Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Internet Scams

People contact Sherlock Investigations every week who have been robbed by someone they met online. To make matters worse, the recipients die off before their generous benefactors even realize that they've been had.

We've all heard of the Nigerian scams (Still, it's amazing how many people still fall for them.). They contact you by email claiming to be the wife, husband, son, or daughter of someone who had control of a lot of money. They want you to help them retrieve the money. If you help them, they'll give you, say, a 20% commission.

The other day we had a guy who fell for this. He contacted us because he wanted to know if a certain person was the head of The Bank of Africa. He was already in over his head when he emailed us. He had called a number in Africa and spoke to a "lawyer." The lawyer assured him that he could help him negotiate the red tape to retrieve his money. His only fee would be $850, in advance.

The idiot sent $850 to Africa by Western Union. A week later, the lawyer said that he needed another $5500. That's when the idiot contacted us.

I told him that he'd be had, and not to go to Ghana to try to find the guy and get his money back. People have been murdered while trying to do this.

There are many, many scams on the Internet. Some people list themselves on dating sites or other social places. After weeks or months sending back and forth engaging email or instant messages, they win your heart. Then they ask you if you'd help them out. One potential client sent a guy $6000 for knee surgery.

When our would-be client started to get suspicious, he got an email from someone saying that the guy who had knee surgery died of a blood clot. Without a doubt, it was the same guy who received the money. Time to move on, he thought.

This week alone we received pleas for help concerning three different people who "died" during the course of an Internet relationship. One woman was told, "It was all your fault."

Young men often fall victim to scams because they engage in online chat with young females who are charming and beautiful. Of course, the photos they send are not usually themselves. One person was sending out photos of an Italian porn star. We tracked him down and found a fat kid living with his mother. We even got a surveillance photo of him.

In one case, which was unusual, a guy had been having a relationship with a girl from the Phillipines. He hired Sherlock to check her out. She actually turned out to be who said she was, and he went to the Phillipines and proposed.

A lot of people are greedy, and think that they can get something for nothing. It ain't gonna happen folks. The bottom line: Don't give money to someone you don't really know. Maybe you shouldn't even give money to someone who you do know. You can be the judge of that.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Was Brooke Astor's Office Bugged?

Last fall I received a call for technical surveillance countermeasures at an office on Park Avenue. The office belonged to Brooke Astor, who died on August 13, 2007 at the age of 105.

Of course, Mrs. Astor, 104 at the time, wasn't there when I went to her office. In fact, it looked like she hadn't stepped foot in there for many years. The almost-quaint office had all sorts of Astor memorabilia, photos on the walls of exotic places, and several dusty books that Brooke Astor had written.

I got the call to sweep the office right after Astor's grandson, Philip Marshall, sued his father, Anthony Marshall, for neglecting to care for his mother while allegedly trying to help himself to some of her wealth.

The court put JPMorgan Chase in charge of Brooke Astor's financial affairs. It was through JPMorgan Chase that I was brought in to sweep the office for listening devices or phone taps. That office, apparently, handled some of her financial affairs.

Before Anthony Marshall became a Broadway producer, he was employed by the CIA. I have no idea whether he had the knowledge to bug an office or tap a phone, or whether the financial overseers at JPMorgan Chase were even worried about him. When I do these jobs, I just do my job and don't ask many questions.

The office was clean; I found nothing unusual. Just another routine job.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Criminal Investigations

Some states do have repositories, which are supposed to contain the records of convictions from every county in that state. The truth of the matter is that very few state repositories are accurate or up to date. Why? Because the information on convictions comes, typically, from the court clerk's office. In some states, law enforcement agencies have to specifically request that conviction records be sent to the state repositories. Even at that, only the more serious felony convictions are submitted. Less serious offenses like fraud and battery are seldom, if ever, reported. Even when a request is made, busy clerks may or may not get around to sending the information in a timely manner.

Beyond the state repositories, there is no requirement for any court to report conviction information to any state or federal agency. There is the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) in Washington, which collects information on arrests and convictions. But access to their files is limited essentially to law enforcement agencies and a few other institutions, such as banks, which, by law, have been given access to the information. The average employer does not have access to NCIC information, nor do any agencies that claim they can do nationwide court checks.

No central, up-to-date location exists that provides the average employer with conviction records. A nationwide court check can be done, but it is nationwide only in a very localized sense. Anybody can contact a county clerk in any county, one at a time, to check a candidate's criminal history. But that raises a myriad of other questions. How many counties do you check? How many years do you want to cover? Which court systems -- circuit, county or municipal -- do you want to check? What about neighboring counties? A candidate could be a saint in his county of residence and have a conviction record a mile long in the next county over, but you'd never know it unless you check there also. Do you just conduct the check in the current county of residence, or do you check all the contiguous counties, or all former counties of residence? The list of questions goes on and on.

Why do a criminal court check at all? There are only two legitimate reasons: 1) because the nature of the position for which the candidate is being considered requires it or 2) because there is some doubt or suspicion about the candidate's background. There is a third reason why many companies insist on doing a court check. They believe that by doing so they can demonstrate that some measure of care was exercised in the employment process that will protect them from possible claims of negligent hiring. Conducting a court check, in other words, is a cheap way for them to cover the company's backside in case a charge of negligent hiring is brought against them.

Companies interested in more than "backside covering" should be doing reference checks to evaluate past job performance as it relates to the requirements of the position to be filled. They should be talking to work-related references who are familiar with the candidate's job performance over time. What, afterall, can a court check tell a prospective employer about a candidate's management style or ability to work effectively with others?
A court check falls into that same marginally useful category of cursory checks, such as verifying employment dates or job titles. Just confirming that a candidate really worked at the XYZ Company for three years obviously says nothing about the quality of the job that was done or much of anything else.

Beware of anybody who claims to do nationwide court checks. What they're offering to do is call the candidate's current county of residence and talk to somebody in one local courthouse. And as author and critic John Ruskin once said, "There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse or sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey."

First published by Used by permission. Promoted on Fox

Sherlock Investigation's Sherry Hart appeared on Fox's "The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet" on Monday, July 30th, to discuss locating people on

Billed as "Myspace Reunions: Finding loved ones online," the program was clearly formulated to promote, a Murdoch company. Amid much laughter, the hosts, Mike and Juliet, said, " is owned by our company Newscorp." Indeed, and Fox TV are owned by Newscorp, Rupert Murdoch's conglomerate.

The program featured a father-daughter, who were reunited after being separated years ago, and a brother-sister who were split up when they were kids. All had found each other through Most of the segment was spent on the lifeless brother and sister, who looked like zombies. Mike tried valiantly to add some life to their testimonies.

Sherry was introduced as "an expert on online investigations." The hosts asked Sherry, "Is and these other sites putting you out of business?"

"People are pretty savvy these days," Sherry said, "about trying to find people on their own before they hire an investigator." She added that the process is so time-consuming and laborious that people often turn to a private investigator.

She warned about the fake entries on, and that you have to be careful about what you believe when you read on She also mentioned the pedophiles in the news on, to which Mike interjected, "But they've really cleaned up their act!"

Sherry also warned that after you go to "you'd better run your Ad-aware and keep your Norton up to date," because of the junk that infects your computer. She said that going to is "like walking barefoot in a Port Authority rest room."

Normally, Fox puts the segments from The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet on their website later that day. In this case, they failed to add this segment. Hmmm, wonder why?