home are not as important, don't park in their neighborhood. Set your GPS to the destination you believe they are going to or find a parking spot along their only exit from the neighborhood and park there. They won't be looking for anyone this far from home and will be focused on traffic making it easy for you to being mobile surveillance after they pass by. 
What are some of your best tips for hiding a vehicle in plain sight?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Will Work For Cake

Literally! Ha.

Call me crazy, I know we're in this to make money but if it's one thing I've learned about starting a new business, it's that sometimes you have to lose money to build up your reputation. In this line of work it's always tricky in navigating the payment landscape anyway. You can't guarantee results in most cases.

This morning I was contacted by a friends daughter, one who's often called me lovingly "Mom #3."  The girl is young and has a baby and I know she doesn't have much money. Still she offered to pay me right off the bat. She needed help and it likely wouldn't take me long to get what she needed.

So in thinking how do I maintain the relationship between me, her mother and her and not risk being offensive or too expensive, etc. This one was tricky. Then I remembered some upcoming birthdays and her mom's extraordinary cake baking and decorating skills. It was perfect! These cakes would easily cost me $50 or more each in a store and I may have to accept whatever options the store offered.

So I set it up that I would work in exchange for 3 cakes. Bartering successful! Now I've not only gotten work who could and would easily recommend me their friends later on but I've salvaged a relationship. Money destroys relationships and I've effectively removed that problem from the equation.

What's the oddest form of payment you've ever accepted?
How do you manage requests from family and close friends for work?

Friday, June 28, 2013

MedHelp's My Diet Diary

This has been one of the best apps I've downloaded so far and it doesn't help me with my job at all. Of course, with sitting in your car up to 70 hours a week, it's important to monitor what you eat and don't eat. Food becomes even more critical when you have less opportunities for exercise and you lead such a sedentary lifestyle.

This app links up with the MedHelp website so you can get the full user experience, access to help and resources online and the convenience of being able to enter foods into your phone when you don't have access to a computer. The app tracks just about everything you could need to track, exercise, water intake, calories and weight. You can set goals for losing, gaining or maintaining weight. I find the app has a healthy amount of foods already entered into the program so you won't have to enter a lot of your foods, including fast foods!

Here are some screen shots to give you an idea of what it looks like when you use it.

In this shot you see what it looks like after you've entered a full day of eating. When entering your foods you put in the time you ate, where you were when you ate, who you ate with. This is a great feature as it lets you see trends in your eating. If you tend to eat more while you're alone, then you know what you hve to work on. Being able to look at the times you eat also lets you know if you're spacing your meals properly and it gives you the calories you at at that time. So if you tend to binge in the evening, you can see that. Obviously skipping lunch doesn't pay off for me, as you can see, since I had 2 snacks that evening.

Track your water intake to know if you're staying hydrated. While most people need roughly 8 glasses a day, as PI sitting in your car in the hot summer heat, tracking your water is critical. While you may not drink while you're in your car, you need to make sure you're getting enough the rest of the day to compensate for the exposure to the heat.
I've covered my weight up but this is a screen  shot of the main screen. It tells you how many calories you have left for the day at the top. Underneath it shows you how many calories you've eaten and burned followed by your current weight. When you click on the large number at the top, this screen comes up to show you how it determines how many calories you have left.

When entering exercises, this is a small sample of the list that comes up. This helps you get more accurate results and a more accurate calorie reading. The food list is just as extensive.

It's important to know what you are consuming when you sit in your car as much as we do. Please keep in mind you should always consult a physician before beginning any diet or exercise program. This program also doesn't seem to incorporate concerns for special needs patients so you will have to manage those on your own. (I.e. thyroid patients, diabetics)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Caller ID Faker

One of the most useful Android Apps I've found is Caller ID Faker. You don't have to pay anything to use it and you get 2 free phone calls, up to 2 minutes long, each day. To use the program you put in the number you are calling, then a fake number that you want the recipients caller ID to display. You can change your voice to that of a man or a woman (or none). Click "send call" and wait a few seconds for the call to connect.

Your recipient's caller ID displays the fake number you put in. This is called spoofing. It's useful because many people will not answer the phone for a number they don't recognize. I always put in a number that is local to them (using the same area code and prefix) to maximize the chances they will answer. This gives the impression someone local is calling them and they may think a friend is calling to give them a new phone number or something of the sort.

