What every Process Server and Private Investigator ought to know about pretext I.D.’s

As a process server or a private investigator, you know sometimes we present ourselves as if we were a different person. A lot of times, this is done on the phone. We might call and try to trick a subject into giving us a piece of information.

Maybe if we’re skiptracing, we might call the skip’s mom, pretending that we’re the skip’s good friend or that we owe the skip money. Hopefully the mom will tell us where to meet him or where we can find him. Maybe give us some other clue about the skip. Maybe even an inadvertent slip about where the person might be working.

But a lot of pretexting, especially for process servers, is done face to face, in person. If you’ve got a person who’s refusing service, you might very well have to use a pretext. In other words this person knows that they need to be in court, they’ve been not showing up or they’ve been refusing service from another process server so you have to become a little sneaky about getting them served. Part of that often includes a pretext.

In this Tuesday’s video I share with you a few that I like to use.

One that I used for years was the “Flower Delivery” scam. This was one I used for Process Serving. If I went to serve process, I would pose as if I was bringing them flowers rather than court papers.

Of course sometimes I just needed to be left alone while I did surveillance either related to serving process or for another case. If you’re doing a stationary surveillance, waiting for someone to move and follow them, you may need some pretext IDs to explain to concerned citizens who may want to know why you’re sitting where you are.
One kind of generic pretext I.D. I used quite a bit was “Traffic Survey”. It just identifies me as someone who’s taking a traffic survey of the area. Maybe I’m posing as if I’m watching an intersection counting how many people make left turns versus right turns.

A pretext that worked well for me, especially out in rural areas, was “Train Spotter”. Sometimes it’s hard to find a place to set up your surveillance where you’re more discreet. But if there are railroad tracks anywhere nearby, I used to like to bring “Member” card that showed I was in a chapter of a Train Spotters club. I could sit there for hours and if anyone asked me what I was doing, I would say I’m just watching trains.

Train Spotting is a real thing. There are people who go out and watch trains. Alone and in groups. They count trains. They count the number of cars. They record engine manufacturer.

I also liked to pose as a “Wildlife Analyst”. Again, if you’re out in a rural area, but even in an urban area, there are a lot of raccoons and possums around running through the sewer system. You can sit and be doing a survey of wildlife.

If you watch the video, you’ll notice, most of these IDs, generally look the same. I pretty much just change the tag across the top. There’s no need to get fancy. No one looking at you’re “Train Spotter” identification to is going to say, “Well that looks an awful lot like a Traffic Survey identification.” They don’t know. Just try to make it look like a good, credible ID. I like to laminate mine.

Now, this ID is your “primary identification”. You also want to have “collateral” ID sometimes.
Their collateral ID can be things like shopper’s club cards, automotive club cards and other things that accumulate in people’s wallet. This “collateral ID” says as you have a life and in reinforces that you are who you say you are!

I personally don’t use too much of that “wallet litter” type collateral ID, but I do use A LOT of what you might call “props” to help convince people that I am who and what I say I am.

If I’m spotting trains, if that’s my pretext, I’m going to have a little hand counter that I can click away on. I’m going to have a clipboard with a record sheet. It’s going to be partially filled out about how many trains have passed and all sorts of things, like I’m keeping a little record or a log. I might have a book about trains on the front seat. You see what I’m saying?

Same if I’m using the traffic survey pretext. In fact, I may even use magnetic car signs that say “Traffic Survey”.

When the process serving you do involves pretext, it’s going to pay a lot more than the easier day-to-day serving you’re doing because you’re going above and beyond to get this difficult person served.

Because it’s an important part of process serving and of your process server training, I have a whole section on pretexting in the Investigator’s Ultimate Guide to Process Serving. Since you’ll probably be doing a lot of that, be sure to check it out!

This Private Investigator advice makes your life easier and protects your clients!

The practical advice I have for you this week is…

Use a fresh media card for every case you have. If you’re doing a worker’s compensation fraud case and your camera takes an SD card, use a fresh media card.

I know the reality is sometimes the budget’s tight. I know the temptation. The temptation is to say, “I’ve got this card, I barely used any of it on my last surveillance. I want to use it again.”

But there are two reasons to conduct your “case management” this way…

First of all, it makes your life a lot easier! When you have a single SD card and the only thing on it is video or information about this surveillance, it can go right in the case file. And this is very, very nice to have; so much easier for you.

Secondly, imagine, your case is going to court, your evidence gets subpoenaed. The other side is not going to want the edited piece of video that you brought to your client.

Your client may only be interested in 45 seconds of video or two minutes of video, where the subject lifts something heavy for a worker’s comp case or where he meets a woman in case of the cheating domestic case. Your client doesn’t want to have to watch through six hours of video you collected waiting for the subject to do something. So you edit that down. That’s great for your client, but…

If a case goes to court the defense attorney is going to want everything!

One of the things opposing council is looking for is that the edited video that you’re showing is an accurate representation of what was actually going on.

That previous sentence is HUGE! Don’t miss it!

If you’ve worked a worker’s compensation case and you’ve got an hour of this person struggling up and down stairs but the only video you show in the edited version is them taking out the thrash, the defense attorney is going to want to know about that.

This comes back to a core thing we talked about all the time… Integrity. Do the right thing even when it’s the hard thing.

You can’t withhold evidence. Your job is to collect evidence, find the truth wherever it leads you. You really have no control over that.

