Friday, September 29, 2006

Bugging a Spouse

Since the Jeanine Pirro investigation involving her desire to bug her husband's boat, a lot of people have asked me if it's legal to bug your spouse. The reasoning is, that you should be able to bug your own home or marital property, or tap your own phone.

I won't do it for anyone, and I always discourage people from doing it. Not being a lawyer, I can't argue the fine points of the law. Generally, if you're not a party to the conversation, you can't record it.

If Pirro did bug her husband's boat, and the FBI says it was illegal, then her discussion of it with a private eye was illegal too. It's conspiracy to commit a crime.

As a former district attorney, she should have realized that she was treading on dangerous ground. Also, the person she discussed it with on the phone was someone to be careful with, as he was the target of investigation. A good rule to follow: never discuss anything on a phone, landline or cell, that you don't want the world to know about.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pirro Bugging Case

The FBI dropped a bombshell on Jeanine Pirro, the Republican candidate for Attorney General of New York State, by letting her know that she was the target of a federal investigation as a result of her wanting to bug her husband's boat.

The revelation was leaked to WNBC/Channel 4, in New York, after the FBI learned of her discussion with private eye Bernie Kerik after tapping his phone while conducting an investigation of Kerik. Kerik is a former Police Commissioner of New York City.

Yesterday, Pirro held a press conference in an attempt to save her faltering campaign. Pirro called the investigation a "political witch hunt and smear campaign," to ruin her politically.

She demanded an investigation into why sealed documents were leaked to the public. She said that her marriage was personal and not part of her campaign. She added that there's nothing illegal about one spouse taping another.

Jeanine Pirro, a former District Attorny of Westchester County, should know better. Wiretapping without a court order is illegal, period. Electronic eavesdropping, unless you're a party to the conversation, is wiretapping, and illegal.

On the FBI tapes, Pirro is quoted as saying, "What am I supposed to do, Bernie? Watch him fuck her every night? What am I supposed to do? I can go on the boat. I'll put the fucking thing on myself."

I can understand a woman's outrage at an unfaithful spouse. We get calls all the time from women in similar circumstances. The answer though, is not bugging. Surveillance would have probably done the trick for Pirro. Now, it's too late. Her political career is over, and probably her marriage too.

While the leak of the FBI tapes to the media was probably a political thing, the FBI's investigation into Pirro is not. Whenever the FBI suspects that a crime has been committed, or may be, it is bound to investigate.

In this case, they didn't know if private investigator Kerik went ahead with it, or not. They didn't know if Pirro found some other way to bug her husband, including doing it herself, as she had suggested.

The FBI is blameless. The person who leaked the tape transcript probably is not.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

New York Post & Background Investigations

In their section called "Pulse," my interview about background investigations with the New York Post came out this morning. It looks like it'll land me on the Today Show tomorrow. We'll see.

The article focused heavily on online dating. Because of the frequency of calls we get about online dating, I decided to do something about it. As much as 50% of the posts you find on online dating sites are exaggerations, if not outright lies. People lie about their looks, age, marital status, and their employment.

So, a couple of years ago I started an online dating site. The unique feature of the site was that every member underwent a background check. If we found that they lied about something, we kicked them off.

I lost my shirt with the dating site. I got out before I lost my pants, too. The project was underfunded, and I don't know the business of online dating sites. However, I do know about background investigations. So, I decided to stick with that.

Now, background checks are becoming quite common on online dating sites. I heard about one company that does background checks for $25. That's like jumping out of a plane using a handkerchief for a parachute. I don't see any way a $25 background check would be of any use.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Background Investigations

Today, a reporter from the New York Post interviewed me about conducting background investigations. Her particular angle was employing background investigations in checking out a boyfriend. The article is supposed to appear in tomorrow's paper. We'll see.

I've written about background investigations several times on this blog, and I'm sure I'll write about it again. There's always more to say about background investigations.

There are several tiers to background investigations. First, there is the case where you have a lot of information to start with; things that the client tells you about the subject of the investigation. The investigator then verifies the information provided. Often, we're unable to verify the information because it's false.

These investigations cost the least because we have somewhere to start. We simply compare what's provided with what actually is.

