In my recent newsletter (to the newsletter subscribers) I asked those willing, to participate in a 10 question survey so I could get a better feel for the audience’s needs and to test some ideas I had floating around in my head. In the survey, I asked for any questions the readers might have and I received one in particular that I thought was worth discussing. You may have guessed what the question was based on the title of this article. The question was “ Do you think it’s ok to pretext face to face or strictly over the phone ?” But before I discuss anything further please note pretexting a represented individual should be avoided both on the phone and in person. I wrote about pretext laws and pretexting court cases not that long ago and if you want to read more about it.
To get back to answering the question by the reader I wouldn’t look at pretexting as to whether it is ok or not as long as you’re not doing anything illegal. I would look at pretexting either face to face or by phone in with the perspective of what is needed or necessary for a specific situation. The pretexting that I normally participate in relates to locating people, identifying people and confirming whether people are home are not.
So I want to discuss physical pretexting (in-person) and phone pretexting from a slightly different angle then the question asked which I will address next.
Phone Pretexting Then and Now
Phone Pretexing Early in My Career
In the early/mid-2000’s cell phones were relatively new still and many people would still hold on to their home phones. Because people held onto their home phones it was easier to find out if someone was home. I would place a call to the home, ask for the person, provide an excuse (pretext) for the call, speak to the individual and then end the call.
I liked phone calls to the residence because it was less intrusive than in-person contact with someone at a residence. I am a firm believer that I am more successful with my surveillance efforts the less I insert myself into it (the surveillance) with pretexting.
Phone Pretexting in 2017 (For me)
Over the years I phone found that being able to find a landline for a subject’s home has become increasingly difficult. I have found that more and more people don’t have a home phone and rely solely on cell phones. So because of this, investigators like myself have had to turn towards physical pretexting both to neighbors and the subject’s of the surveillance to determine if the subject is home.
The reason for all this pretexting in the insurance investigation industry is because of a precedent set a very long time ago (long before I came into the insurance investigation industry) to confirm the subject home by the 4-hour mark of a surveillance. This is to ensure that the investigator is not sitting on a home with the subject not being home. Insurance companies want the most bang for the buck and don’t want to pay for a surveillance when the subject of the surveillance isn’t there.
So if the investigator knows where a subject lives, knows what a subject drives and knows what a subject looks like then a phone pretext to a landline is the way to go to confirm someone home if pretexting is absolutely necessary.
Physical Pretexting Then and Now
Physical Pretexting (In person pretexting) Early in My Career
In the early 2000’s there was not nearly the amount of information that was searchable as there is today. If I found the picture of a subject I was conducting surveillance on through internet searches I was ecstatic. More times then not with an insurance surveillance assignment, I was given limited information that wasn’t always correct (Address and phone number).
I would then take the provided information and run searches through Lexis Nexus and IRB to confirm the information was correct and to make sure it was current.
Even if everything seemed correct I still had to identify (confirm the identity) the subject I was to conduct surveillance on.
One way or another I found myself knocking on the door of the subject’s residence and attempting to identify the person I was conducting surveillance on. This was all attempted while trying to make sure the person didn’t figure out who I was. It was very much a way of life early on in my career. I became numb to the whole process of in-person pretexting and was confident in my abilities to tell a story (pretext). With that being said the whole pretexting process was challenging to complete without getting burned because I was constantly entering myself into a neighborhood, which in many cases would draw unnecessary attention to myself. So even if my pretexting was spot on and convincing, many times the subject of the surveillance would start to piece things together.
I had to know that I was conducting surveillance on the right person. I couldn’t spend days following someone and just hope I had the right person. If I was wrong and had been following the wrong person, the client wasn’t going to pay for my efforts. Physical pretexting was almost a must in my early years.
Physical Pretexing in 2017
At this time there is so much information available to the general public and private investigators have leveraged this information to their benefit.
With the rise of social media and access to more and more public information online I have found less and less need to make contact with claimant’s or neighbors during my surveillance efforts. Facebook provides photos of my subjects along with other bits of information that helps me with my investigations. Online access to court records, vehicle information, business licensing, professional licensing, online maps, etc..allows me to be confident and efficient when I conduct surveillance.
Physical pretexting happens from time to time but it is not an everyday thing for me anymore.
More times then not, if a case is prepped properly by a private investigator and the investigator (or the company they are working for) is patient, the subject will eventually come out of the home. Then the investigator can document that activity without bringing any suspicion to the subject or the neighborhood.
The less a private investigator inserts themselves into the surveillance, the better the surveillance will be and the fewer burns an investigator will have.
Not contacting a subject also makes it much easier to for a private investigator to follow subject’s into stores and public areas on foot without causing any suspicion.
Other Reasons for Pretexting
There are plenty of other reasons to use pretexting and I honestly and I don’t know that one is better than the other when getting information. Every situation is different when it comes to pretexting.
With that being said, I personally would much rather pretext over the phone just in case a pretext doesn’t go as planned.
Having a pretext go south can be a very stressful and an uncomfortable situation especially when it is done in person.
Having a phone pretext go south can still be stressful but you can end any confrontation by hanging up the phone.
Conclusion to Physical Pretexting versus Phone Pretexing
When someone asks a question I know they have some specific scenario in mind. Sometimes my scenarios are not the same but I hope what I shared answered the reader’s question.
What are your thoughts on pretexting? Do you prefer phone pretexting or in-person pretexting. Are there specific scenarios you find yourself pretexting for more than others?
Thank you again for taking the time to read this and I hope it provided some value for you. Always follow the laws associated to pretexting and use pretexting responsibly.