Here's a screen shot of what this looks like on my phone.

If you need to, you can record the phone call.

Considering most of our calls to confirm presence are short and to the point, the free 2 minute mode is sufficient. If you need more for a more involved or serious case, you can purchase credits for longer phone calls.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

10 Tips for Parking While On Surveillance

I spend a good amount of time listening to and reading the work of other investigators. I think it's a great way to make me better at my job. I'm learning from others. I also have some common sense and standards on how I prefer to conduct my work. Being a woman in this field poses some challenges that a man may or may not face. I can't comment on that because A.) I'm not a man and B.) I don't know what it's like for a man out here. Regardless, here are some of the best tips for deciding where to park while on surveillance, some learned from other investigators and some coming from my own personal point of view.

  1. Don't park in front of your claimants home. This sounds easy enough but in some places there doesn't seem to be any other option. If the only parking space on the road is right in front of his/her home, then park on another road.
  2. Park at least 5 houses away from your claimant if at all possible (Ref. 1). If that's not possible, consider parking in a business lot near their home where other cars will be parked as well. Quite often you can get a view of their home from here and if not, you can at least see their vehicles when they leave the neighborhood. I typically try to park at least a block away and I thoroughly love houses on the corner where I can park 2 or 3 blocks away and go completely undetected by my claimant.
  3. Park in between two houses along the road. Not literally in between them as if you drive up in their yard but, look for a parking spot that isn't in front of either house, but situated so that you're not directly in view of either house when they open their front door. This can be tricky but look for a spot like this anyway, even if it means you're only 3 or more than 7 houses away from your claimant.
  4. Never park your car in such a way that you can't make a quick exit. By this I mean back into parking spaces or park near the exit. This works for many reasons, the most important being your safety. If someone tries to block you in, you will be able to take the exit and flee. You can also get out easier if your claimant goes mobile. 
  5. Try to park in a public parking lot with more than one exit. This makes it increasingly more difficult for anyone to block you in. I've backed into spots and still had people angle their car in front of me in such a way I could not leave. This is not a comfortable situation, trust me.
  6. Park in full view of a camera when in public parking lots that have them. Look for the camera, they're very common these days. This will protect you should any court action come of your watching a claimant/suspect. The camera could capture any incident, verify your whereabouts and activities, etc.
  7. Be mindful of how you park. If every other car in the parking lot faces north, then face your car north as well. Don't double park, don't go over the lines and don't get too close to the cars beside you. All of these little things will make you stand out or draw unwanted attention.
  8. Don't park near or under street lights. This is essential early in the mornings or after dusk. You do not want that light reflecting off of your car and giving away your position. 
  9. Don't park in the same spot twice. If you're on an investigation on two or more consecutive days then make sure to find a new parking spot each day. This way if someone notices you one day you won't be there the next. People are always more suspicious if you come back. 
  10. Obey parking laws. You have to be extra careful of where you park when the sun is not up. It's much more difficult to see a yellow, blue or red painted curb when there's no light in an area. Be mindful of where you can and cannot park. In some localities, it's illegal to park within 30 feet of a stop sign. To make sure I follow all the local laws, I observe the way other cars are parked in the neighborhood and follow suit. This avoids any unwanted (and non-reimbursable) tickets and potentially getting burned when the meter maid writes them.
Share your tips with me via comment below!

1. Private Investigator Advice Headquarters

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Paranoid Much?

I often don't sit too close to my claimants home. I try to find a view from some other location so as not to arouse suspicion in their neighborhood. This also gives me the opportunity to watch more of their area for trends, such as which way the traffic goes if there is more than one possible direction. It also keeps me from getting burned prematurely or being noticed by the claimants neighbors.

One downside to insurance fraud investigations is that you typically wind up watching the same claimant multiple times. Such is the case with this individual. At the time I'm writing this I have been out on this claimant 8 days, not consecutively, over the last 2 months. I park in different places each time but I had found a nice little turn around spot in a nearby neighborhood in which I could see her house without going near her. So I used that same route just about every time I went out there.

I wrote here about being mistaken for the FBI in this neighborhood on a previous work day. I alerted work to this issue but since I wasn't even in the claimants neighborhood, they were not worried. I hadn't been burned. Fast forward to the last time I went out there.

