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TOPIC: Surveillance goes high tech private investigators

Surveillance goes high tech private investigators 7 years 9 months ago #19

  • mamaligadoc
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It’s night in the city and a female shape is silhouetted through the glass of a second floor office door.

“My husband’s cheating on me,” she said as she came through the door.

“Why would he do that?” A guy would have to be crazy to cheat on a dame like this. Her slinky red dress showed she had all the right equipment to keep anybody at home.

People haven’t changed, but techniques today are different. PIs, or private investigators, are mostly retired police officers, just like the movies. However many of them are working out of a home office that is run by their wives while they are working.

Surveillance is the major tool, and today it is most likely done with a stabilized video camera with an 800x lens taken through a privacy glass from a nondescript van.

Wheeler says retirement didn’t work for him. “I don’t golf, and I love investigation work. Being a PI is little different from working for the FBI. You’re still a fact finder who is getting to the truth. I leave it to the client and the attorney to draw conclusions. I am not an expert witness.”
“It is very similar to being an FBI agent,” Wheeler said. “You have to know the law, and whether you are gathering preponderance of evidence for a civil suit, or proof beyond a reasonable doubt for criminal activity.”

PIs have to be licensed by the state and that requires passing an exam, but there are no education requirements. The bulk of the work is workers’ compensation and insurance fraud, but the trend is to get more and more domestic cases. “I usually get approached by individuals before they go to an attorney,” Edwards said of domestic cases. “They think something is going on but they’re not sure.”

Like the fictional PI, the real-life investigator sometimes has to question the motives of the client, especially with domestic cases. “I ask, ‘What do you want to do with the information?’ ” Wheeler said. “If they say they want to get a divorce I tell them you don’t need an investigator for that. The courts don’t seem to care, so why waste the money proving something you don’t need? Most just need to know for their own reasons.”

Edwards recalls a client from Johnson City who was apparently seeing another man’s wife on out-of-state business trips. “He had the guy’s name and said he just wanted a picture so he’d know what he looks like. That sent up red flags and I turned him down.”

A PI has to have a client and has to be part of a company. State licensing standards don’t recognize licensed PIs who free-lance. However, Wheeler said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation does an annual seminar for PIs on workers’ comp fraud. “They want those cases passed on for prosecution,” he said.

Sometimes the PI turns down a case because he’s not needed. “I had a factory with an internal theft problem. They already had security cameras in place and their policy required workers to take a polygraph test if something improper comes up,” Edwards said.

Background checks on professional athletes and business executives keep some agencies busy, but they involve the sort of ongoing relationships that take time to build up.

It’s a shadowy world, and most investigators like it that way. Neither would consent to have his photo taken, for instance.

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