Monday, March 28, 2011

Sartorial Sleuth

I'm not a style maven, but I do like to dress like a grown-up. I try to, at the very least, put on a sports coat and even...sometimes...wear a tie for evenings out. I like men's style and have been known to surf style blogs like and the sartorialist. 

I do not mind paying good money for a pair of shoes or boots that look classic and will last for years. Likewise, an extraordinary tie or scarf, or even a colorful pocket-square. I have been known to spend too much money for a suit or the odd-jacket. I have never, however, considered paying more that $50 for a pair of jeans, until now. 

I just acquired my first pair of Imogene and Willie's jeans, and they are (I am compelled to admit) fantastic. Seriously fantastic: conceived or appearing as if conceived by an unrestrained imagination; extravagantly fanciful; marvelous. Yes, these indigo denim pants are on a whole new plane of coolness. 

I do not usually go in for the whole hipster thing, leaning more towards classic style, but I think these dark blue hipster pants might just go perfectly with a nice Zegna blazer and a pair of Peal and Co cap-toe derbys in mid-tan. 

If you find the time, drop by and visit my friends over at Imogene and Willie, tell them the Sartorial Sleuth sent you. 

Watch your email in-box for the April edition of the Monthly Ledger, due out the first part of next week. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Auditing the auditor

We get asked all the time about what information we can find about a person. Well...we can find a lot.

More than most people are comfortable with, but less than most people think. The cool thing is, for those of you out in the regular world, we get audited.

All of our information sources are under strict regulations to make sure that we do not misuse the information to which we have access. To this end, we have to submit to random audits. Just filled out one this morning. Anyway, it's nice to know that someone is watching.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sleuthing Social Sites, Part 2 - Marketing

The Myth of the Luddite PI

We decided early in this firm's development to embrace the mythology of the Private Eye--Ferrari, fedora, and all. In that spirit, we craft a monthly post called [FIND] Vice. It's a celebration of our favorite fictional PIs, complete with a cocktail and cigar pairing, chosen with care by our favorite real-life mixologists and stogie men.

One aspect of the PI myth that we do not embrace, however, is that of the technophobe gumshoe.

To our minds, the [FIND] Vice feature merges past and present, to our benefit. By using a modern platform to pay homage to the vintage PI (and all the romance therein), we massage the myth, while living fully in the present. Basically, it's a way to connect, a sophisticated interaction with current and prospective customers, and it costs us nothing but a little time and creativity.

We're looking for a level of professionalism in our online presence-- a blend of casual, transparent and intelligent e-communications that both engage our audience and project (we hope) a certain familiarity with the wired world. A necessary attribute for the modern investigator, in our view.

Content Matters
Admittedly, mastering the art of social media marketing is more difficult than it sounds. It's not enough to just join the usual-suspect social-media granfalloons--e.g. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. It's about knowing how to use those sites to start a conversation, and keeping that conversation going using a combination of social media platforms, blogs, newsletters, QR codes, and (of course) a well-designed website that aggregates your company's online information portals.

Take a quick glance at the Twitter universe, and you'll see what we mean: millions of e-voices, few of them saying anything worthwhile or interesting. They're not conversing; they're advertising. "Visit my site!" "Buy my book!" It's hard to find any real content amidst the chaos of voices.

We struggle daily with the question of content, wondering if the information we're sending into the world is worthy of the ones and zeroes we're using up in its production. Transparency means looking inward as well as outward--it's easy to point to problems with someone else's website, blog, or marketing approach. But the very act of pushing ideas into the electronic ether changes the ideas themselves--because we get unexpected responses, the kind that demand that we re-think how we do things.

Are our blog posts too long? Maybe. We delve deep into subjects, reference economists, thinkers, literature. We believe our clients are smart, and they deserve as thorough a treatment of the subjects we cover as we ourselves seek in newspapers, magazines, and online journals.