I parked at a local church. I had already spoken with the lady who lived in front of it and we were on good terms so I wasn't worried about being there. The church people didn't seem to mind me being parked their either. I couldn't see the claimants house from this church but it was the best parking space around the whole area and, as needed, I could always drive my little circle and see her home.

I didn't believe my claimant to be home that day and so I hadn't done any spot checks. I sat there from 7 AM to around 1 PM. That's when it happened. A woman came walking down the street looking like she had a mission. She came up the road by the church, into the parking lot and walked straight toward me. I knew what was about to go down.

I rolled down my window and with the sweetest sounding southern hospitality she could muster the woman said "excuse me ma'am, but are you watching me?" I wanted to laugh. I really did. I had no idea who this woman was or where she came from but laughing would have been plain out wrong. Instead I replied "ma'am, I don't know who you are."

She proceeded to tell me that several people in the neighborhood had told her I was watching her house. She almost cried when she told me she was a single mom, separated from her husband and didn't even own a car. She was upset she couldn't go grocery shopping when she needed to and now that everyone thought I was watching her house, her husband wouldn't even come over and mow the grass! She went on and on and then she hit me with a good one. She insisted I had followed her around a Wal-Mart in a nearby town. I assured her I had never been to that town, much less followed her.

I think she figured if I wasn't watching her, maybe she could get some information out of me. She kept on talking. So I decided to take the bait...sort of. I told her I was following a man and my car was pointed in the direction that it was for a reason. She then started looking around the neighborhood at who all I could see - none of which were my claimant but only I knew that.

Then the woman left me with another comment. People in the neighborhood were watching me. She didn't have to tell me that lol. One of them had dang near wrecked his truck trying to see as much as he could inside of my car. Another had driven by me 5 or 6 times (though I don't know why because this same man had come up to me before and knew who I was and what I was doing there). The third
had driven by me a few times that day and a few a previous day, sometimes changing vehicles to try and keep me from noticing him. I noticed though lol.

A short while later, she finally apologized for bothering me and went back home. I then recounted the event to myself and thought about this. Her husband won't come over to mow the grass because they think someone is watching her house. This makes me wonder what he and she are both doing that they know about but don't want to get busted for?

If I've said it once, I'll say it 100 times. The people who come up to us worried they are being watched are the ones with something to hide. I've been out on my claimant 8 times now and she's not once realized I was there. So how is it this woman and a few others in the neighborhood are all sure they know who I'm watching? It's because they know who is crooked and I don't.

And guess what...I have to go back out on this same claimant at least one more time on this contract and they may just give me more time on her again in the future. LOL. I can only imagine what these people will say next. I'm not taking another car because quite frankly I'm not sure my other car will make it through the mountains where this person lives. I don't think the company would spring for a rental car either.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Neighborhood BusyBody

There's one in every neighborhood. That one person who takes it upon themselves to watch everything and everybody. They have this incessant need to know everything as if it gets them some level of respect. Which it typically doesn't. It gets them an unprecedented level of untrust. Still, they do seem to know a lot.

I was on this case recently watching a house in a predominantly African American neighborhood. I expected (which really is the problem lol) some older, middle-aged woman to be the neighborhood busybody. This is typical in most neighborhoods regardless of race or color. I was dead wrong. I'm not ashamed of that, this entire job is a constant learning experience so I went with the learning on this one.

So I parked at a church. I love these. The parking lots are rarely empty and most people just instinctively dismiss any new cars parked there as being visitors, etc. This church just happened to be in full view of my claimants home. It was perfect. I climbed into the backseat of my car and sat there for quite sometime before it got too stuffy in the car and I moved up front to crack the windows.

I sat there a few minutes enjoying the breeze. (My claimant wasn't home and so I wasn't too worried about being burned by the way.) Then I noticed that there were several people walking in the neighborhood and some were going to the store and other close by locations. I just sat there an observed the human behaviors before me. Then I noticed a young man, maybe in his mid 20's came walking from behind my car and across the parking lot. He looked at me and I just kept on about my business, being careful not to look in the direction of my claimant's home.

