We have been doing investigations for more than 35 years. We do everything from civil litigation investigations to insurance fraud to small business theft. But our number one stream of business still is domestic cases, including child custody and cheating spouse (or domestic partners). So we've learned a few things over the years that we know you should be on the look out for (BOLO), which should raise your suspicions. If you observe any of the following things this week, it may be time to give a private investigator a call.
Though the following book may not be useful for all readers, it is something that both the Californian private investigator and clients (especially attorneys) should read. It is written by David Queen, a tenured federal prosecutor, defense attorney, and licensed private investigator. The book’s legal focus makes it very useful guide for assured due diligence in investigative cases. Investigators and clients residing outside of California can benefit from this text by using it as a reference when subcontracting or when an investigation shifts to California legal statute. As a reference book, it can certain assure that the investigator handling a case is operating within the rule of law.
Thought we'd share a valuable article about digital scams! Here is an outtake that summarizes the content (click on quote):
“Understanding criminals’ mindsets and being aware of how they try to take advantage of consumers can help ensure that we use our devices the way they were intended – to enhance our lives, not jeopardize them.”
We hope our clients, especially our domestic and small business investigation clients, will find the article useful this forthcoming holiday season.
Want us to help reduce employee theft or find stolen property? Give us a call: 214.914.0801.
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by Craig Engstrom*
You may need a professional investigator for a variety of reasons:
But where do you find a quality private investigator? The answer to this question is not simple. Evidence suggests that more people are turning to internet search engines to find businesses (2008, “Dial I for internet”). This is also true in the profession of private investigating.
Searching “[name of city] private investigator” through Google, Yahoo, or Bing can quickly generate a list of companies, but then you have to decide which companies to call or hire. If you’re not unlike most people, it is likely you will rely on the boxed advertisements or the top listed companies provided by the “search spiders.” While these may be good private investigation companies, sometimes they are not.
To assist you in making your search results work for you, here are two things to keep in mind:
800 numbers or vague links can be trouble. Among the listed and advertised local companies, there will be nationwide companies with a toll free number and generic website. The business model for these companies is to contract a case with you and then to locate a private investigator in the area where you need an investigation. While this may be a good model for florists and hotels, when it comes to legal matters, it is best to go straight to the company that will provide you with needed services. First, the “nationwide” companies have to charge you more because they will then subcontract to the local company. They may try to find the lowest-priced investigator. Why should you pay $85 per hour for a $50-per-hour investigator? It is not the money that is really at issue–a quality investigation is. Second, with the nationwide company you may not get direct access to the field investigator. This means that if you happen to have intelligence that will assist the investigation, it may not reach the field investigator in time. Similarly, the field investigator cannot contact you with field reports and give you timely updates. If you know that the target of the investigation is not doing much, you can direct the investigator to do it at another time (saving you money). In other words, you have less financial control of the investigation.
Advertised or top listed companies are spending more money on advertising. A good business person is not always a good private investigator, and a good private investigator is not always a good business person. By simply relying on top listed or companies advertising with “Adwords,” you may simply be hiring a good business person who pays a lot of money to web optimization companies. These companies can employ great investigators, but not always. You should contact several companies and be diligent and ask the right questions.
Keep in mind that the higher advertising expenses a company has, the more likely they’ll charge higher hourly rates.
The first thing you should look for when you click to a company’s website is their license number. It is the law in most states that private investigators display their license numbers. If the company does not follow this law, will they follow others?
Here is an alternative to search engines:
Begin with the yellow pages. Not to sound old fashioned, but there are reasons to still consider the yellow pages when searching for a private investigations company. You can even do this search online (www.yellowpages.com). While the same issues as above apply, the value of yellow pages is that it is a great selection mechanism. Consider the yellow pages as a reference book. The number of companies listed in the yellow pages is likely already to be sufficient for you to have an opportunity to find a quality investigator who can meet your investigative needs. While it may take a minute longer to look in the yellow pages than to do a Google search, you will save time because all of the search results are already filtered for you. You also know one thing for sure: companies in the yellow pages have been around a while. Each year hundreds of new private investigations companies start and just as many go out of business. A new company can immediately begin showing up in internet search results, but a company in the yellow pages has had to be around for at least a year. If your investigation is likely to extend over a period of time, it is best to go with a company with tenure.
Nothing, of course, will be able to assist you more than your own due diligence. Hiring a professional investigator can be the smart thing to do. Hiring a quality investigator should take you some time. Your decision should not be made by an internet search engine.
Dial I for internet. (2008, May 24). The Economist. Retrieved June 18, 2008 from http://www.economist.com
*Craig Engstrom is an assistant professor at Elmhurst College. His research focuses on the business of private, professional investigations. He provides public relations and consulting services to private investigators in order to increase the legitimacy of the profession and to assist consumers in making well-informed decisions.
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of private investigations is projected to grow by 22% over the next decade.