The most difficult, and expensive, background investigations are when you have little to start with, and have to discover everything through investigating. Clients sometimes want to find out everything they can about a person's "lifestyle." In other words, does he smoke, drink, carouse, hang out, and who are his friends? The only real way to get this kind of case done is through surveillance. Surveillance costs a lot of money.

Whatever you're looking for on a person, we can find it, if you've got the money.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Detective Novels

I don't read many private detective novels, mostly because they fail to depict reality. But, several years ago I visited Partners & Crime mystery bookstore on Greenwich Avenue in New York. I asked for any books about private investigators in New York City.

They pointed me to Lawrence Block's series on Matthew Scudder. Since that time, I've read them all, and enjoyed them. Some were better than others, of course. Familiar places made me feel like I was part of the stories. There were some locations, though, that I couldn't quite figure out.

Later, I met Block. He confessed that he made up some of the locations, a sort of composite.

The main difference between private detective novels and the real world is that the private detectives in these books usually work on criminal cases. Most private detectives don't work on criminal cases. Yes, there are some that specialize in criminal matters, but not that many. About 10% of our cases at Sherlock Investigations involve criminal matters.

Also, many private investigators don't carry guns. Those who are ex-cops sometimes do, but even some of them have hung up their weapons. I stopped carrying a pistol years ago, before I actually shot someone.

In most states, private detectives aren't allowed to carry badges. Along that line, in Massachusetts, where I'm also licensed, we're called Private Detectives. New York, though, thinks that "detective" sounds too official, so we're called Private Investigators here.

Private detective novels are often a fun read, but just don't believe everything you read.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

What's in Your Wallet?

"What's in your wallet?" is a well-known credit card company's advertising slogan. I know one thing that's not in your wallet. That's your proof of citizenship. It's not there because there really is no such thing, unless you're a naturalized citizen and you have a certificate issued by the government.

I have no proof of citizenship other than my birth certificate, and I don't carry that around in my wallet. My driver's license simply has my name, address, and date of birth. So, if I were arrested on suspicion for being an illegal alien, I couldn't defend myself on the spot.

At Sherlock Investigations we get quite a few inquiries either about a person's citizenship, or their immigration status. Since INS won't cooperate with us, and there is no database listing citizens, these cases are very dificult.

I don't think I'm in favor of a national identity card, but I am in favor of noting citizenship on a person's driver's license, or state ID card. It could just be two little boxes, and the state would just check one, citizen, or non-citizen.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


"Just because I'm paranoid, it doesn't mean that someone isn't watching me," goes the saying. And it's true. However, many paranoid people are totally convinced that some sort of electronic eavesdropping or harassment is being employed against them. They're so convinced that they relay convincing stories to investigators.

Most of the calls to Sherlock Investigations from truly paranoid people are from women over 60 who live alone. They're convinced that a neighbor, or someone else, is beaming some sort of radiation into their apartment. Some spend all their waking hours dwelling on this.

I've heard stories that go on and on with detail. Some people purchase radio frequency meters over the Internet and point them in their neighbor's direction. If they get a reading, they believe that they have proof. Even if the equipment is of decent quality, one needs to know how to use it.

With some callers I've said, "Have your doctor or lawyer call me. If they request our services, I'll be glad to help you." Lately, we've been limiting our domestic, individual cases, and restricting our technical surveillance countermeasures to businesses only.

While I mentioned women over 60 who live alone, I don't want to discount women living alone who are going through a divorce. Estranged husbands often bug their wives residences or tap their phones.

Not being a psychiatrist, I don't know if it's possible for a person suffering from mental illness to acknowledge that electronic eavesdropping is a figment of their imagination. If I believe that there's any possibility of a person being under electronic surveillance, I want to help. Therefore, I'll listen to your story, to a point.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Secret Life of Private Investigators

Under "Buzzwords" in The Week in Review, Sunday's (9/17/06) New York Times featured an article titled "The Secret Life of Private Investigators." Spawned by the recent Hewlitt Packard scandal over pretexting, the piece briefly touched on what we do as private investigators.