The young man came back through the lot again about 10 minutes later. That's when I got suspicious. It's not common for anyone to walk to the store twice in such close time frames. Another thing that complicated his actions was that it was raining. The area was under a tropical storm warning and here he is walking around in the rain to go to the store twice? He didn't have that much in either bag so I have trouble believing that he forgot something important the first time and went right back.

A few minutes later my claimant came home and purposely did some things that lead me to believe he was expecting someone to be watching him. I caught on quick though and I followed him very briefly and then turned another direction and doubled back to his house. When I got back to his house, he was already there which just verifies I was right in my initial assumption.

So I didn't turn down his road, I took another road and went to a nearby business. There I parked under a carport amidst other cars and blocked from his view by some heavy machinery. I had a small hole in which I could see his house. I sat there about 30 minutes when the same guy who walked by me twice earlier walked through this parking lot, looked right at me and went toward my claimants home.

Yeah now I know he's the neighborhood busybody. What I couldn't figure out is how he knew I was there. I know people talk and word travels quickly but this seemed rather fishy indeed. I had entered this area from a back road, hadn't passed my claimants home or the church and no one was around when I did it. There were also no houses in this area. I didn't like it....AT ALL.

I immediately began scoping out other places to park. Once you have one person watching you, there are bound to be more. Busybody types don't keep their mouth closed for long and I'm dead sure he had told other people - even possibly my claimant. Changing cars at this point in the game wasn't an option. I felt like my safety was compromised at this point.

But where does a girl go who needs to hide in plain sight in these circumstances? Simply getting into the back of my car was no longer an option. I couldn't sit to far away on this case because there were too many options for where he could go. Dilemma, dilemma. It's like a battle of wits with the players in opposite rooms. I had a paycheck at stake though so I did not want to be defeated.

I finally decided just to drive around a bit and see if I could find anywhere else that was feasible that wasn't on this block. That's the beauty of the neighborhood busybody. He/she sticks to their block. So it only takes a short move away and they stop looking for you. The trouble is, it's not always easy to find an inconspicuous place to park that has an easy exit. I'll be writing more about why you need those soon.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Finding Birth Parents

I recently received my first case to help a young girl find her birth parents. The adoptive family knew names and birth dates which made my job a lot easier. As everyone knows, many adoptions are closed and the families go their separate ways and very little evidence is left behind. This luckily was not the case with my file.

The girl is now a teenager and her adoptive family never hid the adoption from her. She's had a fairly good life in a middle class family but, as many often will as teens, she decided she wanted to find her birth parents. Hence I was contacted.

I started with a general Google search and that led me to multiple police databases across several US states. It was surprising. The birth parents were still fairly young, had other children together and had pretty much stayed involved with the court system since before the baby had been put up for adoption all the way through last year. Now their children they had kept are showing up in court records as well.

It took me just over a week to find a phone number for a blood relative (one of the siblings). The father is now deceased and the mother is homeless and has proved much harder to locate. It's been difficult though because how can I feel good about finding these people for her when I know this could have a massive impact on this girl.

Thankfully I wasn't working directly with her and her parents can choose how they handle the information. I can only hope that the girl doesn't decide she comes from a criminal family and thus follow suit in a rebellious, upset outburst as some do.

I can say though, this girl was very fortunate that she was put up for adoption and did not have to grow up in that environment. Her siblings were not as fortunate having been drug all over the country, watched their mother be thrown in jail and then get out and do the same thing again. They didn't have a stable home life, they didn't have a nurturing mother. Life has not been good for them.

It's very sad. My search is also not done. I am sure I will learn some interesting things about searching for someone who doesn't have roots.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mistaken For the FBI

This is one of those funny but not so funny aspects of being a P.I. I can't help but laugh at this now because I'm still fairly new and this is still exciting and hilarious. Last month I was mistaken for an undercover officer (by a state trooper). Today, well today's incident just has me in stitches I'm laughing so hard.

First, I must tell you that as P.I., I am NOT a police officer. I have nothing but respect for what they do but I would not want to be one. It doesn't fit my health, personality, etc. I simply could not do their job effectively and as such, I would be very unhappy had I chosen to be a police officer. I pride myself on doing a good job when I work and running on foot, physical training and anything else athletic are not possible for me in the sense that they must sometimes do them. I have terrible allergies and I'm sorely out of shape. So I'll leave all of this to the police.