Are we using Twitter, Facebook, and our monthly newsletter to best effect? It's a question we ask ourselves every day. Using posts and newsletter bursts, we've been successful in driving traffic to our blog so far. We sometimes tweet field updates when we're pulling surveillance. All these strategies seem to keep our clients interested and engaged, and our names bobbing at or near the surface of their attention.

But we have plenty to learn.

One thing we do know: it's useless to try to draw a straight line between social media and money. None of this makes a penny, at least not in a directly measurable way. We've excised "monetize" from our vocabulary, at least when it comes to our online presence. We charge for our work; the engagement is free.

Tell Your Story
It's a long-term way of thinking, and sometimes the waiting is frustrating. But it's become clear to us that building a sophisticated media presence using journalistic outlets, social media platforms, blogs, and a well-designed website does eventually drive engagement and interaction. All of these media are ways for us to tell customers our story, to let them know who we are and what we value.

In today's marketplace, it's not enough to be merely competent. Your clients aren't just purchasing information as a commodity; they're investing in you.

Tell them your story. Be calculating, but authentic. And most of all, be patient.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Altruistic Reciprocity

Reciprocal Altruism: a behavior whereby an organism acts in a manner that temporarily reduces its fitness while increasing another organism's fitness, with the expectation that the other organism will act in a similar manner at a later time. 

We call it Karma Economics. I've had several discussions lately, with other people, on-line, and in my head. All of these discussions revolve around the idea of creating content for free. The question always comes up, "what's in it for me?" Well, aside from what I see as the obvious benefits - owning the conversation, social capital, being the guy who gets quoted in the media, etc. - I think this idea of altruistic reciprocity has some serious merit. Gift economics doesn't rely on a direct quid-pro-quo, there's no score.

The way I see it, writing a blog post and making it available for publication in other outlets costs me a little bit of time, not much else. If I've done a good job of addressing an issue that is of interest to others, then they receive a benefit. The outlet that publishes my blog post as an article receives the benefit of new content. The only real benefit I get is to be the author of the story and for that I gain a little bit of social capital.

But a better example would be bragging on the competition. The actual cost is similar: just a little bit of time. The potential cost could be substantial. If one brags on the competition, the competition gets the press and a resulting bump in their brand awareness. The person bragging might even lose clients to the person they bragged about. The potential cost of this behavior is high.

Furthermore, there's no direct way to measure ROI for Karma Economics. However, I have seen direct returns on investment through the very simple act of bragging on my fellow professional investigators. We produced a story for Marketplace, the public radio business news magazine, a couple of years ago. In that story, we highlighted a fellow PI. She actually got calls afterwards from prospective clients. The thing she did that was unexpected was refer business to me.

See, while we are both PIs, we focus on different types of investigations. My touting her expertise really didn't hurt my business at all. I gladly brag on my fellow professional investigators, the ones who do exceptional work. Even the ones who are trying to do the exact same type of work that I do, assuming they are amazing. Is there a chance I could lose clients to them? Maybe.

In the long run, though, I think it's a win-win. Either way, I enjoy the writing and like to see other people succeed. If I put a little bit of energy into helping that happen,'ll come back someday. I'm not too concerned about it. Karma doesn't seem to worry about the point system.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Resume Fraud

Here's a fantastic resource for Certified Fraud Examiners. We've been using the Student Clearinghouse for years. It's a fee per search or a subscription service that verifies academic achievement. Say you get a resume that claims the person earned a bachelor of science degree in economics from the University of Mississippi. The resume is clean and well written and doesn't beg further inspection. A quick query to the Student Clearinghouse can verify if the person in question actually finished their degree or just attended the university but never matriculated. I am continually surprised at the number of people who flat out lie about their education. It's so very easy to verify. Oh well...if you find yourself in need of verifying educational qualifications, check out the Student Clearinghouse.

