Thursday, January 28, 2010

The leper with the most fingers

Some thoughts on ethics in the world of professional investigating

What we do is often misunderstood. In our survey last month, no surprise, nearly 75% of you responded that you think we spend most of our time on surveillance. While surveillance is, arguably, the most entertaining aspect of the job, the real work is done in the analysis of observations, information, and behaviors; the unraveling of patterns; the organization of facts that build themselves into a strong case.

When on a case to document suspected infidelity, it’s often very difficult, if not impossible, to get good video of a couple snogging in the back seat of their SUV in a dark mall parking lot. More than likely, it’s a series of videos of people meeting in odd places (at dinner, at a hotel, at the gym). Pair the meeting times up with cell phone records, texts, emails and you suddenly begin to visualize patterns. Couple these data points with bank records and credit card purchases, and the case begins to coalesce into a clear picture.

Gaining access to the various sources of information is the tricky part. Cell phone records, if not on a joint account, can likely only be obtained through court order. If the credit card is not tied to a joint account, getting a copy of the records is near impossible. So the trick is to acquire these records in a way that is legal and ethical.

Examples (Trade secrets...don't tell anyone.):

Cell phones are often not listed, and getting the company to divulge the name of the owner is not, generally speaking, going to happen. What to do if your client has a cell phone number that his wife’s been calling, but he has no idea who that person is? I personally like the spoof call. Make up a fictitious company name, call the target cell phone using a fake phone number (you can buy spoof cards online), and simply ask the target to verify the spelling of their name, their address, and their place of business. I’ve had nearly 100% success with this. This falls into the realm of pretext, a little white lie to get information. Now, it’s not cool to call someone and tell them you work for NES, but make up a company name, and if they’re gullible enough to share their information with you, well….

The FCRA and the GLBA both address issues of privacy for personal credit related information. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m fairly sure you can not get someone’s credit card information using a spoof or a pretext. Doing so could likely land an investigator in jail. You can, however, grab the receipt out of the trash can in the men’s room or simply ask the waiter for a copy of the bill. You’d be surprised at how many people toss their credit card bills in the trash at months end, leaving it in the rubbish bin on a public right of way, ripe for the picking. In this profession, it’s a matter of piecing together enough points of data, enough observations, and enough evidence to make a case.

In the end we’ll take what we can get, but we will get it in a way that can withstand scrutiny. As Jake Gittes said in The Two Jakes, “What I do for a living may not be very reputable. But I am. In this town I'm the leper with the most fingers.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is Girl-on-Girl infidelity really cheating?

This is a post I got from another PI. You can check out his twitter feed here. He posted a link to this article at the sexorcist blog. I got a kick out of Michael Alvear's response to the lady's question. Read more here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Culture of Infidelity?

Part 1: The Question

Do some settings tolerate, if not outright encourage, infidelity?

This idea knocked on our door last year. We had a couple of infidelity cases in an affluent suburb. On more than one occasion, independent cases from different clients, the team wound up sitting in the parking lot of the same fitness center. The cases involved trainers at the gym. There was no overlap in the cases: different clients, different trainers…all unrelated, save the common denominator: the gym.

The question came to us: Are some institutions veritable Petri dishes for a culture of infidelity?

Maybe it’s a gym. It could be an office. It might even be a church. Any place people gather and share time, there’s a chance that certain behaviors may spread like contagious illnesses. Groups influence behavior. Commonly, we call it peer pressure, which doesn’t always manifest in the form of, “come on…everybody’s doing it. Don’t you want to be cool?” More often than not, it is a simple sense of acceptance, not an overt push: if the kids you’re hanging out with think nothing of passing around a bong in the afternoon, even though you don’t approve, pretty soon you’re likely to soften your attitude towards the practice. Maybe you’ll even indulge.

Six Bars

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “The Tipping Point,” examines several social epidemic studies that, he would contend, bear out the notion of social networks influencing behavior. One study by an epidemiologist named John Potterat looked into a gonorrhea outbreak in Colorado Springs in the 1990s. He traced the epidemic to a relatively small number of people, a tiny percentage of the infected population who did the bulk of the work of seeding the epidemic. Each of them infected multiple people; and the majority of them hung out at the same places.

