Private Investigators: Who do you think they are?

Private Investigators: Who do you think they are?

Myth-busting “Private Eyes”

When one conjures up images of a private investigator or “PI”, what are some commonalities? Perhaps a long tan coat, a notebook, mustache, and of course your handy dandy – magnifying glass?

Businessman with magnifying glass

Somehow this is the universal image for a profession where you use facts and reasoning to find information.  Most people use magnifiers to look at ants.

Detective stories have long altered the perception of what private investigators do so here now lies some basic PI 101 information.

Private investigators are hired by individuals, business, and organizations to seek out the truth.  This can take many forms, which is why you have various kinds of PI’s like those who specialize in forensics, lost assets, surveillance, or background checks.

Though certain fictional representations may focus on a PI’s eccentric personality, the job itself is more grounded and based in logic, details, and deductions.  Some other private investigator myths are as follows:

1. Private investigators basically have carte blanche when is comes to solving a case.

Couldn’t be farther from the truth.  One of several distinctions of a PI from a Craigslist ad offering similar services is their vast knowledge of legal and ethic implications.  They work within the system, often with backgrounds in law or law enforcement. Which means several examples you’d see on television aren’t relevant.  Pretexting to gain access to phone records, breaking and entering, and important documents (like certain financial information) wouldn’t be accessible to private investigators due to legality and regulations such as the The Gramm-Leach Bliley Act.

2. Private Investigators are the same as police detectives right?

A surprisingly common question, with a simple answer.  Police work for the government, while private investigators are hired by people or groups.  Because of this, the kinds of work differs, as the police work on more crime matters while PI’s find answers without prosecution.

3. PI’s are just former disgruntled police detectives.

With the multiple kinds of private investigators, their backgrounds come from all sorts.  From forensic accounting to computer science, the plethora of backgrounds give PI skills for their particular type of investigation.  Depending on the state you may require formal license, or need to pass exams.  With each state differing in requirements, sometimes reciprocity agreements are issued to work in several states. LII is licensed in Iowa, Florida, Indiana, and Arizona.

4. Their client base is 1940’s blondes.

Big-Sleep-BBKinds of client depend on the area of investigation, but companies and organizations make up a significant part of PI’s business, often for reasons you wouldn’t expect.  For instance, a larger company may hire a private eye to look into corruption from within the organization.  By doing their due diligence, it allows for handling of smaller scenarios now in order to avoid a PR/stock price disaster later on.

Private investigation is a detailed process, and though not as heavily based on intuition or donning the look of an action movie star, private investigators can be a great asset in your corner.


Media’s representation of Private Investigators (Source: PInow)

Private Investigators and Drone Usage

Private Investigators and Drone Usage

Photo by Nicolas Halftermeyer (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s private investigators seem to have it pretty easy compared to those of the past — cell phones, security cameras, and social media accounts are often used to obtain evidence for investigations. Gone are the days when private eyes had to flip through physical documents and phone directories, or find the location of someone with an actual map. And now, thanks to the advancements in drone technology, some investigators are opting to do away with physical surveillance.

A drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), is a remote controlled aircraft. Although they have been around for several years, flying personal UAVs is a relatively new hobby. These small crafts have been all over the media lately, even earning the endorsement of Martha Stewart. Like Stewart, many people use drones to take beautiful aerial photos. The market for drones is constantly expanding, and tech companies are keeping pace. Some drones can record a live feed, detect heat, or are small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand. Others can fly four several hours at a time, scanning entire cities in a day.

Due to their discreet nature, private eyes have begun using drones to catch cheating spouses or dishonest employees. Instead of observing someone on foot for hours, investigators can use a drone to get a bird’s eye view of a suspect and collect video evidence. Using a drone is also safer for an investigator and are cheaper than chartering a plane or helicopter. A recent New York Post article featured a private investigator whose specialty is drones. According to the article, the investigator had to use a drone to record evidence of insurance fraud instead of physically surveying the suspect’s property for fear of being shot.

Because of their invasive capabilities, many are questioning the ethics of drone usage, including U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. Schumer recently called for federal regulations on drones, even going as far as proposing a ban on drone usage by private investigators. The idea of anyone being able to purchase a surveillance drone and using it to record whomever and wherever they want is fairly unnerving. The use of personal drones is uncharted territory, filled with flimsy guidelines and little regulation. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits the flying of UAVs for commercial use or payment. Drones are also not permitted to fly over heavily urban areas, and must alert control towers if they fly too close to an airport (FAA Website). Even so, investigators like the one featured in the Post article are still flying their drones.

Should we start expecting to see drones tailing us as we walk down the street? Probably not.

For now, most investigators are opting to stay on the ground and stick to their tried-and-true surveillance techniques. If evidence is gathered illegally, it may lose its value in court, and a private investigator could lose their credibility.