Most private investigators employ pretexting, defined as posing as someone you're not. Usually, this is completely legal. However, when someone poses as the person they're trying to get information on, especially when it's to banks, phone companies, and utility companies, it becomes illegal.

The Times article gave away some of our secrets, but not all of them, fortunately. It also mentioned some of the legitimate reasons that we are hired to locate people, such as finding deadbeat dads, debtors, and runaways. I would add to that, witnesses who could testify in a court action, heirs, and fugitives.

While we do have a lot of tricks up our sleeves, most of our work requires persistence, an active imagination, and patience.

Monday, September 18, 2006

$500 Background Check

There is a difference between a background check, and a background investigation. Most of our clients can afford a background check, but not a full-fledged investigation.

When we perform a background check for $500 we don't leave the office. We search many public and non-public online records for information on the subject. We search newspapers online to find any possible articles written about the subject.

We also perform an in-depth Internet search, often coming up with very hard-to-find items. We also may employ some private investigator's "tricks-of-the-trade".

A $500 background check includes an address history, a search for criminal records going back 7 years, in any states and counties the subject has lived in during that time. It includes a search, again online, of relatives, associates, and may include anyone the subject has lived with, including a spouse. It includes bankruptcies, liens and judgments, and vehicle, boat and plane ownership. We also check to see if the suject is a registered voter, and if so, what party affiliation.

If we've been given a resume, we'll verify past employers and education claimed. Generally, a $500 background check won't include present employment (although it may come up in a routine search, and if it does, we include it). Of course, anything that comes up in the course of the background check is given to the client (However, we don't usually give out Social Security Numbers.)

I think that that's quite a lot for $500. However, some clients want much more than that. OK, now we're talking about a background investigation. An investigation includes all of the above, but more. An investigation may take us out on the street. We may interview neighbors, past employers, relatives...whatever it takes to get the job done.

One problem with this type of investigation is that the subject of the investigaion may learn about it. Sometimes great care needs to be taken to prevent this, which makes things even harder.

Background investigations may cost in the thousands of dollars. Telling us what information you specifically want will help keep down the costs. In any case, being specific about yours needs is always helpful.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Rick Ross and Destructive Groups

Rick Ross is in hot demand. I'm not talking about Rick Ross, the rapper. I suppose he's in hot demand too, but only to people who enjoy rap. I'm talking about Rick Ross the exit counselor.

An exit counselor is a person who helps people get out of cults. It's a profession with a lot of job security. Cults have been around forever, and because of our human foibles, they always will .

Exit counselors have varying degrees of expertise and integrity. I've known Rick Ross for almost 20 years. Rick is dedicated to his work and extremely professional. As a result, he's help a lot of families get their loved ones out of destructive groups.

I think I have a pretty good knowledge of various religions and cults, but Rick knows much, much more than I. In fact, I believe Rick Ross knows and understands cults, or destructive groups, as well, if not better, than anyone else in the world.

Interventions, i.e., the process of convincing a person to leave a destructive group, aren't always successful. The reasons range from a person being mentally ill, to simply bad timing.

Because of Rick Ross's successes, groups such as Scientology and others, have viciously attacked Rick. They've hired private investigators to follow him around and go through his trash. They've dug up indiscretions from his youth, and sued him in various courts around the country. Rick Ross still stands.

Because of his sincerety and dedication, and often because they feel his First Amendment rights are being violated, powerful lawyers have stepped in to help him out when he's challenged by destructive groups.

Rick Ross runs a not-for-profit educational foundation. His web site is among the most popular sites in the world, as it contains a wealth of information about destructive groups. Visit it at

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ann Richards

A great woman, former Governor of Texas, Ann Richards, died yesterday. The only thing that this has to do with private investigations is airports. Let me explain.

I've always admired Ann Richards. She was outspoken, witty and fiesty. She's the one that quipped that George W. Bush was "born with a silver foot in his mouth." While there isn't much to admire about most politicans, they should at least entertain us. She did that, and more.

So, when I spotted her standing alone in Chicago's O'Hare airport a few years ago, I just had to approach her and tell her how much I admired her. She accepted my compliments with grace, but had nothing funny to say at the time.

