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!