Thursday, October 26, 2006

Secret Video Taping

Yesterday I came across a story about a former police dispatcher who was charged with a felony for secretly videotaping his ex-wife. His ex-wife happens to be a deputy sheriff in upstate New York.

The man, Michael Alteri, was accused of hiding a video camera in his ex-wife's home. Ticonderoga town police obtained a search warrant for Alteri's home and found videotapes from a hidden video camera allegedly installed in his ex-wife's home. He was charged with felony eavesdropping.

This brings up several questions. Did Alteri place the camera in his ex-wife's home before the divorce? Or, did he trespass in her home after the divorce?

Where was the camera? In her bedroom or bathroom? Since the grand jury indicted him for felony eavesdropping, it was probably in one of them.

The article I read didn't say why the town police got a search warrant, but somehow the man's ex-wife must have suspected something was going on. Perhaps she had her home swept for eavesdropping devices.

New York state has very stiff penalties for audio eavesdropping, or wiretapping, as it's called. The laws regarding video eavesdropping are somewhat vague. In any case, a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in their home, which makes this type of video taping problematic.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Victim of Identity Theft?

Recently I posted a couple of stories about a close friend of mine who was the victim of identity theft. Her JP Morgan Chase checking account was raided, and the thief was processing $6000 every-other-day through PayPal.

When she learned of it, she called Chase, who closed her checking account. Then, two weeks later, someone went into four different Chase banks and started withdrawing money from her savings accounts. (You'd think Chase would have had some safeguards in place by then, but they didn't.)

My friend did all the things that you're supposed to do when one becomes a victim of identity theft: notify the bank, the credit bureaus, and file a police report. When she filed the police report with the NYPD, a Detective Ramos said that the perp probably knew her.

When I heard that, I said, "Yeah, right." I didn't believe if for a moment. Well, to make a long story short. My friend's accountant noticed that four of her clients have recently become the victims of identity theft. In one case, the police called her to run a name by her, to see if she recognized it.

"Yes, I fired that person a couple of months ago," the accountant said. The police had come up with a name in one of the cases, and it turned out that the same woman stole the identities of four different women, and was raking in thousands of dollars a week.

Detective Ramos was right on when he said, "It's probably somebody that you know."

Friday, October 20, 2006


If you're going through a divorce, thinking about divorcing, or have a friend in either situation, you need to know about DivorceNet is the Internet's largest divorce resource, offering state-specific articles, an online community and a nationwide directory of divorce lawyers, mediators and financial professionals.

DivorceNet has over 16,000 registered users. Registration is free. There are over 70 Community Forums, where members help each other. Each forum has a Community Moderator; a professional who will answer reader's questions.

"Ask the Private Investigator" is one of the forums. I'm the Community Moderator. I enjoy answering online reader's questions. We've enjoyed thousands of visitors at Ask the Private Investigator.

There are many helpful sections on divorcenet. com. Here are some of them:

Collaborative Law - Avoid going to court.
Divorce Mediation - Negotiate your agreement.
Financial Planning - Understand your finances.
Real Estate - Your home, your future.

eBooks & Forms - Our most popular self-help tools:
Predivorce Document Checklist - Find hidden income.
Divorce Financial Worksheet - Organize your divorce.

Divorce News Blog - Nationwide news and editorials on divorce and separation, updated daily.
Paternity Testing & Family Law News
Community Forums - Support network with over 70 forums.
Daily Answer Desk with Jim Gross, Esq. - Divorce advice from an experienced attorney.

Related Resources:
Child Support & Alimony
What are the support guidelines?

Custody & Visitation
How often will I see my kids?

Property Division
Will I need to sell my home?

Military Divorce
Is this the same as a civilian divorce?

Divorce & Taxes
Are you aware of tax-related divorce issues?

Stages of Divorce:
Considering Divorce
Planning Divorce
Filing & Litigation
After Divorce

State Resource Pages - Divorce law is different in each state.
Please visit the state in which you and your spouse currently reside or last lived together.

Begin Your Divorce Online - Customized online divorce forms. Fast, affordable and easy.

Save Money on Legal Fees - Software suite designed to help you take control of your finances.

If you, or someone you know, needs help with a divorce, I highly recommend

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Media Hurts Private Investigator's Image

Once in a while the media presents something positive about private investigators. Most of the time, though, it's either sensationalist or negative. In our field, just like any other field, whether it's politics, banking, or education, there are bad apples.

Fictional TV shows about P.I.s either make us look like wonder-workers (and do everything for free, for you never see a P.I. taking money from a client in a TV show), or sleezeballs. Some P.I.s add to our sleezy image with their own TV shows.

Private investigators do a lot of good for society. We reign-in fugitives and deadbeat dads, we bust bogus psychics (and most of them are bogus), and find sellers of counterfeit merchandise and perpetrators of eBay fraud.