Monday, March 7, 2011

[FIND] Investigations - Photos and Freebies

This past weekend, I submitted to an afternoon of fun and photos. Mark Tucker, one of the best known and most widely respected photographers in Nashville, asked to spend an afternoon photographing a private investigator while working. While an actual ride-along would have risked exposing confidential information, a staged surveillance wound up being a fantastic way to let Mark make pictures and allow the two of us to chat about the work.

I think, and I hope I'm not talking out of school, Mark has been trying, like most of us, to get his head around the idea of creating content for free, giving things away. We did not discuss this while on our photo shoot, but it was on my mind. Mark is an exceedingly talented photographer. He's used to being hired for a job and making amazing photos for commercial use. He is one of the few people left who still knows how to make a perfect image on film, not relying on post production photo-shop to fix problems.

I can say that he made me, a not so easy to photograph person, feel special for an afternoon. There's something about having a photographer create images of you. The photographer, by the very boundaries of the process, must focus on you and you alone. It's an incredibly intimate process, ripe for discomfort. In mark's hands the camera does not seem like a tool or a weapon, rather it seems to...well...just not be there.

Mark is working on a new project, a sort of narrative/photo essay for his blog. It's a product that, to paraphrase Mark, stands the chance of being unconsciously devalued simply because it's on the internet. I see the point he's making, it's not lost on me. I too struggle with trying to figure out how to (forgive me) monetize all production.

But as a leader, a connector in his market (all markets are conversations), Mark is poised to be the one people talk about. Hugh MacLeod says that we should own the conversation. "Conversation ownership isn't rocket science. ...the higher up the food chain/social hierarchy you go, the more likely they're talking about you and not about somebody else."

The takeaway: Simple, Mark Tucker spent an afternoon photographing me. We shared an intimate little chunk of time. Mark made me feel special. I offered Mark a glimpse into my little world. It was a social exchange, both giving and both receiving. The real value, though, is that I will brag on Mark and his work and Mark has provided me with exposure on his blog. We continue the conversation ad-infinitum. Basically, by starting his project, My Day With, mark is taking title to the conversation.

I hope you will take a few minutes to drop over to Mark Tucker's blog and check out his work.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Detrimental Impact of Too Many Rules

I understand that rules are necessary. A company has to have guidelines, processes, a way-we-do-things. I appreciate that these rules are styled to keep the company out of dutch, keep its people in line. But, there's something wrong, terribly wrong, with the way some organizations simply cannot think of enough things to tell their people not to do.

I'm about half way through with Seth Godin's new book Poke The Box. There's a chapter titled, "Allowed (not allowed)." Here at [FIND] Investigations we actually have an allowed list. The things our investigators can do is a lengthy enumeration, and there is no foreseeable end. Full disclosure: we do have a company ethics and style guide, but it is for inspiration, not to shackle.

If we adhered to a list of things that aren't allowed, we'd be just like every other investigative agency. We'd produce reports that look like every other investigative agency's reports.

Excessive regulation is a knee-jerk response to fear and lack of trust. It's an anti-creative measure that stifles real thinking and analysis in favor of simply following procedure. And, I would argue, this is a huge step towards mediocrity.

I have a long history in a very specific type of consulting business. There, regulations have taken on a life of their own. The Uniform Standards of Professional Practice for this industry is barely contained in a document that is so tediously long that there is an additional tediously long addendum of advisory opinions to explain what the standards actually mean. Oh yeah...then there's the equally tedious, long FAQ to help one understand the advisory opinions that explain the.... This document is re-written often.

There are so many specific regulations that all reports are starting to look exactly alike. Regulated sameness in that industry is now more important than a credible work product. If a report meets all of the technical requirements, it is a quality report, according to regulators. Seth Godin says, "If you have quality and they have quality and that's all either of you offers, then you're selling a commodity, and I'll take cheap, please."

Luckily, this does not yet apply to the investigative world. Our clients hire us because they value our opinion.

