11 Moving Surveillance – The Complete Idiot's Guide to Private Investigating, Third Edition



Moving Surveillance

In This Chapter

Mastering five tricks to one-man surveillance

Getting a leg up on foot surveillance

Preparing for success

Using additional manpower to maximum advantage

The ins and outs of GPS

Winning and losing with traffic lights

Coordinating and running a successful mobile surveillance requires experience, luck, and a sense—almost a mental gift—of knowing what your subject will do. FBI criminal profilers talk about putting themselves in the criminal’s head. Likewise, a good surveillance man has the gift of putting himself in the subject’s head. Unfortunately, no book can teach someone how to do this; instead, my intention in this chapter is to describe the esoteric sense of surveillance that good PIs develop with time and practice.

Not all private investigators are good at surveillance. Just as some people have a talent for playing the piano by ear, others have a natural talent for sensing whether people are going to stop at yellow lights or run the red ones. Moving surveillance is an art, but every art—be it painting, musical composition, or novel writing—has its craft that you can learn and perfect through practice.

Going It Alone

Unfortunately for private investigators, most clients won’t foot the bill for more than one man on a surveillance, but a few will. I remember one case in which my agency was looking for a runaway teenager. We had six men on surveillance in multiple locations around the city, staking out this spoiled kid’s haunts. The father had the checking account to cover the heavy expense. Usually, you’re lucky if you get a client who will pay for a two-man surveillance team, not to mention six men.

So how do you run a one-man moving surveillance? Well, it’s not easy. The sections that follow describe five tricks you can use that will make it go a little more smoothly.

Know in Advance Where the Subject Is Going

So now you’re supposed to be clairvoyant? Not really. If this is a domestic case, your client may know where and when his spouse is meeting with her lover. Maybe she peeked at his texts while he was taking out the garbage. Or perhaps he listened to her voicemail while she was taking a shower.

I never suggest to a client that he tap his wife’s phone calls. But if the subject happens to come up in the course of a conversation, I tell the client that it’s probably illegal (laws vary from state to state) and then inform him that Radio Shack sells tapping equipment for around $85. Never suggest to a client that he break the law. If you do, your client may like the suggestion, tap his own phone, and later tell his wife what he’s done. She’ll go to her attorney and tell him you suggested it. The next thing you know, the state will be prosecuting you or taking away your license.

If you’re following an insurance claimant, talk to the claim adjuster and find out when the claimant’s next doctor’s visit is scheduled. Scout the location of the doctor’s office before the day of the visit. If you lose your subject on the way to the doctor’s visit, no sweat. It’s not good to lose him, but at least you know where to find him again and at what time. Claimants frequently run other errands en route to and from the doctor’s office. It always makes for good theater in the courtroom when the claimant can climb ladders, cut the grass, or pump the gas without help. Then when he arrives at the doctor’s office, he can’t even walk without assistance. And what an amazing cure rate these doctors have! The poor fellow limps on his crutches to his truck as he leaves, but at his next stop on his way home, he seems just fine again.

Follow the Other Person

If you’re hired by a spouse to find out if her husband is cheating on her, you can follow the other woman. Usually, the client knows who the other woman is. She’s been told by friends, or the husband has said flattering things about this woman at work or has tipped his hand somehow. If you’ve tried to follow the husband and he has a lead foot, runs yellow lights, pushes the red ones, and makes lots of U-turns, he might not be a good candidate for a one-man surveillance. So don’t follow him. Follow the other woman instead. She won’t be suspicious. She won’t be looking over her shoulder, and nothing is going to happen until the two of them get together anyway.

I worked a domestic case recently in which the husband was a doctor. He was difficult to follow, so we followed the girlfriend. It wasn’t long before he showed up at her place. She had him out in her yard doing chores, taking down shutters after a hurricane scare, and raking the yard. I had a good laugh at that. He could have done chores at home, and it wouldn’t have cost him his marriage.

Plan Your Exit

Working alone means working smarter because you don’t have the luxury of being able to cover an entire residential subdivision or company parking lot. If you’re working a domestic matter, talk to your client. She’ll know which exit her husband usually takes. She can advise on which way out of the neighborhood from his house he always travels. The easiest time to lose the subject is when he’s leaving a location. If the husband is at home, have the wife call you on your cell phone the minute he leaves the house.

