Monday, December 5, 2016

Holiday Safety Tips

Now that Thanksgiving is a couple weeks behind us, we are now in full holiday swing. While it’s a great time of year with family and friends, it’s often a time when you need to take extra precaution. Not only can there be an uptick in crime, but we become more rushed and as a result less aware and more vulnerable. The following are just some basic safety tips to keep in mind this holiday season.

  • Keep all car doors locked and windows closed while in or out of your car.
  • If you must shop at night or alone, park in a well-lighted area where there are people around.
  • Avoid parking next to vans, trucks with campers, or cars with tinted windows.
  • Park as close as you can to your destination and take notice where you parked.
  • Do not leave packages or valuables on the seat of your car. Lock it in the trunk or put it out of sight.
  • Get your key out and in hand prior to leaving the store.
  • Keep a secure hold on your handbag and shopping bags. Do not overload yourself as you’ll be distracted. Do not leave your purse or bags unattended while putting item into the car or in the shopping cart while still shopping.
  • When approaching or leaving your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings.
  • Do not approach your car alone if there are suspicious people in the area.
  • Ask mall or store security for an escort before leaving your location.
  • Always listen to your gut – if it feels off it probably is. Better to wait and ask for an escort than take the risk.  
Paying for Purchases
  • Choose ATMs that are located inside the mall or a well-lighted location. Withdraw only the amount of cash you need. Do not carry large amounts of cash with you during the holiday season.
  • Protect your PIN by shielding the ATM keypad from anyone who is standing near you.
  • Do not throw your ATM receipt away at the ATM location.
  • Pay for purchases with a credit card when possible.
  • Keep cash in your front pocket.
  • Notify the credit card issuer immediately if your credit card is lost, stolen or misused.
  • Keep a record of all of your credit card numbers in a safe place at home.
  • Be extra careful if you do carry a wallet or purse. They are the prime targets of criminals in crowded shopping areas, transportation terminals, bus stops, on buses and other rapid transit.
  • Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason. It’s not uncommon for those looking to rob you to try various methods of distracting you with the intention of taking your money or belongings.
At Home
  • Be extra cautious about locking doors and windows when you leave the house, even for a few minutes.
  • When leaving home for an extended time, have a neighbor or family member watch your house and pick up your newspapers and mail.
  • Leave a radio or television on so the house looks and sounds occupied.
  • Large displays of holiday gifts should not be visible through the windows and doors of
  • Be aware that criminals sometimes pose as couriers delivering gifts.
  • It is not uncommon for criminals to take advantage of the generosity of people during the holiday season by soliciting donations door-to-door for charitable causes although no charity is involved.
  • Ask for identification, the tax ID number, and find out how the donated funds will be used. If you are not satisfied, do not donate.
  • Donate only to recognized charitable organizations.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

To Honeypot or Not

Strange term, we know. Most people aren’t familiar with the term but if they read spy novels or watched James Bond more than once, they get the concept. It can also be known as honey traps. Femme fatales (or even attractive men) and lover’s plots do exist beyond books and movie. And we as private investigators often get asked to do this for clients. There are some private investigation firms that specialize in this and do it routinely.

What basically happens is you hire the firm and they send out a hot looking decoy to entice your partner. They would instigate a conversation, flirt and attempt to get a phone number, set up a date or even entice them into something more intimate. Then the client would know if their partner is susceptible to cheating or not.

We get asked quite routinely if we do these investigations, and no judgment on other private investigators, but our answer is always no, we do not. Frankly, we don’t feel it’s ethical. There are also far too many factors at play for us to consider the accuracy of information gained in this kind of false set up.

Consider this. The partner may not be attracted to the decoy, they might not feel that certain vibe with them or it might just be a bad day and they don’t feel like cheating. They could already be embroiled in an affair and can’t take on another partner – yes that actually happens. Or you can take a person who under normal circumstances is faithful and has always been faithful but their self-esteem is down, there’s fighting at home, work is a mess or any other combination of factors and then you light a spark and they give in to temptation. For us, these situations are a recipe for disaster.

We tell potential clients to consider why they’d want to go this route. Are they feeling insecure about something? Has there been cheating in the past? Could there be cheating now? It’s much better, in our opinion, to observe the partner in their natural environment making decisions they would normally make to judge their level of faithfulness rather than force them into a false situation to test them. The former always yields more reliable and accurate information than the later.

So for us…honeypot is definitely a not!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Catching a Stalker

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and one of the crimes common with DV is stalking. Private investigators have routinely been called in to help stalking victims identify a stalker’s patterns, behaviors and to catch them in the act.  Take for instance Joan’s story.

“My life felt out of control. No matter what I did he was there, calling, showing up, sending gifts,” Joan described.  “What we finally realized was he created a fake Facebook account and became friends with my friends, which gave him access to photos of me, my comments and other information. It went on for years before he was caught.” 
Joan ended up working with a private investigator, which helped build her case against her stalker, Tim, a former co-worker who was convinced they were fated to be married.  None of Joan’s attempts at issuing no contact demands worked. She made mistakes along the way, as many stalking victims do. He would call fifteen times and on the sixteenth, out of frustration, she would pick up the phone and yell at him to leave her alone. From that, Tim learned it took sixteen calls to get a reaction; positive or negative all he seemed to thrive on was the interaction.             

Stalking is one of those crimes for which a victim needs to build their own case before law enforcement will get involved. Even then cases are sometimes difficult to prove. In some jurisdictions, these cases end up with a victim facing serious physical harm before they are taken seriously.

Laws have come a ways since the early 90s when many states were just beginning to enact legislation. Technology has often kept one step ahead of the laws though leaving victims still vulnerable. While almost all states have a provision in the law that covers cyber stalking, the laws are new and few cases involving use of social networking sites have been prosecuted.

According to the National Violence Against Women Prevention Resource Center, stalking is defined as a repetitive pattern of unwanted, harassing or threatening behavior committed by one person against another. Acts include: telephone harassment, being followed, receiving unwanted gifts, and other similar forms of intrusive behavior. All states and the federal government have passed anti-stalking legislation.

A private investigator can work with the victim to gather evidence both through surveillance of the stalker and by taking witness statements from those who might have important information of either the stalker doing this to someone else in the past or regarding their current actions. A private investigator can also research on social media, help ensure there’s no spy ware on phones and computers and check for any GPS tracking on vehicles. All of this together with the victim’s information can build a solid case for law enforcement.