We help people from making costly mistakes when we do background investigations, we reunite loved ones, find birth parents for medical reasons, and do a number of things pro bono...just for a good cause.

Private investigators know how to dig for information, and know what to do with the information we find. (Yes, sometimes we do work wonders.) Some of us use it for good, others for not-so-good things.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cost of Iraq War on Families

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking a toll on families. Besides those being killed and wounded, being apart from loved ones months at a time (and several times in a row) creates great stress on relationships.

Every week we at Sherlock Investigations get email from soldiers serving overseas who think that their spouses, or boyfriends or girlfriends, are having affairs while they're away serving our country. Sometimes we even get calls from Iraq or Afghanistan via satellite phone. These calls are from both men and women.

A soldier's pay is so little, that there is often very little we can do in these situations, as surveillance is usually required to prove infidelity. And surveillance is expensive. It's usually best if the soldier serving overseas enlists help from a friend or family member.

The best thing "family values" politicians can do for these families is to bring our troops home.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

How to Locate a Cell Phone Bug

Cell phone bugs are the most popular means of electronic eavesdropping today. When I talk about cell phone bugs, I don't mean a bugged, or tapped, cell phone. While the government has equipment that can pick up your cell phone conversations, you're probably not a major criminal or a threat to national security, so the government has no interest in you. If you think otherwise, you're probably paranoid.

Most people who are interested in what you say on your cell can't afford $75,000 for the electronic equipment to do the job, and the manufacturer wouldn't sell it to them anyway.

However, there is a real threat with cell phone bugs. In this case, a cell phone itself is the bug. While you can purchase a specially equipped cell phone to use as a bug for around $1000 on the Internet, you can just go to your nearest cell phone store.

One or two things make these cell phones unique. First, when you call them, they don't ring or vibrate. Calling them simply turns on their microphone. Now the person calling can hear every word that's spoken within a certain proximity. Most cell phones have a pretty good microphone (mouthpiece) that serves quite well for eavesdropping. Some cell phones, though, are equipped with a highly sensitive mike that will easily pick up a conversation twenty feet away.

Think about the possibilities. A person could visit an office and drop one in a plant, under a bed, or, using double-sided tape, stick one under a conference table or desk. Then go on their merry way, and call the phone anytime they want to listen to the sounds in that room.

The best kind of phone to buy for eavesdropping purposes is a pre-paid cell phone that has a feature to shut off the ringer. These phones can't be traced to the purchaser. But, the number the person calls from would still show up if it was a published number.

There's another adaptation of these phones that you should know about. Eventually, the battery's going to die. Cell phone bugs placed in a vehicle have a wire going from the phone to the car's battery. This means unlimited listening time. They also have a seperate, sensitive microphone. The tiny mircrophone is often hidden several feet from the phone.

Thus, the phone could be hidden in almost any place in a vehicle. The wires to the battery and microphone are hidden very carefully, usually in interior trim or molding. These cell phone bugs often have a tiny circuit board about the size of a postage stamp attached to the mic wire.

Now, how to locate them. (Professionals have sensitive equipped that can locate a cell phone that is powered on.) First, any unclaimed cell phone in an office or home should be suspect. This is especially true if you find that they are turned on. To disable one, simply remove the battery.

If you go in a room, think about where you would hide a cell phone if you wanted to eavesdrop. Use your imagination. Don't forget to look on top of the tiles of a room with a dropped ceiling. Look under tables, chairs, in plants. Thoroughly search the room.

In a vehicle, do the same thing. The most likely place to hide a cell phone bug in a car is within a few feet in front of the driver. Look in the air vents, under the dash (use a mirror and flashlight), and under the seats.

If the cell phone bug is equipped with a seperate microphone, the search is much harder. Look for any screws, trim, or molding that may have been tampered with. Look in the map light, the air vents. Look at the battery and see if there is an extra wire that's not original equipment. The same with the fuse box.

It once took me two hours to locate a cell phone bug in an SUV. The microphone was in the maplight. I followed one wire up into the roof where I found a Motorola cell phone. Another wire went from the cell phone to the battery for power.

When someone calls a cell phone bug, they can hear everything up to twenty or more feet from the device. Cell phone bugs are the easiest and cheapest eavesdropping devices to install. No wonder they're so popular.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Plane Hits New York Apartment

When a single-engine plane slammed into a 50-story apartment building this afternoon everyone immediately thought of terrorism and 9/11. Apparently, it was a tragic accident.

Let's suppose for a moment that it wasn't an accident. There is virtually no security at the nation's hundreds of small airports. A person could easily steal a plane from one of them. In fact, in some small airports that rent planes, it's possible to obtain one without even displaying a pilot's license.

Taking this scenario further, let's suppose that someone rented or stole a plane, landed it in a field, and filled it up with explosives. Then they took off and literally flew below the radar to any chosen target.