In other words, in all of the city of Colorado Springs — a town of well in excess of 100,000 people — the epidemic of gonorrhea tipped because of the activities of 168 people living in four small neighborhoods and basically frequenting the same six bars.

-Malcolm Gladwell, “The Tipping Point”

The gonorrhea epidemic in Colorado Springs doesn’t seem to have anything to do with infidelity in a fitness center in Tennessee. But maybe there’s a common denominator: are those six infamous bars in Colorado Springs somehow incubators of promiscuity? Similarly, could that suburban gym we staked out be an incubator of infidelity?

There’s no question that some environments foster their own unique culture, in which certain behaviors proliferate and even thrive: the party school, the glacial bureaucracy, etc. But what about causality? Are these settings drawing like-minded people who already love to party or who tend to shy away from initiative? Or are the institutions themselves turning regular people into wild partiers and slothful bureaucrats?

Culture of Infidelity – Part 2: The Studies.

More likely, it’s a combination of the two: one part “causality” and one part “clustering.” Case in point: the famous Framingham Heart Study.

Family and Friends

Researchers James Fowler of UC San Diego and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard wanted to know whether social networks can influence health behaviors like smoking, exercise, and diet. So they reconstructed data collected from around 12,000 people in the Framingham study for more than three decades. Their findings reflected a combination of clustering and causality: smokers did seek each other out in social networks (as did non-smokers). But Fowler and Christakis also determined that networks of friends or family members sometimes quit smoking in groups, a sort of cascade effect.

“There's no doubt that people are influenced by the behaviors of individuals that are not just one degree of separation from them, but two and three degrees of separation. There's a kind of cascading influence." -Nicholas Christakis for a 2008 NPR story for NPR about the dynamics of smoking in social networks.

If a few bars in Colorado Springs can become incubators for promiscuous sexual behavior, and if friends and families can affect the choices we make about eating and smoking, can we then postulate that some places might give rise to an ideal environment for infidelity?

Nashville therapist “A.J.” (who asked that her name not be used) says an environment like a gym or a workplace isn’t necessarily going to cause infidelity. But if someone is already vulnerable to cheating, certain environments can provide an ideal opportunity.

She says she’s seen a number of common dynamics that make a couple more vulnerable to infidelity. “Maybe the husband works long hours,” says A.J. “If you’re bonding at work and not with your partner…” she points out, “I mean, it’s hard enough…when couples are spending time together.

A.J. says this kind of opportunity can turn up anywhere: among co-workers who spend a lot of time together, with musicians on the road for weeks on end, or even between client and personal trainer. “It’s a perfect set-up,” she says, “whenever there’s a lot of one-on-one interaction.”

As for our original premise that the behavior of infidelity might actually spread in some environments like a contagion, it’s tough to prove. But a quote from that New York Times article about the Framingham might offer some possible conclusions:

“… Christakis and Fowler say, they have for the first time found some solid basis for a potentially powerful theory in epidemiology: that good behaviors — like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy — pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses. The Framingham participants, the data suggested, influenced one another’s health just by socializing. And the same was true of bad behaviors — clusters of friends appeared to “infect” each other with obesity, unhappiness and smoking…. [they] hypothesize that these behaviors spread partly through the subconscious social signals that we pick up from those around us, which serve as cues to what is considered normal behavior.”

So maybe there’s something to our idea of a culture of infidelity. If we get another case at that same gym, I’d be willing to call it a trend…


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Farewell Robert B. Parker (1932 - 2010)

A dear friend and mentor stopped by my house several years ago and dropped of the book Double Duce, by Robert B. Parker. Now, my friend and mentor is a writer of some acclaim, and I trust his literary tastes. He’s referred me to Thomas Merton, Graham Green, and John Le Carre, to name a few. This gives you some idea of the breadth of my friend's leaning when it comes to the written word. So I never question my friend’s book suggestions. I just pick them up, dive in head first, and read.

Robert B. Parker was a departure for my friend, but right inside my wheelhouse. I fell for it. I love plot- driven thrillers, can’t get enough of them. I burn through the pages sometimes one book a day (when on vacation). I did that with Double Duce, finished in one day. Only problem was, I was supposed to be working that day. Oh well.