So the day started much like any other. I had been working this case on and off for about a month. This was my third time out on the case and I had 3 days straight to watch this claimant. So I set up the same way I had on other trips out there and watched and waited. This time though, I didn't do many spot checks because I know the claimant's schedule and so I know when to watch for her and which way she's driving, etc. So I simply waited.

She went out as I expected, I followed her and lost her in traffic. So I canvassed the area then returned back to her neighborhood. I drove by her house to see if perhaps she went home and she had not. So I went and sat up indirect surveillance about 2 blocks from her home. I began to get bored a short time later and decided to get on the internet and waste some time waiting for her to come home.

So there I sat surfing away for over an hour, most likely 90 minutes or more, when a police car pulls behind me. Hmm. I called them earlier in the morning to let them know who I was and what I was doing in the area and where I would be so I wondered what had prompted the visit. I got out my ID and I already had my windows down so I held it out at the window and addressed the officer as he approached.

He gave me a stern "Do you have any badges in the car?" I answered no, just my ID. Then he proceeds to tell me that someone had called the police and told them I was knocking on people's doors (to their home) and identifying myself as the FBI. I supposedly had told the man who called that I was tracking down a drug dealer from Tennessee. I advised the officer I didn't have a license in Tennessee and that I was there on an insurance fraud case. I also told him I didn't think I fit the typical description of an FBI agent to which he let me know that there is no 'look' for an FBI agent.

I get his point, but then I replied how I would never want to chase anyone in my condition and that I was a little heavy to be running around on foot and knocking on doors. (I should also tell you that I was sitting in my car wearing a medical scrub top and yoga what part of FBI does that scream really?) Then we had a little chuckle about it and I told him I had been in the car at that same location (a public parking lot) for well over an hour and that the little old lady across the street could attest to that since she'd seen me and checked on me a time or two. There were other witnesses but he didn't seem concerned by that point.

Then the officer left. He had brought a second, plain clothes detective with him. It was interesting. I couldn't help but laugh over someone saying I was FBI. It just goes to show what goes through peoples imagination after watching too much TV and then doing something illegal. I'm sorry sir, whoever you were, but you're just not that important. And if I was the FBI, I wouldn't need to sit in a parking lot waiting for you, I would probably have the right to knock on your door, search your home or something else just as dramatic as you might have imagined. (*sarcasm* obviously)

I truly must give all the credit to my car for this. I drove a make and model that is very reminiscent of a police vehicle. I also have tinted or "blacked out" windows. So I guess that makes me look like law enforcement. I didn't plan it. At home we jokingly call my car the Punjabi Mob Mobile. A fitting name considering so many people seem to fear it. Hahahaha.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Of Mileage and Fatalities

Currently I drive about 6000 miles a month. That's an insanely high number. My daily record is around 600 but only once. I will never drive that much in one day again. Car seats are just not that friendly for the long term.

One of the worst things about driving so much is that I have to be tortured with the smell of dead animals significantly more often than the average American. There is no smell I hate worse and sometimes I pass 3 or 4 in one trip (one way so that makes 6-8 in one day). Ewww! Thankfully my daddy taught me a trick to get the smell away quickly so I don't have to try and hold my breath. 

The major downside to all of this driving is that it increases my chances of being involved in some sort of accident. I try to be extra careful when I'm driving because of this reason and I don't do the pre-requisite 5 over like almost everyone does around here. I set my cruise control and just coast on through. The people who want to drive like maniacs or too fast can go right ahead and pass me, I won't be offended.

I was driving home today in just such a manner when I noticed there was suddenly no traffic along the other side of the interstate. That was really weird for that time of day near Abingdon, VA. It had been steady just moments before. Then I noticed 2 state troopers racing down that same side of the interstate with their lights flashing. So I got concerned and by this time traffic on my side of the interstate had slowed significantly.

Then I saw it. The life flight helicopter blocking both lanes on the other side of the interstate. I could see the commotion but not enough to know what was going on. Then I saw several people running alongside a gurney where a body was completely covered with a white sheet and strapped down. That was a very scary and heart wrenching site to see. As I got closer I saw a motorcycle strapped down on the back of a flatbed tow truck. It brought back horrible memories of a friend who died from irresponsible motorcycle driving. My only consolation was that life flight was still there so this person had to be alive.

