Approaching a private investigator

The Story of a Surveillance Where a Client Provided Too Much Help #109

Investigators Don’t Mind a Little Help

Client information or help during an investigation can many times mean the difference between a successful investigation and one that is average, or one that fails.

If a client provides limited information then it will require more work for the investigator to prepare or be prepared for a surveillance.  The more leg work that needs to be done on the front (the beginning) of an investigation, the more money and time it will take to get the best results possible.

For a surveillance this would mean providing a description of the individual, the correct address, types of vehicles driven….anything relating to the individual. Generally speaking, clients do not realize how even the smallest amount of information can help with the success of a surveillance.  And generally speaking investigator’s want a helpful client.

In the insurance investigation world the date and time of an upcoming appointment can be very helpful in identifying the  individual the investigator has been hired to watch.  There are times when an investigator has no way of knowing who the person is and working a surveillance during an appointment is a great way to identify an individual or to find out where they are living by following them home from an appointment.

There is a point where the client can be too helpful and too involved which can directly interfere with an investigation or surveillance.   The client (the person who hired you) might poke around too much looking for information to help the investigator and eventually tip off the person you are going to watch that something is not right.

I think the best way to explain this type of situation is by providing an example of a surveillance I worked which provides a clear example of a client or a client’s inside contact becoming too involved and comprising a surveillance.

Just to provide a clear disclaimer about this story you are about to read.  I will be vague in some areas of the story to maintain the integrity of the investigation.  It has been a very long time since this took place so I don’t know if there are any on going efforts related to this investigation.

Here is the Surveillance Story

Like most surveillance cases I was assigned to document someone’s activities.  I was instructed to pick up the individual (begin the surveillance) from a hotel he would be staying at in a resort town.  The client knew that this individual would be arriving at the hotel later in the evening and knew the reason why. The client provided the individual’s vehicle information and informed the investigator the individual would be meeting with someone at the resort as well. If my memory serves me correctly they might of even provided a picture of the individual.  There was quite a bit of information that the client provided.  The only problem at that point was I had no idea how they obtained that information.

Private Investigator Surveillance Vehicle

Several hours passed and I believe only one or two couples arrived at the hotel but it was not my subject.  I think at that point I was actually becoming concerned that the individual would not show up to the hotel, or maybe the information was wrong.  I remained at the hotel and continued to wait.

About an hour before it was to get dark the individual I was looking for arrived with his spouse. Another couple walked from another motel located across from their motel and greeted them.  I documented my subject until he entered his hotel room out of my view.

An hour or two later he became active and departed his hotel and traveled to the other couples hotel and parked in front.  I remember struggling to get clean clear video documentation of his actions and having to roll down my window slightly just to get a clear shot.  My subject’s friends eventually entered his vehicle and they departed the area.

I followed him to an outdoor location where he was very active for about an hour.  He then traveled to another location where I videotaped him intermittently over an hour inside another location.  I eventually left him at that location and didn’t follow him back to his hotel per the client’s request.

A Different Investigator Works the Surveillance File

A month or two later I received a call from a friend of mine who had received an assignment to conduct surveillance on the same individual.  When he worked the file it did not turn out as well as it did when I worked the file.  He saw my report and my previous efforts on the file and he asked me if I had been burned (caught by my subject) while working the file.  I told him I didn’t think I had been caught as I was in a building with him and he never let on that he was being followed. I told him if I had it would have been reflected in the report.

Note:  Anytime I have ever been burned I always let the client know.  And if I am compromised I stop surveillance efforts immediately.   This investigator was someone I had helped train and was his supervisor for a period of time while working at the same investigation company.  I trusted him and I knew the type of investigator he was..which was a good one.

I asked what had happened during the surveillance to retrace his steps and to see if it was something he had done to alert the individual.

The other investigator informed me that while in route to the vacationing area he conducted a brief drive by of the individual’s residence and did not see any relevant activity or any vehicles.  I don’t think the investigator could even see vehicles at the residence. He then continued on to the vacation town to set up a surveillance position at the hotel the individual was to stay at again.

He stated he entered the small town and located the individual’s vehicle traveling towards him.  Apparently the individual had arrived before he did.  As the individual passed his vehicle his wife could be seen responding to the investigator and pointing at his vehicle.  If I remember the story correctly the individual began following the investigator and the investigator immediately left the area.

After some conversation with the other investigator we determined that the client had tipped off the individual we had conducted surveillance on.  We believed that there was just too much personal and detailed information about the subject’s whereabouts.  We also did not know where the client’s information was coming from.  With all the detailed information that the client provided about the individual (knowing the hotel the subject would be staying at, knowing the approximate time of arrival to the hotel,  knowing who the subject would be meeting with, etc…) we believed the client somehow tipped off  the individual.

Though the investigator had never conducted surveillance on the subject, after some conversation we believed that the subject was keeping track of who was driving by his home in anticipation of surveillance efforts being conducted.  This was the only logical answer for the other investigator being compromised immediately during the surveillance.  The subject was looking for that investigator and he found him.

I can say this type of thing has happened only a few times in the past 12 years.  This story was the most obvious situation where a client was too involved or too helpful.

You might have a lot of contact with a client during an investigation and have the ability to prevent something like my story from happening.  Sometimes you will have no control of this type of thing happening.

A client wants the best possible results from you but if they help to much they will sabotage what you are there to do.

Has something like this ever happened to you?  How did you deal with it?



  1. Awesome article, man.