If you’ve followed your subject and he stops at a business location and leaves his car, use the time to survey your situation. How many exits are there? Which way is he likely to go? Is there a median in the street so he can exit only one way, or could he come out and turn right or left? Plan your exit. You don’t want to be right on his bumper when he leaves; that’s the best way to get made. You don’t want to be too far behind him, either; that’s the best way to lose him.

You have to anticipate his exit strategy and put yourself in the best possible position to see him coming out (without him seeing you) and to be able to resume the surveillance. If there’s only one way out and he can turn only one direction, go down the block and wait for him.

Don’t Play Follow the Leader

Your subject has just made a left turn into a service station or a fast-food restaurant. What do you do?

Don’t follow him into the restaurant parking lot. Instead, continue traveling past the restaurant he turned into. Keep your eyes on the rearview mirror, in the event he’s making a U-turn. When you’re sure he’s parking and going to enter the establishment, reposition yourself and figure out his most likely exit and direction of travel. Take into account the traffic flow. When the subject exits, can he make a left across the traffic or does he have to make a right and continue in your direction?

This is the nuts and bolts of one-man surveillance: watching the traffic and anticipating the subject’s next move, based on traffic flow, concrete medians, stopped buses, and one-way streets. Be prepared for any harebrained moves he might make. Don’t lull yourself into thinking he’s going to do what you would do. Count on his actions being something entirely different from what any reasonable person might attempt. When he exits the drive-thru with his hamburger in one hand and a chocolate shake in the other, he’s concentrating on not spilling his lunch all over his pants before he gets to his honey. Be ready for sudden illogical driving patterns. After all, he’s on his way to see his mistress; do you really think he’s got his mind on traffic?

Do Play Follow the Leader

Now you’re two cars behind your subject (good, you’ve put some cover between him and you) and he’s signaling a right turn into a large regional shopping mall. What action do you take?

You follow him in. I know, I just told you not to follow him into a business lot. That’s true. But with a large mall lot, there are several reasons you want to follow him right on in:

It’s easy to lose the subject in a large mall lot. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can cruise the lot later and find his car. It probably won’t happen.

He may just be cutting through the lot to get to the highway exit on the other side.

The subject may be meeting his girlfriend in the lot and could leave in her car. If she’s on time, he’d be gone before you ever found him. If you do find his car and they left in hers, you will have missed the big show. Or they may meet in the lot and leave in separate cars headed toward the motel. She didn’t want to be sitting in front of a motel waiting for him, and since he’s going to pay for the room, they arranged to meet in the mall lot first.

He may be meeting his girlfriend inside, where she works at one of the stores. You may find his car, but you probably won’t find him in the mall.

She may park her car and walk into the mall and out the other side where the boyfriend is waiting in his car. I’ve seen this dozens of times.

Watch which aisle he takes in the parking lot. Once he’s pulled into a space, park in a different aisle where you can see his car. You have to hurry here; don’t lose him now. Follow him into the mall and continue the surveillance inside, on foot. Make note of his purchases and anyone he meets with.

Effective Foot Surveillance

Following a subject on foot is fraught with difficulties. You must stay close enough to see whom he comes in contact with, but remain discreet and unobtrusive so the subject is unaware of your presence. Easier said than done. Holding a newspaper up to your face when the subject looks your way is overdone in the movies. How many people do you see walking through a mall reading the paper? Okay, no newspaper—so how do you do it?

Here are four basic principles of conducting moving surveillances that apply to all forms, whether you’re operating on foot, driving in a car, or directing multiple people working the surveillance with you:

Always keep something between you and the subject. In a mall, that means staying behind other people who are walking in the same direction. I harp on the importance of having cover throughout this chapter. It’s a very important principle, but don’t overdo it. No lurking behind pillars and tiptoeing between kiosks type of stuff. Most malls have pretty good surveillance security cameras hidden throughout, and if you make a spectacle of yourself, the next thing you know, two security guys will be hauling you down to their office to ask you a few questions.

Change your appearance. A good surveillance person always has a couple of extra hats and jackets in the car with him. When you follow your man into the mall, grab a hat and coat, even if it’s during the summertime in Florida. By varying those two articles of clothing, you can look like four different people. If you’re a female, keep a scarf in the coat pocket, and now you can add five additional appearances, for a total of nine. And don’t forget the sunglasses or regular glasses. Use anything you can to change the way you appear to the subject. (Anything except streaking—it might call too much attention to yourself.)