Properly Vetting a Candidate

Properly Vetting a Candidate

Fingers Crossed

Photo Courtesy of DealFatigue

After a tragedy occurs, we often hear stories of survival. These stories give us hope, and allow us to emphasize with the victims who were brave enough to share their experiences. In these times of hardship, no one is going to question a victim’s story. Haven’t they been through enough already?

Perhaps not. Sometimes there are lies mixed in among these accounts from survivors, which is why properly vetting a candidate is essential.

When the Truth Comes Out

Consider the case of Somaly Mam, a Cambodian woman who claimed she was a victim of sex trafficking during her childhood. According to Mam’s story, she was sold into slavery around age 10 and was then forced to marry a soldier at age 14. Mam went as far as creating a foundation named after her, which raised money and awareness for victims. The organization and Mam herself gained the attention of big name celebrities such as Oprah WInfrey and Susan Sarandon. Many articles and columns have been written, praising Mam for all she had done. However, when a Newsweek journalist did some digging on Mam’s past, it soon came to light that Mam had fabricated her tale (Mullany, “Activist Resigns Amid Charges of Fabrication”).

And let’s not forget about Tania Head, whose horrific account of the September, 11 attacks placed her as president of the Survivors’ Network. Head told reporters she had been in the south tower, witnessing gruesome deaths and nearly losing her own arm before being rescued by the heroic Welles Crowther. She also claimed to have lost her husband, Dave in the attacks. At the time of her debut, the nation was still healing, and no one wanted to interrogate a woman who had gone through so much. However, many survivors began to notices several holes in her story. Head quickly dismissed them and did her best to cover her tracks. It wasn’t until The New York Times began to do a little background checking on her for a piece that the truth came out. Tania Head wasn’t even in the country at the time of the attacks, and had never been married to Dave. In fact, her real name wasn’t even Tania Head (NPR Staff, “The Amazing, Untrue Story Of A Sept. 11 Survivor”).

A Lesson Learned

Even though these women lied about their past, many still struggle with letting them go. Mam raised over $2 million in donations for victims of sex trafficking in 2012, and many Sept. 11 survivors credit Head with helping them heal. But despite the good they’ve done, the fact that they lied remains. The true victims are overshadowed by people like Mam and Head, and the actions of these two leave others to question the stories of the real survivors. When this happens, the organizations and people they were affiliated with lose their credibility. After all, a simple background check was all it took to discover the truth. These organizations handle millions of dollars and deal with sensitive subjects, yet they couldn’t have bothered to double check a few details?

Situations like these emphasize the importance of properly vetting a candidate before they are able to hold a position of power. This rings true for everyone, not just supposed victims. The practice of vetting a candidate is most often used in politics to ensure that they haven’t embellished too much about their past. Companies who are in the process of hiring executives need to examine the backgrounds of their candidates, which was explained in our article on Executive Background Checks.

When it comes to situations like the ones Mam and Head were involved in, it is always best to err on the side of caution and make sure their stories check out. Doing so can prevent legal troubles, liability issues, and even heartbreak.

Private Investigator’s Role in Corporate Asset Investigations

Private Investigator’s Role in Corporate Asset Investigations

Photo courtesy of DES Daughter, Flickr

Considering a lawsuit? Waiting to collect a judgment? If so, it may be time to hire a licensed private investigator to conduct a corporate asset investigation. Corporations are viewed legally as a separate legal entity from their shareholders, and are considered as legal persons in the eyes of the law. Corporate litigation is also an expensive and lengthy process. Due to these circumstances, asset searches involving corporations require a specific type of investigation that only a licensed private investigator can provide.

Reasons for a Corporate Asset Search

Most investigations of a corporation’s assets occur in two stages: pre-trial and post-trial. A pre-trial search of assets can help clients determine if a lawsuit is worth pursuing. The cost of corporate litigation adds up, and if the opposing company won’t be able to pay a judgment, the lawsuit will end up costing much more than it is worth. Asset searches can also prevent a lawsuit from happening in the first place. Information on things like hidden bank accounts and past lawsuits has proven to be a valuable tool for negotiations. For corporate litigation totaling over 500k, an asset search is essential.

Conducting an asset investigation post-trial will uncover assets that a debtor is trying to conceal. People and companies who are forced to give up assets will often go through great lengths to hide them. Businesses have been known to move funds offshore and set up overseas bank accounts in an effort to hide their money, and some may misrepresent the amount and value of their assets. Debtors will also have assets that are protected under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, making it much harder to obtain a judgment. It can take up to ten years for a creditor to receive their judgment in full, and that’s not accounting for legal extensions. The creditor has a legal right to receive their judgment, but is often left to retrieve that money without the aid of the court.

