The Investigator’s Eight Rules of Everything

1. Know your client’s motives and intentions.

2. Recognize questions that cannot be answered and those that cannot be answered legally.

3. Do not do anything that you would not do on the steps in front of City Hall.

4. Do not do or say anything you wouldn’t want published in the newspapers or Internet.

5. Do not do anything illegal because it is too inconvenient and difficult to cover your tracks.

6. Do not personate a living person.

7. Do not personate a representative of any existing company (or business) or anything to do with government.

8. Do not cause anybody to be concerned for his or her own safety, or the well being of any person, business, company, or property.

Financial Incentives for False Crime Lab Test Results

A recent analysis published in the Criminal Justice Ethics academic journal suggests when technicians perform forensic analysis of blood and other evidence for cases such as drunk driving, the results can be influenced by built-in financial incentives to produce a conviction. If false conviction rates are very low, a 3 percent error rate could put 33,000 innocent individuals behind bars (in the U.S.) every year.

The primary problem, according to the paper, is that fourteen states reward crime labs with a bonus for each conviction they generate. When there is a reward for a guilty result, a lab technician will not double-check test results that are in the guilty range, though he would be more likely to double-check results that show innocence.

For example, in 2009, a crime lab in Colorado Springs, Colorado was caught certifying at least 82 DUI blood tests with falsely high readings. A whistleblower in Washington, DC revealed in 2010 that the city had been using faulty breathalyzer machines for more than a decade.

View the full text at

The Dangers of a Bad Pretext

The Daily Mail newspaper in the UK reports that the receptionist who was subjected to a pretext call by two Australian DJs may have committed suicide.

In the call at 5.30am on Tuesday impersonating the Queen, Miss Greig said: ‘Oh, hello there. Could I please speak to Kate please, my granddaughter?’

Thinking she was speaking to the Queen, the receptionist replied: ‘Oh yes, just hold on ma’am’.

She then put the presenters through to one of the nurses who was caring for the Duchess.

The nurse also believed she was speaking to the Queen and went on to make a number of deeply personal observations about Kate’s health.

This prank/pretext was bragged about by the two Australian DJs. This no doubt subjected the receptionist to a lot of ridicule.

The Australian DJs violated two of the three rules for doing pretext calls.

The three rules:

  1. Do not personate a living person.
  2. Do not personate a representative of any existing company (or business) or anything to do with government.
  3. Do not cause anybody to be concerned for their own safety or the wellbeing of any person, business, company, or property.

The New Neighbourhood

In the past, most investigations included ‘neighbourhood inquires’ where neighbours were questioned regarding the subject’s activities and lifestyle.

We still do neighbourhood inquiries, but over the last three decades this has produced less and less information of value, to the point that we now consider this an extraordinarily expensive investigative process.

Neighbours rarely share derogatory information or observations about the subject, and fewer still, even know the subject as most urban neighbourhoods are too transient and social contact is minimal.

Today’s neighbourhood isn’t tied to geography, but rather by Internet connectivity. The advent of virtual media has created virtual neighbourhoods that the Investigator must be adept at navigating and interrogating.

This new neighbourhood may reveal inappropriate pictures, drug and alcohol abuse, bad-mouthing of employers, co-workers, clients, and organisations. It may reveal poor communication skills and much worse – much of which is found exclusively online.

Unfortunately, inexpert interrogation and navigation of this neighbourhood has caused issues.

The ubiquity of Internet search engines and a lack of training and guidelines may put the Investigator in contravention of some laws if the resulting information creates a record of personally identifying information that is subsequently mishandled. Possession of Internet search results may impose either declared or implied responsibilities regarding the handling of the data in some jurisdictions.

A casual and undisciplined approach to Internet and social media searching raises questions regarding the competence, handling, fairness, storage, and analysis of the data. The role of the Investigator doing the searching should be clear from the outset. The sources and methods employed should also be clear throughout the search process and its reporting.

Virtual Identities

The subjects of an investigation do not line-up to tell the Investigator all his or her screen names and their related email addresses.