OK, so I previously lumped Ann Richards, airports and private investigation together. Sherlock Investigations constantly conducts surveillances in the New York metro area. Many times we've had to start the surveillance assignments at the New York airports.

This has always been a challenge, and has become more-so since 9/11. Security is tight at airports (but not at US ports...what's wrong with this picture?). Security is also tight in New York Hotels. That's one reason that we require clients requesting hotel surveillance to book us a room. You need a room key to be able to hang around a hotel lobby for long periods.

Anyway, life goes on. I'll always remember Ann Richards. Her sense of humor and pointed remarks did us some good.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Wiretap and Bug Detection

In the business, we call it TSCM, which stands for Technical Surveillance CounterMeasures. To most people, it's simply wiretap and bug detection. By "bug," of course, I mean electronic eavesdropping, not insects. The bugs we look for are not cockroaches. If so, they'd be easy to find, especially here in New York.

There are numerous reasons why people want our services. A company many be hosting a conference in which confidential information will be shared. They want to be sure that no one has placed a listening device in the conference area to learn their trade secrets.

In one case, a big city mayor just assumed office after an election. Sherlock Investigations was hired to sweep his office, conference room, and limousine. He wanted to be sure his predecessor didn't leave any listening devices behind. He didn't, but when I saw wires attached to the battery with alligator clips, I at first thought they were power for a transmitter. It turned out that they were for the mayor's car siren.

In a recent case, a high-profile socialite had us sweep her office for bugs. None were located.

In another case, a woman found that her husband, whom she was divorcing, knew a lot about conversations she had on her cell phone. She thought her cell phone was tapped. While this is possible, it's improbable unless the FBI is spying on you.

It turned out that her husband had placed a cell phone bug in her SUV. It took me two hours to locate it, as it wasn't turned on at the time of the search. Finally, within the maplight above the rearview mirror, I located a tiny microphone attached to a postage-sized circuit board. Two wires were attached to the circuit board. One led to the battery. The other led to a cell phone hidden in the ceiling of the vehicle.

The husband would call the cell phone from various places in the U.S. and listen to his wife's side of the conversation as she talked in her vehicle. The hidden cell phone didn't ring, but turned on the sensitive microphone.

Of course, once I found the cell phone, all I had to do is look at the phone numbers that had called the phone. All of the numbers were the husband's.

Cell phone bugs are probably the most common type of bug now. A specially prepared cell phone can be left on a desk, taped under a conference table, placed in a plant, or under a car seat. The eavesdropper can call at will and listen to the conversation in the room or vehicle.

Of course, we can locate cell phone bugs, and other eavesdropping devices, including hidden cameras, whether they be wireless or wired.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Hewlett Packard's scandal has put "pretexting" in the daily news. Until recently, only private investigators and information brokers knew about pretexting. According to today's Wall Street Journal, pretexting is "obtaining information by hiding one's identity." It's a lot more than that. It's not only hiding one's identity, it's pretending to be the person that you're trying to get information on.

When an information broker, or a private investigator, calls a phone company and says he's Bob Smith, when he's not Bob Smith, and that his house burned down and he lost all his cell phone records, and could they fax them to him, that's pretexting. Because it's identity theft, it's unethical, and, in many cases, illegal. At the very least, phone companies can sue a person for obtaining private information by fraudulent means.

We private investigators are equipped to employ pretexting because we can readily get a person's Social Security Number, date of birth, and mother's maiden name. With this power, though, comes responsibility. And because of the careless actions of some, private investigators continually lose their access to important information.

I know of at least two cases in which investigators provided home and work addresses to clients, who then went out and murdered the women that they had been stalking. That's why we at Sherlock Investigations are very careful to whom we give information. One of our policies is to never give out someone's Social Security Number unless there are legal grounds to do so.

We sometimes run a background check on our clients, for our own protection, and the protection of the public. Also, we sometimes ask clients why they want certain information. If their answers convince us, then we provide the info they want.

So, if you contact us for an investigation, don't be offended if we ask you some questions. If you have legitimate reasons, and there are many reasons, to order an investigation, you have nothing to worry about.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Employment as a Private Investigator

At Sherlock Investigations we are flooded with inquiries about employment. Some people call, others send email, and others send regular mail. Most applicants have no prior experience as an investigator, and most have no skills applicable to the field.