Don’t get in front of the subject. This third principle is particularly important if you’re working by yourself. If you’re with a partner, it’s still a good idea to adhere to this, but you can make an exception if the situation demands it. If you’re driving and he’s behind you, he’s looking at your tag, any bumper stickers you have, and how you part your hair. If you accidentally get in front of him again, he’ll remember all of those things and will become suspicious. If you’re on foot and you’re in front of him, he’ll notice how you’re dressed and how you walk. If he sees you again, you’re dead meat.

Carry an iPad or other tablet computer. If you have to sit somewhere in public, you can appear to be reading a book, but really you’re watching your subject. As he comes out hand in hand with his girlfriend, you can snap some good photos. Tablet computers work better than cell phone cameras for this sort of thing.

Putting the preceding principles of moving surveillance into practice goes a long way toward making your surveillance successful and keeping you from getting burned.

Two’s Company

Say your client’s a big spender, not some adjuster working for a tightwad insurance company, and he wants you to catch his philandering wife. If it takes two men to follow her, no problem—use whatever resources you need. He doesn’t care what it costs; just get the job done. Hmm, he doesn’t care what it costs…that’s music to any private investigator’s ears.

Running a two-man surveillance requires skill and practice to know how to use the extra resource wisely. Remember, if you mess up the surveillance now and lose your client’s wife with two men on her, you’re going to have one unhappy client. With a multiple-person surveillance team, you want to focus on three things: communication, positioning, and information. I discuss each of these surveillance must-dos in the sections that follow.


Obviously, if more than one person is working the surveillance, you need good communication among all members of the team. The equipment you have depends greatly upon what is available in your geographic area. Keep in mind that a surveillance sometimes takes you to areas not covered by cell sites, so you need other communication equipment besides your trusty cell phone.

At my agency, we’ve given up our 25-watt VHF radios because they require an exterior antenna, and we want to be as discreet as possible. With two or more men on a moving surveillance, 5-watt handheld walkie-talkies such as the Motorola 350 are the way to go. I also recommend that you buy a cigarette lighter DC/AC converter that changes your 12-volt DC vehicle electrical system into 110/120 AC so that you can plug your 110/120 charging unit right into the converter.

I also recommend having an iPad or other brand of tablet computer. They’re great for watching the subject’s route if you’ve installed a GPS device on the car. The screen is large, and you can use your cell phone and still visibly track your subject.

Having the means to communicate and actually doing it are two different things. All the investigators on the surveillance must first be taught to talk. Seems simple, right? It’s not. Talking means the point man must give a detailed running commentary on the subject’s actions if he is on the move.

A point man on a surveillance is the investigator who actually has “the eyeball,” or has physical sight of the subject.

The running commentary means that the point man must alert the rest of the surveillance team when the subject moves, changes directions, turns a corner, stops at a red light, or runs a yellow light. It doesn’t mean that he keeps his microphone keyed the entire time. He must make his comments brief and clear. As the point man indicates a change in direction or speed, the other surveillance units should acknowledge it so that the man on point knows he’s been heard. Don’t use the radios for idle chatter; the only communication during a moving surveillance should be pertinent to the surveillance itself.

Even with the best equipment and excellent organization, there will come a time during a moving surveillance when the lead vehicle will be separated from the rest of the surveillance team. The team might be stopped or slowed by traffic lights, crawling freight trains, automobile accidents, raised drawbridges, or the highway patrol. It doesn’t take long for that distance to grow to half a dozen miles going down an interstate at 75 mph.

When this occurs, the point man should continue the surveillance and should broadcast his position in the blind even though he can’t hear the rest of the team. Just because he can’t hear their radio traffic doesn’t mean they can’t hear him. Radio transmission and reception depend on a number of variable factors, such as height of antennae, inclement weather, and even sun spots. As the lead car climbs a hill or bridge, he should report his position to the other cars. The increased height in his location of broadcast may be sufficient enough to allow the other units to hear what he says, even though he cannot hear them respond.