The Investigator must find the screen names and related email addresses from what he already knows at the beginning of the Investigation to build an online profile of the subject.

The Investigator must also recognise that screen names are often used by more than one person or a screen name may be used maliciously.

As the old New Yorker cartoon said, “On the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog”.

Navigation & Interrogation

The unstructured nature of data available on the Internet, and its density, creates problems for the searcher.

Google may say it found three million hits, but it will only show one thousand. The results will change depending on which version of Google searched and whence it is searched.

When searching for information about a person or company, the Investigator shouldn’t get bogged-down by search engine hits, but rather go straight to databases that have the right category of data for his purposes. This may mean searching sources not indexed by the search engines.

Google isn’t a substitute for knowledge and experience.

Private Investigators Indicted for Pretext

We wrote about this here in Ten Private Investigators Indicted on 7 Dec 07.

Wired Magazine has posted the Indictment of the accused who allegedly employed false pretenses to gain personal information. A related Wired article compares this type of pretexting to the HP mess.

The accused are from Washington, California, Oregon, Texas and New York:

Emilio Torrella, BNT Investigations, Washington State
Brandy Torella, BNT Investigations, Washington State
Steve Berwick, BNT Investigations, Washington State
Victoria Tade, C.I., Inc., California
Megan Ososke, P.I. and Information Services, Oregon
Robert Grieve, Robert Greive International, Texas
Ziad Sakhleh, Robert Greive International, Texas
Darci Templeton, sole proprietor, Texas
Patrick Bombino, AAA Allstate Investigations, New York
Esau Pinto, AAA Allstate Investigations, New York

The Indictment alleges that BNT supplied the improperly obtained personal information to the PI’s for a fee. BNT was not identified as a private investigation firm in the Indictment, but was identified as a company that sold its pretexting services to PI firms. Some of the PI firms even advertised for sale to other PI’s what they were obtaining from BNT.

Accusations #17 and #21 allege that BNT obtained medical information by pretext, much in the same way as was revealed by he Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Confidentiality of Health Records in Ontario, Canada, by Mr. Justice Horace Krever.

Ten Private Investigators Indicted

Ten private investigators were indicted on December 5, 2007,in Seattle, WA, by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The alleged defendants collected information via pretext from the I.R.S., Social Security Administration, various State Unemployment Insurance Departments, private financial institutions, banks, pharmacies and hospitals. The alleged defendants fraudulently posed as the individuals about who information was sought.

If this is true, they broke Rule #1.

Washington State requires a Private Investigator to be licensed. However, it seems that BNT Investigations and the three named individuals in Washington state might not have state-issued Private Investigator’s licences. I don’t know the licence status of the others.

This type of behaviour is not new. In Canada, this issue was, in part, dealt with during the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Confidentiality of Health Records in Ontario, Canada, by Mr. Justice Horace Krever.

The Royal Commission heard from over 500 witnesses, including private investigation firms, insurance companies, hospitals, and others. During 1976 and 1977, the Royal Commission found evidence of hundreds of successful efforts to acquire health information from Ontario hospitals and doctors under pretext.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada admitted to the Royal Commission that its members had gathered medical information through “various sources” without the authorization of the patients.

Several investigation companies went out of business due to the Royal Commission exposing their activities.

Where there are clients willing to pay for this improper and unprofessional behaviour, there will be providers of such services.


Tort for Negligent Investigations

The Supreme Court of Canada has recognised the tort for incompetent investigation. This area of law has been receiving more attention over the past decade and I expect we will see a case involving a Private Investigator over the next few years.

Read more

Ethics, or Not

I don’t believe in ethics. Being ethical is too much work according to the seminar I went to — I’m too lazy for ‘ethics’.  I have 3 simple rules instead.

1. Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do on the steps in front of City Hall.

2. Don’t do or say anything you wouldn’t want published in the Globe and Mail.

3. Don’t do anything illegal because it’s too inconvenient to cover your tracks.

If you’re the type of person who would clout the Mayor on the nose at a City Hall news conference, then my rules (and all the ethics seminars in the the world) won’t help you.