These things are never easy to see. Thankfully this was the first I've ever had to see and hopefully it will be the last.

Have you ever seen the life flight helicopters in action?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Professional Insurance Claimants

I hear this term a lot in my line of work. It can be quite astounding to hear at first but then when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Professionals are the people who do this sort of thing for a living just as with any other occupation.

These people often have multiple claims with different companies for various reasons. They collect a check from each one monthly and still work or do whatever they want. I've caught a few of them doing exactly what they told the insurance company they were unable to do. 

How do they get away with it you ask? Well, many lie about their addresses. I've been sent out to addresses where there was no house (just green grass) and I've seen drivers licenses with addresses that don't exist. They used to, before 911 upgrades but now are no longer valid. PIC's exploit this kind of flaw. DMV doesn't yet know the address isn't good or hasn't removed it from the computers. Or possibly the claimant has some piece of residential proof and DMV doens't check any further.

Some flat out refuse to provide an address. They'll only give a P.O. Box and then the insurance company has to work to find them. It's not usually easy but it's often quite fascinating to me when I get to do the research myself.

There's always a way to find them without violating any laws or invading their personal rights. Any activity done in the public view is open to be recorded. So in order to avoid detection, many PIC's won't come outside until after they know we're gone. Some have their friends and family watching the neighborhood and they have sent people to block investigators while they make their escape. So it's a delicate game but PI's have their methods of finding the individual.

But there's a fine line in ending their fraud. You see, the insurance company can't just catch them doing an activity they said they couldn't do once. The courts will look at it as well, anyone would pick up their kid regardless of the pain or maybe the work was urgent and they had to suffer through it once. So what they do is find the person doing the deed multiple times or repetitively for several hours. Only then is it truly useful in court should it be needed.

That's difficult to obtain. These people also use evasive tactics to aid them in discovering us should we be present and once they know we're there they get even more evasive. I've seen people zigzag through each city block and go in circles and take the craziest routes to avoid being followed.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Bumming Lunch

This most is not intended to be judgmental or condescending or rude in any way. The word bum in the title does not imply anything about the person I'm referring to.

I was recently working a case in downtown Roanoke, VA. I was parked in the famed Center in the Square where you must move frequently to avoid parking tickets. Parking enforcment had already chalked my tire 3 times that day and I wasn't waiting around anywhere to get a fourth mark. They may start to wonder about me lol.

Just as I pulled up to my parking spot in the afternoon I noticed a man sitting by the power box on the corner. He had a small plastic bag with things in it that I didn't pay too much attention to. I had my window down and he asked me for $0.84. I'm not sure why but I said sure. Normally I would not give money to beggars but this is not a bad area of town and he looked like a friendly person. So I gave him $0.85. He said thank you and told me he was trying to get enough money together to buy something to eat.

At first I felt sorry for him but then I thought no, that's not an appropriate response. I've often heard stories of beggars who make more money asking people for change than they do at jobs and thus they do this sort of thing for a living. I wasn't worried if that's what this man was doing or not. I had already given him money and I was content with that. But I did observe him for a few more minutes until he got up and left the area.

Several more groups of people came by. He didn't ask a single couple (1 male and 1 female) for money. He only seemed to ask women with one exception. The last people he asked was a group of 1 male and 2 females. Both females gave him money and one even gave him a piece of candy. He was so happy and excited about the candy.

I watched him open the candy like he was a child who's mother had just let him have that one piece before dinner. He dropped the candy and then picked it back up and looked around to see who noticed. Then he got up and walked to another area of the square. I do kind of feel sorry for whoever he gets lunch from since they will have to count all of that change.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Kicked Out of the Neighborhood

I was recently on the case of a professional insurance claimant (PIC) and was attempting to establish direct surveillance. His neighborhood had on-street parking but I wasn't sure if it was a good idea or not. So I canvassed the neighborhood and wasn't finding anything better. To make it worse there were multiple exits to this neighborhood and there just wasn't anywhere good to park that I was sure I wouldn't miss him or lose him when he went out.

I had already lost him once that day and had to look for him. Thankfully he was easy to find but I had rather not lose him again. So I decided to park just up the street on the side of the road. There were other cars parked on the street and so I thought I could get away with it.