Broadcasting in the blind—when the members of a surveillance team have been cut off from one another—is something that must be taught. It means that the broadcaster may not receive acknowledgment that his message was heard, but he’s putting it out there anyway because his surveillance team members might hear it. It’s a valuable technique used by those in law enforcement. Add it to your tool bag. Many a surveillance has been saved by an investigator smart enough to broadcast her position in the blind, thereby allowing the balance of the surveillance team to catch up to her and the subject.


There are two reasons for having more than one man on a surveillance. First is the ability to cover more than one possible point of egress by the subject. A subdivision or apartment complex frequently has more than one exit, and the subject may some days use one and other days use another. Having two cars available helps eliminate the possibility of losing the subject before he’s even left the immediate area.

The second main purpose for a surveillance team composed of two or more people is to confuse the enemy. A good set of surveillance investigators alternates the lead so that the subject is not seeing the same car in the rearview mirror for hours at a time. Likewise, if the subject makes a turn into a business, shopping mall, or another residential area, the lead car, which has been behind the subject for a while, can drive on past as the subject turns, and the next car becomes the lead car and makes the turn behind the subject. The former lead car makes a quick U-turn as soon as the subject is out of sight and plays catch-up.

If your subject lives in a subdivision with multiple entrances and exits and you can’t get a clear view of the place from a fixed location, you may be tempted to drive by the residence periodically. Resist the urge. The same car passing by the subject’s house multiple times may alert him and make him suspicious. If it is after dark and the house is not in a cul-de-sac, indulge yourself all you want. If you have two cars available, you have a little more flexibility, but you still shouldn’t drive by more than once per hour.

I always recommend performing a little recon on the subject’s house and general area a day or two before beginning the surveillance. Last month we worked a case, and I asked the client, who was from a northern state, how she happened to call us. I always like to know where our work comes from. She’d previously hired another PI—a definite clue that this was going to be a difficult case—from South Florida to drive up to North Florida and follow her former son-in-law to work. She needed to know where he worked.

So this South Florida PI was paid $1,000 to drive to North Florida and follow the man to work. The PI parked in front of the subject’s residence early in the morning. At about 6:45 A.M. the subject came out of the residence, got into his truck, and headed south away from his house. As soon as she said that, I knew what the problem was. South out of his residence, the street dead-ended in about a mile. When they hit the dead end, the subject turned around and blocked the PI’s only direction of escape. He got out of the truck and confronted the PI. The PI denied everything (at least he did one thing right) and left the area.

The subject called the local sheriff’s office. The dispatcher said, “Oh, yeah. We had a PI call us earlier and tell us he in was in your area doing some surveillance.” She went on to give the subject the name of the PI’s firm.

I asked her how she’d decided to use us, and she said she had a friend in the sheriff’s office ask around. After a few days, the friend called her back and told her that our agency came well recommended by the sheriff.

This led to a two-man surveillance. There was no way it could have been done with one vehicle. The subject could have come out of his subdivision and then turned right and headed east on the four-lane divided highway, traveled half a block, made a U-turn, and headed west. One man sat farther down the road to catch him if he went east, and the other sat in the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot, in case he went west. You can guess where I sat. He went west, and we successfully followed him to work.


My client, the wife, was handing her 3-year-old over to her soon-to-be ex-husband. The husband was supposed to bring the child back to the mother later that same night. The father had been taking the child to the new girlfriend’s house and sleeping over. The mother didn’t approve, thinking it set a bad example for her older children as well. She wanted proof, somebody who could testify to the judge that yes, the husband was indeed cohabiting and had the child with him when he did it.

The handoff was to take place after dark. This was a fairly busy residential area with major hotels and shopping areas. My client was supposed to call me from her cell phone as the husband approached so that I could creep out of my parking space and follow him.

She didn’t call until after he’d left (lack of communication) and informed me he’d taken a turn through one of the shopping areas instead of driving past where I had parked. I scrambled to where he turned and saw his vehicle making the turn onto the main thoroughfare a quarter-mile down the road. I broke more traffic laws than I care to enumerate, but I eventually caught up and followed him the rest of the evening.

The key objective in this case was to follow the husband to the new girlfriend’s apartment and identify her. Once we had her name, we would run basic background checks to include criminal and civil records. As it turned out, he did not go to the girlfriend’s, but instead returned to his own apartment after picking up pizza. He parked his car in the garage assigned to his apartment but left the garage door open. Since it was dark, I waited about 30 minutes and drove by the apartment again. Another car was now parked directly behind his.