Although the field is growing, competition for employment is keen. Agency owners receive several calls a month from people who say, “I’d like to be a private investigator.” But most of these callers do not have the qualifications to become a private investigator or fail to grab the agency owner’s attention. Truth be told, an investigative agency that finds a qualified individual will often create a part-time position for him or her. Given the high turnover rate in the profession, such individuals will likely move quickly into a full time position.
This blog entry is designed to help you increase your chances of getting hired by a private detective agency and help you prepare for life on the job.
First, and most importantly, before calling an investigator about employment, make sure you qualify in your state to be a field investigator for a private agency. These rules vary by state. In Texas, for example, you are typically disqualified if you have a felony conviction, but you can obtain a field license without any specialized courses as long as you are 18 years old. The investigative agency will sponsor you. In Illinois, however, you have to be 21 years or older and complete a 20-hour course to qualify for work with a licensed agency.
Second, consider whether you really can work as a private investigator. Unless you have some special training in law, accounting, or computer forensics, you are not likely going to be an investigator with a nine-to-five schedule. If you happen to know accounting, you may be able to work as a fraud examiner with a more stable schedule. But it’s more likely that you are someone who does not have much formal training in investigative work. That is fine, but you’re going to work primarily for an agency as a surveillance specialist. The needs for surveillance-related work are high, so it is a great way to get started with an agency when you don’t have many specialized skills. But be forewarned: The hours are erratic and you will likely need to work every weekend from early evening to early morning (1600 hours to 0300 hours). You will have weeks that are busy and weeks that are slow. What this means is that some weeks you will not sleep much and other weeks you won’t have income. Does this sound okay for you? If it does, then this is something you should tell an agency owner. But you have to follow through. If you work hard, you’ll likely get to do other things and move up in the company. Eventually, you may even qualify for your own agency license. But answer this question truthfully: Are you willing to forgo your personal life for a few years? As a “part-time” employee you won’t work a set 20- hours-per-week schedule, you’ll be called upon at various times in the week. If you say you can’t go to work too often, then you’ll stop receiving calls for work.
Third, when you do call an agency owner and he or she asks you why you want (or are qualified) to be a private investigator, do not reply in any way similar to the following: “I’ve always thought it would be cool to be a private investigator,” “I like the shows Cheaters and Sex Decoys and would like to do this work,” “I just need a job and I’ve always been good at snooping on my neighbors.” Many people say this and it is not impressive. Consider more deeply what special skills or knowledge you can bring to an agency and start there: “I know how to operate a camera, can drive defensively, and have a great deal of common sense—you know, those things that can make you good at doing surveillance work.”
Fourth, prepare yourself. You can begin your career as a private investigator without a college degree. However, this does not mean you do not have to educate yourself about rules, laws, and regulations. If you still believe that you’d make a great investigator after all you’ve read, you can impress an agency owner with your knowledge of laws. For self-education, the you can find great books on Amazon.com.
While this information cannot guarantee employment, it is likely going to help your chances. Being a private investigator can be rewarding, but it takes a great deal of hard work, specific knowledge, and practice to succeed.
If you’d like know if a career in private investigations is good for you or would like a training opportunity, contact Craig Engstrom of Critical Hours Educational Services (618.203.1997). He can send you a free brochure about professional shadowing opportunities. CHES offers opportunities to shadow private investigators in order to learn about field procedures and business operations.
The private investigations industry does not have the greatest professional image. However, these two recent stories show both the importance of private investigators and the profession’s growing status as a necessary and useful enterprise for businesses, individuals, and governments.
Selling personal items and services online can be a way to earn a few extra bucks. However, the dangers of advertising and selling expensive items online or in traditional print classifieds became all too apparent recently. James Sanders advertised a 1.07-carat diamond ring with an asking price of $1,050. He arranged for a couple to come to his home to look at the ring, and hopefully purchase it. During the transaction, James and his wife were ambushed by four people. By the end of the altercation, James had been shot. Click here for full story.
by Craig Engstrom, Ph.D.*
Radley Balko, a senior editor for Reason, recently published an intriguing article. As he notes in the introduction to the article:
George Orwell famously said, ‘If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.’ He may still be right. But in today’s age of smart phones, Flip cams, and iPod cameras, there’s a pretty good chance someone’s going to capture that boot and the face it’s smashing and post both to YouTube for all the world to see. Two recent incidents in Maryland illustrate the power of this new and increasingly democratized technology—and highlight just how important it is that the law protect the people who use technology to hold government agents accountable. (Balko, 2010, ¶ 1)
The first incident Balko describes, which will frame the advice given in this post, occurred recently at theUniversity of Maryland. Following Maryland’s win over Duke, university students spilled into the streets to celebrate. In what appears to be an unprovoked confrontation, Jack McKenna, a Maryland student, was beat by three riot cops. With their iPhones, several bystanders captured to video this event and posted them to YouTube. Interestingly, the campus police initially stated that they could not provide footage from the campus security camera:
After the iPhone video of McKenna’s beating emerged, investigators subpoenaed 60 hours of surveillance video from the College Parkcampus police. The only video police couldn’t manage to locate was the one from the camera aimed squarely at the area where McKenna was beaten. Funny how that works. Campus police claimed that a “technical error” with that particular camera caused it to record over the footage of the beating. As public pressure mounted, police later found what they claimed was a recording of the lost video. But two minutes of that video were missing. Coincidentally, those two minutes happened to depict key portions of McKenna’s beating. (Balko, 2010, ¶ 4)
While this incident (and the other incidents described in Balko’s article) highlights the usefulness of new technologies to speak truth to power, it raises two important questions: 1) What if bystanders had not been recording the incident and 2) what can one do immediately following these types of incidents? A possible recourse for victims, who feel that their civil rights have been violated in any type of situation, is to immediately retain a private investigator.