This leads me to believe that most applicants are on unemployment, and contact us just to meet their quota. It's obvious that none of these people have read the Employment section on our website.

If you're serious about getting into the field of private investigations, then learn some attractive skills. You don't have to have previous experience in law enforcement. I've seen librarians and geneologists become private investigators. That's because they know how to conduct research.

Take a look at our home page. See the kind of investigations that we conduct. How would you go about investigating these topics: locating someone, backgrounding a person or company, counterfeit merchandise investigations, finding a wire tap or other hidden eavesdropping device, investigating a cult, etc.?

If you have the skills to perform any of the above, you might make it as a private investigator.

Finally, please read our Employment column found at our home page.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Free People Search

Are people who get something for free called free-loaders? A while back Sherlock Investigations offered a free people search once a month for a worthy case. Our heart was in the right place, but it didn't work out because the people behind the cases we took were either unappreciative, or uncooperative.

You'd think they would be both, since they're getting hundreds of dollars worth of absolutely free services. But, that never seemed the case.

I don't know if TV has helped private investigators or hurt us. Television has focused on our industry to the point that people often think of us when they have a problem. The only problem is, TV doesn't present private investigators in reality.

The biggest point that they miss is the financial aspect. If you see a docudrama about private investigators, you never see a client signing the contract and handing the private investigator a check or credit card. In fact, no show about private investigators show such a thing.

Who's paying the bills on these shows? In the case of a docudrama the production company pays the investigator for his services. The so-called client gets everything free.

In programs like CSI, or other fictional shows, whether or not they're based on reality, some unseen and unmentioned entity pays the bills. In real life, the government foots the bills for investigations. Sometimes, though, they don't have the budget. That's why many crimes are never solved, because no one has the money to pay the detectives.

Criminal cases and civil cases are not solved by entering information into a data base and pushing a button. There are very specific steps an investigator must go through in solving a case.

We'll still take pro bono cases, but very, very seldomly. We don't have the time or the budget. Sorry.

Friday, September 01, 2006

William Koch's Investigation

William Koch is a billionaire, and most well-known for winning the Americas Cup in 1992. Koch collects wine. In fact, in the basement of his Florida mansion he has 17,000 bottles of it. Several bottles were alleged to be rare French wines once owned by our third president, Thomas Jefferson.

However, the legitimacy of this claim was challenged by several sources. Koch purchased the alleged rare wine from a German collector named Hardy Rodenstock. Since doubt was cast upon the authenticity of the wines, and knowing full well that the authorities had little interest in the plight of a billionaire and his rare wines, Koch himself launched an investigation of the wines and Rodenstock.

He hired former FBI agents to head the investigation. They concluded that Koch had been taken by a con artist. Now, Koch is suing Rodenstock. Koch footed the bill for the investigation, which cost over a million dollars.

Among other things, the private investigators learned that Rodenstock used to go by another name, and he apparently faked documents, among other misdeeds.

This brings us to the issue of the cost of investigations. A million dollars. Just to prove the legitimacy of a few bottles of wine.

People contact Sherlock Investigations for background investigations on various individuals. Among the things they ask us to find out are the number of bank accounts a person has, the amount of money in each account, properties owned, the person's place of employment and employment history, his marital status, how many wives he's had, the number of children, his educational background, and on and on.

When we tell them what we can actually do for their budget of, say, $500, they balk. Well, first of all, it's illegal to get most financial information. We can get information on certain assets, such as property, vehicles, boats, and planes.

Private Investigators can get a lot of information on a person. If there's anything detrimental, they can get that too. However, it's going to cost the client.

When the FBI does a background check on a person it takes at least 6 months, and costs the government thousands of dollars. Yet, people often want the same thing from us for $500, and done in five days.

As much as possible, we like to quote flat rates for investigations. To do so, we have to determine how many hours it will take us to gather the information. We roughly figure our fee at the rate of $150 an hour. So a ten-hour investigation would cost $1500. In reality, most of our background investigations go for $500. To do the kind of work many clients demand would cost in the thousands.

So, the truth is, you get what you pay for.