Hiring a Private Investigator

Most corporate attorneys do not have the time or means to conduct a thorough pre-trial investigation of a company’s assets. In post-trial investigations, creditor rights attorneys will work together with private investigators to ensure that their client’s judgment is paid. They need information quickly and legally, which is something that a licensed corporate private investigator can provide. Intelligence on liquid assets can be hard to come by legally without the aid of a professional, and can take a long time to prove successful. A private eye will work together with an attorney to thoroughly investigate the following:

  • Bank accounts
  • UCC Filings
  • Federal and state tax liens
  • Real estate and mortgage information
  • Bankruptcy
  • Past judgments and lawsuits
  • Affiliated companies
  • Offshore assets

There are several ways in which a debtor will attempt to conceal assets, making an asset search necessary. Public records and internet searches will only turn up so much, and must be done so by legal means. Hiring an investigator who is experienced in corporate litigation will increase the likelihood that a creditor will receive their judgment in a timely manner.

Choosing the Right Investigator

Hiring a licensed private investigator is an essential part of a corporate asset search. With no less than 20 years of experience, Thomas Lauth and his team of investigators at Lauth Investigations International will work attorneys to ensure that the client’s needs are met. With three main locations in Indianapolis, IN, Denver, CO, and Miami, FL, our investigators are dedicated to providing national and global corporations with complex investigations.

The Dangers of Online Dating

The Dangers of Online Dating

The day after Valentine’s Day of 2013, national news reports indicated a spike in new online dating memberships. Once somewhat frowned upon, looking for love online has become more socially acceptable within the last ten years.

Ann Friedman, a politics columnist for New York’s website, reported in her article Cupid’s Cursor, that one-third of America’s 90 million singles have used online dating services. While some find love, get married, living happily ever after, some have met with tragedy.

Robyn Gardner - Still Missing


Robyn Gardner, who I wrote about August 25, 2011 in an article Missing Persons Advocacy Network, remains missing after meeting Gary V. Giordano online. They met each other on an online dating site, and saw each other a couple times a month. Robyn considered Giordano a friend and agreed to take a vacation to Aruba where she vanished. Her family is still desperately searching for answers. After her disappearance, Giordano attempted to sue American Express for a $3.5 million insurance policy he took our on Robyn prior to their trip to Aruba.

Gary Giordano arrest photo. Courtesy of AP.

Robyn Gardner is just one of many people who have fell victim to an online predator. November 30, 2012, Michigan law enforcement announced the body of Leigh Swanson had been found in the woods, approximately 10 miles northwest of Midland. Her cause of death was a fatal gunshot.

Swanson, 45 years old, had met a man on an online dating site according to her mother, Beverly Kane. Kane said her daughter had expressed that she had a bad feeling prior to going on the date but made a call to her mother on November 18, 2012 from the man’s home indicating everything was fine and she would be home soon. She never arrived and no one knew whom she had gone on the date with.

Leigh Swanson

After Swanson was reported missing, authorities traced the call to a house in Edenville Township, and dispatched deputies to the location. When the deputies approached the front door, they heard a gunshot from inside and ordered anyone inside to come out with their hands over their heads. A man exited the home holding a cell phone in his hand. The man had been on the phone with 911 reporting his son had just shot himself. A search ensued, and police found Swanson’s body in a wooded area on a neighboring property.

While the positive stories about online dating far outnumber the bad, the harsh reality is that online dating can also put people at risk. Following are some tips that can help keep you safe. Remember you can never take too much precaution when it comes to your personal safety.

Protect Yourself

1. Always meet in a public place. Never invite the individual to pick you up from your home or accept an invitation to theirs.

2. Use the online dating site email system to communicate. Remember, the more information you give out the easier you are to find. Even providing a private email address gives someone enough information to find out who you are and where you live.

3. If you decide to meet personally, attempt to obtain as much verifiable information about the person prior to the meeting, such as name and phone number.

4. Make sure you let someone close to you know who you are meeting, where you are meeting, and as much information about the person as possible. You can even have your friend call you during the date. This gives your friends and family peace of mind but also sends a clear message to the individual you are with that others know where you are.

5. Do your homework. It is not unreasonable to conduct a background investigation on a potential mate and could lessen the danger to yourself and those you love.

6. No matter how comfortable you feel with the person, never leave your food or drink unattended.

While I am not discouraging anyone from online dating, I do encourage you to take every precaution necessary to protect yourself. We must not permit tragedies or the lives of victims to be in vain.

About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is founder of the Nation’s missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adults in 2000. She served as CEO until January 2010. Kym is recognized as an expert in the field of missing persons, and has spent 20 years working with families of missing persons and homicide victims, government officials, advocates, and national media. She is also a contributor to Lauth Investigations International and the Missing Persons Advocacy Network.