The immediate benefit of retaining a private investigator, even before an attorney in many circumstances, is that she or he can immediately begin an investigation. This will mitigate the potential that precious time will be lost. In these types of situations, it is critical to begin an investigation immediately, before evidence is lost (or destroyed) and witnesses forget details or are coached to question their initial impressions. In many states, any information that is obtained by a private investigator can later be submitted to the attorney as “notes to file,” meaning that it becomes part of the attorney’s work product and is, therefore, not discoverable. This will allow you to search for an attorney (the professional investigator will likely have several to recommend) or to file your claim with civil rights agencies without worrying about whether you’ll have a case. The private investigator will already be collecting data that will hopefully demonstrate that there is grounding for your claims. By having hired a licensed private investigator, evidence will be collected and processed in a legal manner, consistent with court admissibility. You will also have a central person to whom you can direct all people who approach you about the incident.
The investigator may also uncover witness video recordings that, for whatever reason, did not make their way to YouTube or other social media websites. This is, of course, the best evidence to have. But even if no video is obtainable, the investigator will be able to follow leads and conduct interviews with witnesses in order to collect accounts of the events. He or she may even be able to uncover details that may be purposefully or accidentally omitted in police reports. Whatever he or she can collect becomes important data that can be used to help in your defense (should you be charged with a crime) or civil proceedings (should you choose to file a suit). If, for whatever reason, there are no witnesses present during an incident where you feel a government has violated your rights, you may still benefit from an investigator. You can file your complaint to the appropriate authorities, and the private investigator can conduct an investigation into other complaints filed against the particular agent(s). By interviewing other complainants, employees, and other individuals who are knowledge about the agents or departments, an investigator may discover a pattern that could prove some negligence.
Private investigators are important ballasts to their public counterparts. While hiring a private investigator is often a great investment, it is important to remember that you or your family should vet private detectives before hiring them. You should ask the private investigator several questions, including whether she or he can conduct an objective investigation into potential police misconduct. While some private investigators are former police officers, many of them are not. Nevertheless, you should not exclude a private investigator solely on the basis of his or her prior or current connection with a particular police department. Hiring a private investigator with prior police experience can be an asset for many reasons. In other words, the particulars regarding where an investigator received his or her training and experience is not as important as what type of knowledge and experience she or he has. What matters more than anything, and something that you will be able to tell during your initial conversations, is whether the private investigator seems interested in your case and has the expertise to conduct a competent investigation. Not every investigative agency is interested in or equipped to handle these types of investigations. You should ask the investigator to explain to you what she or he will do to assist you. If something doesn’t sound right to you, it may not be. Before hiring any investigator, you should also check his or her reviews on websites such as Ripoffreport.com or your local Better Business Bureau.
It’s unfortunate that many citizens have to rely on technology and private investigators to protect themselves from government and corporate misconduct. However, by relying on both technology and quality private investigators, you can better protect yourself against injustices perpetrated by others against you.
* Dr. Craig Engstrom is owner and operator of Critical Hours, a company that provides consulting, research, and documentation services to small business owners. His scholarly research focuses on the business of private, professional investigations.
Balko, R. (2010, April 26). Watching the detectives: A nebulous “right” to videotape on-duty cops isn’t enough. The right needs to be enforced. Reason Magazine. Retrieved April 27, 2010 fromhttp://reason.com/archives/2010/04/26/watching-the-detectives>
Equipment is important
Covert Investigations uses Gen-3 military grade night vision on all night surveillance. See a demo at:
Gen-3 equipment gives you facial recognition from long distances in the middle of the night and with little to no light.
The Gen-3 equipment is not to be confused with the inadequate night shot feature that comes standard with all video cameras. That video when produced only gives silhouetted images and is useless for evidence purposes.
If you have an assignment at night and you want quality identifiable evidence please call me or search a company that has similar equipment.
If an agency says they have Gen-3 equipment demand it be used and refuse to pay for the assignment if the it is not used. Covert Investigations will never bill a client for failure on our part.
Your evidence is important to your case. Be sure your Investigator has that equipment.
Observations & Interviews, a blog by Chet Engstrom
Chet Engstrom is owner of Covert Investigations Services, a private investigations firm located in Lewisville, Texas (DFW area). Texas license number: C10745.
4101 McEwen, Dallas, TX, 75244