Robert B. Parker’s gift, his purpose here on earth was to write dialogue. No one did it better. Natural, easy, clever, smart, Parker had it all. Jesse Stone chatting with his shrink, Dr. Dix,... nothing short of poetry. When planning a long surveillance, a day sitting in the car for hours on end, I’ll often turn to Robert B. Parker’s books on CD to help the time pass.

Check out the NPR remembrance of Parker here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Linchpin - a review

This is a two part post.

Part One: If you get a chance, click your way over to the Acumen Fund website and check it out. Here’s a snippet from their web page.

Acumen Fund is a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. We seek to prove that small amounts of philanthropic capital, combined with large doses of business acumen, can build thriving enterprises that serve vast numbers of the poor. Our investments focus on delivering affordable, critical goods and services – like health, water, housing and energy – through innovative, market-oriented approaches.

The reason I ask that you check these guys out is Seth Godin requested that those of us who received a preview copy of his new book, Linchpin, donate to the Acumen Fund. It’s a great organization and we here at [FIND] Investigations are proud to be a part, a very small part, of the process.

Part Two:

Linchpin, like the other books I’ve read by Seth Godin, is not a how-to book. Sure, it falls neatly into the self-help genre, but there’s no set of rules for improving your self-image or list of things you can do to close more sales. What you find in Linchpin are the typical Seth Godin stories, anecdotes from real life that offer a glimpse into the actions of successful people.

What’s interesting is the definition of success that tends to thread its way through Godin’s books. It’s not measured in dollars, necessarily, or even lifestyle, but perception, maybe even happiness. My favorite example is the coffee shop worker at Dean and Deluca in New York who says he’s working for blessings. This guy has made himself indispensible to his employer by simply doing nice things for “his” customers.

Godin claims that he does not tell you what to do, but if you read the book through, there’s a clear call to action. Be amazing. From Godin’s advice of avoiding resumes to his suggestion that you Google yourself, something we self obsessed people do all the time. End of the day, the point is to use the technology available, our natural instinct to make connections, and simple common courtesy to shine. Like any really useful self-help book, Linchpin simply affirms what you already know.

I’ll let you in on a little secret here. The staff at [FIND] Investigations tries to employ Godin’s ideas whenever and wherever possible. Check out our web site, It is unlike any other investigations company web site out there. Click over to Marketplace and listen to our public radio stories. Sign up for the [FIND] Investigations Monthly Ledger, our monthly newsletter.

Now, it is true that we do all of these things in order to set ourselves apart from other investigation companies. But more importantly, these are outlets for our creativity and a chance for us to show you a little bit about how we think, the way we approach a problem.

Godin says in Linchpin, “Great jobs, world-class jobs, jobs people kill for – those jobs don’t get filled by people emailing in resumes.” Well, we won’t show you a resume, but feel free to drop by any time and take a tour of our method.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Old School - Very Cool

Porters National Detective Agency - Nashville, TN - Established 1886

Pulled this from a web site that has antique letterhead, business cards, etc. Thought it was cool.

It would be interesting to try and find someone who could offer some history of this company. Looks like the Owner, Mr. Porter was at one time a Davidson County Sheriff's Deputy. Great graphic design work.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Gadgets, Gimmicks, & Tricks of the trade

This post comes straight off the pages of PI Magazine. Every now and again there's a product that seems perfect. Check this out...

Vue wireless video cameras

VUE the latest offering from These wireless video cameras operate on an ultra low-power technology that allows the camera to operate for up to a year on a single battery (Untested by [FIND]). Still these little jewels could be very useful for covert video surveillance. We'll let you know more after we've tested them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Culture of Infidelity?

We here at [FIND] are researching an idea bout infidelity and places. We had a string of cases last year that revolved around a single sports complex. The idea is that there are places that breed bad behavior. Places that foster an acceptance, if not outright encouragement, of infidelity. Stay tuned for our next few posts on the topic.

P.S. We're also working on our next Marketplace story, "Dude, where's my plane?" This story should be a fun one. We're looking into the economy's impact on repossessions, specifically high end properties, boats and airplanes. Again, stay tuned.