In the immediate aftermath of today's tragedy, I wondered if this small plane could have been targeting the nearby United Nations. It probably wasn't, but it could happen in the future.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Spy vs. Counterspy

This week's New York Magazine has an article called Spy vs. Counterspy. The subtitle reads: "Two private eyes face off on getting the goods and keeping your secrets." By Sarah Bernard, it's a fun piece that came in the wake of the Jeanine Pirro revelation about her wanting to bug her husband's boat.

The article focuses on five areas, Eavesdropping, Stalking, Digits, Visual Contact, and Cybersecurity. I'm the spy in the article. Todd Morris, of Brickhouse Security, is the counterspy.

Of course, I want you to go out and buy New York Magazine, so I'm not going to reveal any more about the article. However, there is one point that the writer, or the fact-checker, misunderstood.

Under Eavesdropping, the article says, "Inexpensive scanners pick up wireless calls easily." This is not true. The older 900 MHz cordless phones (and baby monitors) can be picked up easily with a Radio Shack scanner. Even the first analog cell phones had this weakness. Today, it's very difficult to eavesdrop on a cell phone. I know of one company that has a scanner that will pick up cell phone conversations. They sell it to the government for about $75,000, something the average person can't afford (They wouldn't sell to the average person even if they could afford it.).

Anyway, I'll write a Letter to the Editor about the misunderstanding. In any case, you heard it here first.

Monday, October 09, 2006


When most people think of private detectives they associate us with tailing. And we do a lot of that. Even in the age of the Internet, where all sorts of information can be found online, old-fashioned surveillance is still the name-of-the-game. Some private investigators, and, especially, information brokers, do everything online. There are some things you can never find online.

The Sherlock Investigations' surveillance teams are busy every week. Sometimes we don't have enough personnel to cover our needs, so it becomes first-come, first-served.

Most of our surveillance involves what we call domestic cases...infidelity cases. As long as people think that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence we'll be in business.

Some of our cases involve Indians or Pakistanis whose families practice arranged marriages. They might have, for instance, a daughter that they have arranged to marry a young man who currently lives in New York. They want to know what he's really like when certain others aren't around.

The best way to find out someone's comings-and-goings is to follow them. You can also find out if they smoke, drink, gamble, or what-have-you.

In other cases, we follow people around who come to New York, America's playground. They think that if they're 1,500 miles away from home that they can get away with things they can't do at home.

We'll follow them to restaurants, bars, and even when they pick up a prostitute and bring her back to their hotel. I've sat in a hotel lobby for 8 hours, and across the street from the Trump Plaza in the middle of winter on a park bench dressed like a homeless person, with my camcorder in a paper bag, looking like a bottle of beer.

Our surveillance teams have digital video cameras, hidden cameras, and a specially equipped surveillance van. One investigator even has a kayak that he said we could've used if Jeanine Pirro had hired us to conduct surveillance on her husband's boat.

Surveillance is expensive. One detective for 4 hours costs $600. Two detectives costs about $800. We did a surveillance that lasted for 10 weekends and ran into the thousands of dollars. Often, though, surveillance is the only way to conduct an investigation. What we see is what you get.

Friday, October 06, 2006

What Private Investigators Do

While we list our services on our web site in menu-style, we actually do a lot more than what we list. The only thing we won't do is anything illegal. For example, we're asked all the time to plant a bug or tap a phone. We'll find one in a business or residence, but we won't place one.

Of course, we do all the normal things PIs do such as tailing an unfaithful spouse, run background investigations on people, and locate missing people. Once is a while we are asked to perform countersurveillance. In other words, people think that they are being followed hire us to follow them to see if they're being followed.

Some of our assignments brings us to the New York Public Library where they have phone books going back to Alexander Graham Bell's time. A lot of useful information can be found in old phone books.

We have some smart people working for us. We know how to conduct research, whether on the Internet, or real physical places.

With the advent of the Internet, I worried about our business. After all, anyone can access the Internet. I've found that my worries were unfounded, as most people don't know where to go on the Internet to get the information they need.

Most of all, we're problem solvers. Contact us if you've got a problem that you think we can solve.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Witness Protection Program

The so-called "witness protection program" is administered by the United States Marshall's Service. The U.S. Marshall's probably apprehend more fugitives than any other law-enforcement office.

The U.S. Marshall's are generally in charge of prisoners, from the time they're arrested, throughout the trial, and until they are put away.

The U.S. Marhall's are also often in charge of protecting witnesses. Some witnesses risk life and limb when agreeing to testify against suspected criminals. Some criminals are so dangerous that after the trial a whole new identity needs to be set up for the witness. This includes a new name, address, occupation, and sometimes even plastic surgery to change the witnesses appearance.

At Sherlock Investigations we sometimes get calls from people who know the whereabouts of a fugitive. They're afraid to report this themselves, so they call upon us to do it.

Using our extensive contacts in law-enforcement, we're more than happy to provide this service. And it is a service. Putting dangerous people behind bars is a good thing.