I wasn't parked in front of anyone's house. I was between two houses and about 3 houses away. Normally I try to park 5 houses away but that wasn't possible in this case. I didn't hide myself right away and I'm glad I didn't.

I notified the police of my presence since it was a residential neighborhood. (Just for the record, this was a multiracial, working-class neighborhood.) Then I slid my seat back and just enjoyed the tinted windows in my car for a minute. From my position, none of the residents could see in through the front window so I opted not to put up my shades.

I was only there about 15 minutes when an unidentified male approximately in his 60's, not my claimant, started walking from his home across and down the street to my car. At times like this you can never be sure if the person is armed, has ill intentions or what they are thinking. I started to get nervous and rolled my window down and acknowledged him there.

He asked me what I was doing there and I gave him a pretext statement. He said it seemed suspicious to him that I was there and told me I "needed to leave." In this kind of instance it is always better to avoid conflict and so I told him I was just about to. He then turned to walk off and was greeted by his daughter who had just pulled up at his house. I overheard her ask him what he was doing (not who I was) and he told her he was asking me what I was doing here and then stated he didn't want me there.

I then pulled off and out of the neighborhood entirely. I took extra care in my parking for the remainder of that job. It was painstaking to even find anywhere else to go.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Truant Youngsters

I am starting to really enjoy people watching. It's become quite fascinating the things you learn by sitting back and observing people. I've become very observant of the things around me, regardless of whether or not they relate to my claimant.

One day on surveillance I was parked in a multiracial, working class neighborhood and it seemed everyone was parked on the streets. This made parking so much easier as I could readily blend in with the other cars and no one would think twice about me. Or so I thought.

On day one I noticed some unusual activity at the house I was parked at. This was not my claimant but instead someone elses home. Now, I was actually between two houses but this house seemed to be uncomfortable with my presence. I kept noticing the kids (one about 5 and the other a teen) looking out of the door randomly and at one point they turned on the porch light.

Shortly after all the school buses had ran for the morning I noticed a slow but steady trickle of teenagers coming to and entering the house. There was a high school within walking distance and a few I saw come from that direction. Over the course of the next hour about 15 kids walked into that house and I noticed the same teen from earlier checking on me once in a while. I had a gut instinct that something unlawful was going on in the house.

The next day I chose the same parking spot. It was the best spot, and probably the only one available that didn't stand out. Again the same thing happened with the kids looking out of the door and the light coming on. At least that's how it went until the buses left. Shortly after the last bus, the teenage boy came near to my car and told me he was concerned about me being parked there for the last 2 days and I told him I was working. He was satisfied and went back in.

The trail of teenagers started again for the morning, only this time there were only 6 or 7 that came to the house. About 2 hours after that started a police officer pulled up and parked behind me. He didn't have his lights on but I was still looking in my vanity mirror and praying he wasn't there for me. Regardless of how good the spot was, if I could see my claimant's home he could surely see me just the same.

The officer got out and walked up to the house. He knocked once on the door and then stuck a summons inside the screen door. This was an lol moment for me. I was sure then that the kids were all there skipping school and there's no telling what they were into while inside. Either way, my initial hunch was right and the residents in this home were up to no good.

Ironically, before the officer pulled away, my claimant left and I had to pursue him so I'm sure the kid thought I was there watching him until the police could get to him lol. Oops.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My First Burn

Every PI gets burned at some point in time. I knew this would happen but I didn't know how. Each day is different in this line of work.

The day didn't start out well to begin with. I was in a neighborhood I didn't know at all. I didn't fit into it, my car didn't match the area nor did my persona. Still, I had a job to do and how hard could it be right? Wrong. This was my first experience with a professional insurance claimant.

So I set up my position with a direct view of the claimants house. I called in my position to local law enforcement as required by the client. Then I sat, and I waited. By all first appearances the house was empty. No lights were on, no activity observed. So far, so good.

I had been in position, literally hiding in my car, for about an hour. Out walked an unknown man from a residence around the corner from me. He walked to the front of my car, stood there for a few seconds then crossed his arms in front of his chest and just stood there. He couldn't see me at all, there was literally no visibility into my car at that point.