I wrote down the tag on this other car and ran it on my iPad. In a few minutes, I had our mysterious girlfriend identified. With just a few more minutes of database searching, I had her full name, her date of marriage, her Social Security number, her date of birth, her maiden name, her current address, five or six previous addresses, the address of her soon-to-be ex-husband, and the fact that she held a professional license in the health care field.

The father returned the child to my client on time and went back to his apartment, where the girlfriend waited. Now that I knew who she was, I didn’t have to stay there late into the evening to attempt to follow her home. She probably stayed all night anyway. I saved my client the cost of five or six more hours of surveillance, and I could hightail it on home because I had information available to me when I needed it.

If you’re a professional investigator and you’re doing surveillance, you need to be able to run license tags and other online database searches while you’re in the field. Either make sure somebody is at the office while you’re out so you can call it in, or be able to run searches from your car.

You can run tags and data searches from your vehicle by using any of the following methods:

Smartphones with broadband connections: These allow you to run database records and DMV info if you have an account.

Laptop computer or tablet with a cellular modem: This gives you the same access as if you were in your office. Also, as you’ve probably figured out, wireless cards with significant download speeds have finally arrived. If you can get cell coverage on your cell phone, your wireless card can probably access your provider’s broadband mobile signal. The best option is a tablet with a 4G connection.

The importance of having the necessary information at your fingertips is magnified if more than one person is conducting the surveillance. Had the preceding surveillance been a two-man gig, my client would have been paying twice the rate. Having the ability to run that tag and secure the database information saved her 10 man-hours.

Billing clients is also something of an art. Broadband wireless service runs about $50 a month. An investigator has to recoup those costs. The only way to do that is to pass it along to his clients. If he doesn’t, he’ll be closing his doors quickly. When the PI bills the client, he should bill the database charges at between two and three times what the database services charge him. For the wireless access, a smart PI adds a charge to the invoice. At our firm, we just call it the wireless database access charge. I’ve had clients question me about it but never complain. Do you think the mother we discussed in this chapter is going to complain about a $25 access charge when it saved her $420 in investigative time?

Getting into Gated Communities

A PI has to make his own luck. Getting into gated communities requires luck, talent, or somebody who lives in the area who will give you a gate pass or the gate code. You can tailgate another car through the gate. Cars do it all the time, and if there’s no security guard, it’s nothing to worry about. The only problem is, you can’t always get in when you want to because a car might not be entering when you need to enter. If the exit is separate from the entrance, I don’t recommend entering through the exit as a car leaves, because that’s a dead giveaway that you don’t belong there. But it may be your only way in late at night.

I was on a case once in which the subject lived in a gated community. I was waiting for a car to enter so I could tailgate my way in, when I noticed a visitor trying to punch in the code at the visitors’ gate. I drove right up behind her, got out of the car in the rain, and in my friendliest voice, said, “This damn electronic pad always does that when it rains. What combination did they give to you?” “Pound, one, two, three, four,” she said, giving me the combination. I hit the star key a couple times to clear the pad and put in the combination. The gate opened. Now it opens on command for me whenever I want it to—no more waiting to tailgate through. The lady thought I was doing her a favor, but really she did one for me. A good PI is always on the lookout to improve his luck.

Another method of getting into gated communities is to walk in. A guard may be at the front gate, but often there’s no guard at the exit gate. I’ve walked in many times, carrying my camera and lens covered by a sweater. You can’t loiter too long, but you can walk by, get the photo of the boyfriend’s car, and snap another one or two photos on the way out. This works really well if you have a dog that you can take as cover. The dog likes it, too.

The Effective Use of Cover and Traffic Lights

You must follow two rules to successfully follow someone without being made. This applies whether you’re a professional PI or you simply want to follow your own spouse to see what he’s been up to on Thursday evenings when he says he’s working late (but you know that he isn’t).

Keep Cover Between the Subject and Yourself

Try your best to use two to four cars as a cover screen. If the subject keeps seeing the same car in his rearview mirror, you will get burned sooner or later—and probably sooner. If your cover turns off or passes the subject, leaving you naked, slow down until the guy behind passes you. If your subject changes lanes, don’t change lanes with him unless you’re sure he’s going to make a turn. Even then, it’s better not to make the turn with him. Let the rear surveillance unit make the turn, and you come back from the other direction.