So… you don’t want to have multiple cases on the same piece of media because when the defense attorney does subpoena the whole SD card, you don’t want someone’s infidelity case on there as well!

You don’t want two or three other client cases on there. I know the temptation. The temptation is to save a little bit of money, but doing the right thing means a new card for each surveillance case.

At the very least, make sure that you’re preserving the video that you took for each case appropriately.

If you refuse to buy another card, make sure you completely wipe out all data on the used card. Even if you have to re-format the card. (And with advancing technology… you better be darn sure even that’s enough!)

You don’t want some poor client who’s just trying to find out if his wife’s cheating on him to be dragged in to some worker’s compensation case. It could cost him his marriage if she found out he was hiring a private investigator.

Spend a few extra bucks, do it the right way.

Be Safe,
-Larry-
Larry Kaye, P.I.

P.S. – For COMPLETE surveillance training, get The Investigator’s Ultimate Guide to Surveillance by yours truly, Larry Kaye, P.I. right here!

Q& A: 5 Tips on how far you should follow your subject on mobile surveillance as a Private Investigator.

I follow my subject as far as they want to go but…

You need to be thinking about these five things:

1. Is it a trap?

It’s unlikely, but is your subject luring you out to the middle of nowhere so their buddy’s can block you in and try to hurt you? If you hunt humans, you gotta’ be real careful that they don’t turn and hunt you.

2. Do you have enough gas?

You better! Having a full tank of gas is mandatory before beginning any surveillance – even when it’s “just” a stake-out where you don’t plan on driving at all.

3. What do I charge the client for the “extra” hours and miles?

Most of the time you can contact the client and get authorization to extend the surveillance. If you can’t, then use your judgment.

For regular clients like a workers’ compensation company or attorneys, they may pay your unexpectedly large invoice. If not, take it on the chin. Next time you’ll know. However… they will see that you’re the Private Detective who gives them service and goes the extra mile – literally! And that’s worth something in my book.

Plus, your regular surveillance clients probably already have a policy in place for these circumstances. Find out what it is.

For other clients, maybe you want it in the contract that you can charge them up to 10% more if your professional experience deems that the surveillance should continue. I never did that, but it’s a thought.

Bottom line for me… I’ll do a lot of extra for a client, but I only do extra if I’m completely prepared to “eat it” if they don’t pay the extra on the bill.

4. What if you haven’t gotten the evidence yet?

Sometimes the subject going off into left-field IS the evidence!

I worked a case once where the man was supposed to go to work. He picked up a blond woman and headed to his lake house. I didn’t have to follow him all 200 miles to the lake. His merely NOT going to work was proof of the lie. Plus, (happily for me) video of him picking up the “other woman” was the icing on the cake my client (his wife) wanted!

5. What if you have another surveillance scheduled for later that day?

In my experience, it rarely happens that I have a second surveillance later in the day. But I am prepared. I do have some back-up plans such as…

I might call an Investigator I have working for me and see if he or she is available.

Or (and this is kinda’ my ace-in-the-hole), I’ll call another Detective Agency that I know and TRUST and farm it out to them. I might keep a percent of what I’m charging the client and “sub-contract” the surveillance to the other Private Investigator or I might pay them all the money. I lose the profit from the case, but I keep the client happy!

Be Safe,
-Larry-
Larry Kaye, P.I.

P.S. – BONUS TP for people who read my blog…

What if you can’t contact the client?

I don’t mind offering service above and beyond. So if they agreed to 4 hours of pay, I would go the extra hour and maybe two to seal the case. Maybe more if they seem like they’ll pay.

The client who is clearly cheap and won’t take my advise on other elements of the case, then nope. I’ll probably turn around because I know they won’t pay anyways. (Although really, I still might follow the subject another 30 minutes or so just to see if I can really wrap up the case with a nice, neat bow on top.)

This will help, too… set the client’s expectations before you take the case. Let the client know if you’re going to stop at what they agreed to pay unless you can contact them (or whatever it is you have as your policy).

P.P.S. – For COMPLETE Private Investigator training, get The Investigator’s Ultimate Guide to Surveillance by yours truly! I promise if you don’t love it I’ll refund every penny you paid!

Warning to potential Private Investigators from a veteran Detective.

I’ve got a huge warning today for anyone who is training to be a private investigator or looking to work in this industry.

The warning is to beware of anyone who tells you, “You have to pay to become eligible to be a private investigator.”

And specifically, I am talking about the variety of online scam organizations, no mater if they call themselves an association, or a union or an organization. If they’re telling you, you have to join them and pay money in order to be eligible to be a private investigator… that’s a straight-up lie. Period.

When you go to work as a Private Investigator, the agency that hires you will make sure that you meet all the criteria necessary and if you don’t meet the criteria, they’ll tell you what you are missing.

Heck, I even use to pay the state registration fees for my employees back when I hired new or even experienced investigators to work for my agency!

There are organizations you can join and become a member of, if you want to. But DO NOT be tricked into thinking that’s somehow your ticket into the industry, it’s not!

A legitimate organization you might consider joining or checking into is your state association. The real, official organization whose members’ are actual licensed Private Investigators and Detective Agencies. Usually they have a board of directors. A lot of times they have monthly or quarterly meetings. Sometimes, you can attend them even if your not a member!

Of course you do need to know… Continue reading