After a few minutes I noticed him take out his cell phone and start talking. He stood there like that another minute or two before walking back to his home. He was mildly scary and intimidating but there was nothing I could do about it. Now that he was gone, I continued on with my sitting in the car.

The sun started to set and out came my claimant. She first got into one car, then got out of it and got into another with a friend and then took off in it. I followed and they turned here and there and then on a side road, turned around quickly, looked at me and smiled and waived. And that was it. All the drama of the day and they had known I was there all along.

I later learned the same person had burned several colleagues in the previous couple of weeks. They were monitoring police scanners and the investigators were getting burned shortly after calling in their presence. Go figure!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Being a PI Before and After the Boston Bombing

I had been a PI for about 6 months before the Boston Bombing. I had trained with one of the best investigators in the field. I wasn't entirely uneducated in my methods, though still new to the game.

Before the Boston Marathon bombing I enjoyed a relatively easy time finding a place to park and watch my claimants. Nine times out of ten, no one paid any attention to me. The few who did usually had something going on they didn't want anyone to know. I've parked on rural streets where there were no public parking available, I've backed down abandoned driveways in plain sight of my claimants home and I had even parked in front of someones home and not been noticed at all.

I know for sure things changed the day Boston was bombed. I had been out on a case that morning and parked in a public parking lot at a business establishment. I was approximately 1 block from my claimant and was not any closer to any residence. The only person who noticed me was a worker at the business and he asked me if I was waiting for someone and I told him I was working and would be parked there a while. He was satisfied with that and didn't bother me again. I sat there for 10 hours that day.

When I got back to my hotel room I was relaxing and the news of the bombing came on. I, like so many others, was listening intently to find out what all had occurred and what was being done about it.

The next morning I went out on the same case, parked at the same business establishment. I called in my position to local law enforcement as required by the client. The male worker acknowledged me and went on in the door that morning. Later in the day I saw a state police car pull into the business. He came over to me and asked me who I was and what I was doing. I showed him my license and he told me they had "several" calls about my car from the neighborhood nearby.

"Several" calls. He said residents were concerned that I was trying to kidnap their kids. He stated that his first reaction to the call was that I was an undercover police unit and thus checked the postings on the board first before coming out. I told him I had called in my position that morning and he asked me who I called. I told him and he then informed me that I had called the county police but these people were calling the state police dispatch and the two didn't work together. We finished up our conversation and he left. I remained parked there and several residents had stared at the interaction. Before he left I had confirmed with him that my claimant hadn't been one of the calls by the way.

Fast forward to the next day. I was again on the same job. This time I thought it might be wise to park somewhere else. I still had a good view of the claimants home and was still on public property. I had sit there about 2 hours when a car pulled up beside me, questioning me in a rude tone. I didn't give him the answers he wanted because he kept asking me if I was law enforcement or worked for the state. You can only answer the same question so many times before you stop answering because it's getting you nowhere.As he left a few minutes later I noticed he drove 3 blocks away, well out of my view down a dead end neighborhood road. So I wondered what in his mind made him think I was watching him.

About 30 minutes later someone else came up to me in the same manner. He was much friendlier so I answered him and told him what I was doing there. He laughed a little and exclaimed "I got kids" and indicated that he just needed to be sure that I wasn't some crazy person stalking the neighborhood. He left and drove 2 blocks away.

Then a third person, one I know for sure had seen me talking to the police came and started giving me the evil eye. This person had talked to the police while they were in the parking lot with me. This person didn't come talk to me but instead drove to their home about 2 blocks away which was in view of my parking spot. They got out, stared at me and started talking to a neighbor and pointing at me.

On subsequent investigations I've also had similar issues. People are much more observant and quick to assume I have ulterior motives for being in their area, even if I'm not near their homes. I've found the same to hold true regardless of race.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Welcome to Adventures of a Female PI!

When people think of private investigators, most automatically think of men. not many think of a woman, mother or wife as a private investigator. That's good for me and bad for the bad guys!

I'm starting this blog as a place to post about my adventures and misadventures of being a private investigator. I'm fairly new to the job so I'm learning as I go along. You can see my background by going to my profile which will be up and running soon.

I hope you enjoy the funny and random things I see and experience while out in the field.

For those of you who are in the field with me, I currently work surveillance but will begin taking insurance claims soon. That should be an adventure as well!