At [FIND] Investigations, we like to focus on innovation and initiative. We ask our analysts to weigh and consider the information they discover. We study our subjects and all information we gather about them. Once we've considered and studied, we then craft a report that tells a story, much like a journalist would. We incorporate facts and timelines and then craft a narrative. We trust our analysts to approach each assignment with initiative and curiosity. We expect them to be creative. We encourage it, by setting them free.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sleuthing Social Sites

In September, The Economist ran an article titled "Untangling the Social Web." Pursuit Magazine recently published the first of a four-part series last month called "The Power of Social Media." PI Magazine regularly addresses this topic. Everyone--investigators, creative professionals, and entrepreneurs of all kinds--aims to harness this so-called power, but few of us know quite how.

Clearly, social media is a two-edged sword, one we professional investigators can, and must, learn to wield in both directions.

An Investigative Tool

I still find it amazing that some detectives-for-hire view technology with suspicion. A recent article in our local newspaper featured a retired DEA agent-cum-PI proudly asserting, "They call it the ol' amount of technology is a substitute for knocking on doors and putting in the legwork."

Really? What about when someone doesn't want to willingly cough up the information you need? The "ol' gumshoe" isn't just about putting mileage on your feet. It's a metaphor for problem solving, which means availing yourself of the very best tools--from your mind, eyes, and ears, to electronic substitutes thereof.

Case Study - Choir Boy or Criminal?

Last year we were hired to compile a profile of a man involved in a high-stakes lawsuit. "He's a choir boy,"his family told investigators. "Always doin' good. Ain't never use drugs."

Problem: strolling the subject's neighborhood and knocking on doors was a pretty unlikely way to find out any real information about him. We would've been spotted immediately as outsiders in the community and viewed with extreme suspicion. But in the virtual neighborhood of social media, it's pretty easy to assume a believable disguise and join in the conversation.

As the subject's new online acquaintance,  a whole world opened to us. Photos and comments about the subject painted a completely different picture of his personality and habits. The mythological choir boy image didn't stand up well against a photograph of the youth proudly puffing a blunt whilst flashing a gangster pose. Using connections linked to his page, we also identified a vast list of potential witnesses, uncovered other questionable activities, and unearthed at least three other social media sites portraying the young fellow's extralegal antics.

Case Study - Globetrotting Tweeter

A client hired us to locate a person who'd left the scene of a car accident. The young woman proved elusive and failed to return numerous phone calls from an attorney. The sheriff's office had given up after trying three times to serve subpoenas to her last known address.

We surmised that the demographic in question (women, mid-twenties) can scarcely evacuate their bowels these days without documenting said activities on Facebook and Twitter. It didn't take much techno-gumshoe poking around to discover her Facebook page and Twitter feed. Conveniently, the young lady enjoyed tweeting incessantly on the subject of her location and future travel plans. Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, L.A. (including her actual street address! She checked in on FourSquare.) I forwarded her Twitter handle to the client, and he had her served in California two days later...on the first try.


A typical skip trace might run a search via IRB and Tracers Info. The address would've turned up nothing except for the house her father maintained while serving five for insurance fraud. The sheriff's office didn't find her there, and neither would a social-media-phobic investigator. Our tweeting sweetheart hadn't been there in years.

Case Study - FCPA Due Diligence

One case promised to take us to exotic, sunny locales to perform clandestine shenanigans for fun and profit. Unfortunately, we were able to pull together enough information using databases, law enforcement sources, and a healthy dose of Facebook revelations to convince our client not to do business with this subject. If it weren't for social media, we'd have a lot more stamps in our passports right now, and our client would be out several grand in travel expenses.


I could go on and on, but you get the point. I understand that canvassing and in-person interviews are valuable tools. But to exclude new and innovative methods of analysis isn't just short sighted, it borders on crazy. New technology isn't an excuse to avoid old-school detective work. It's an opportunity to use the ol' gumshoe skills virtually, in a global neighborhood. It allows an investigator's eyes and ears to blanket the world.

Coming Soon, check out Part Two: Marketing in a Social Media Age