If the subject pulls into a grocery store parking lot, don’t park out in the open where you have a clear view of him, because he’ll have a clear view of you, too. It’s best to put a light pole and a whole bunch of cars between you and his car. Also, don’t back into a parking space in order to see better out the windshield and make a fast getaway. This is a common mistake inexperienced surveillance investigators make. Don’t do anything that will draw attention to the fact that you’re sitting in your car. If you smoke, don’t stand around in the middle of the parking lot next to your car and smoke. If you have to smoke, stay in your car, but it’s best to wait until you’re moving. Why? Because if you’re holding a cigarette, you’re not holding the camera ready to pounce on that unexpected meeting or quick kiss. You don’t know who he’s going to walk out with or who he’s buying groceries for.

Play the Lights

This is absolutely a must. If you don’t learn this trick, you’ll lose your subject every time. “Play the lights” means to evaluate not when the next light is going to turn from green to red—you should already know that—but to figure out what the one ahead of that is going to do. Why?

You have two cars as cover. You’re approaching a traffic light that’s been green for awhile. It turns yellow, and your subject guns it, racing through the intersection. The two cars you’re using for cover stop for the red light. You can pull around them and try to run the red light (not advisable), but if you know that the next light up is going to turn red before your guy gets there, no rush. Save your own life by sitting through the light and then moseying up to where your subject is patiently waiting for his light to turn green. If you don’t know what the next light is going to do and when, you’re up a creek. Always, always be aware of what the traffic light situation is two or three blocks ahead, if you can see that far. If the first light is going to turn yellow and the next one up is red now, you know it’s going to be green when your guy arrives at that intersection. You’d better ditch the cover cars and hustle through with your subject, then lay back and get some more cover.

Playing the lights and keeping good cover are the two most important aspects of succeeding in moving surveillances.

Avoiding the Confrontation

Your friend Sally is convinced that her husband is cheating on her, and she enlists your aid to follow him one evening. Think carefully before accepting this invitation to danger. If he is unfaithful and the two of you catch him going into a motel, what are you going to do?

Sally’s emotions will be redlined to the maximum. Her husband, headed into the motel room, will be very goal oriented, and if he’s interrupted by his wife, he may turn his frustration at being deprived of his goal into anger toward Sally. We learned this lesson the hard way.

Carolyn asked us to follow her husband to what she believed would be a daytime rendezvous. With domestic cases, we usually maintain fairly close contact with the client. Frequently, they can advise us on whether the behavior we are watching is normal for the spouse. This case was no exception.

When we saw Carolyn’s husband having lunch with another female, we advised her of that. When the husband left the restaurant and gave the female a hug and a kiss, we photographed it. The two of them drove off in separate cars, but in the same direction. Not long afterward, both vehicles entered the same motel parking lot. We photographed Carolyn’s husband and the other woman going into the same room.

Our mistake was to call Carolyn and tell her what we were witnessing and which motel her husband was in. Twenty minutes later, Carolyn entered the parking lot of the motel with tires squealing. She raced up to the door of the motel room and began banging on the door. Seconds later, her husband appeared at the door with his shirt off, his pants unbuttoned, and his belt hanging loose.

An argument followed. The husband whipped off his belt and began beating our client. Shoot, what do we do now? As we all know, domestic disturbances may be the most volatile and dangerous situations for a responding officer. Carolyn had told us that her husband had beaten her in the past.

We called the sheriff’s office and then proceeded up the stairs. As is typical in domestic violence cases, as soon as we approached the couple, they both turned their aggression on us. We backed off, and the two of them took their fight inside the room. The other woman came running out and hid behind us. In a minute, the police arrived, and they needed no directions to the room. The noise from inside was clearly heard through the walls. Both our client and her husband got a free ride in the backseat of the police car.

We made it a policy from then on never to tell a client the exact location of the cheating spouse until the following day. We keep them advised of what’s happening, but we don’t tell them where the action is at the moment. Many clients aren’t happy with that policy because they want the confrontation. We don’t.

If the relationship has a history of violence, consider all the factors before becoming involved in a similar situation. In this business, though, confrontations will happen, even when you do your best to avoid them.

Jacob was a bookie. He was a heavyset man who drove a large gray Mercedes and paid in cash. He and Martha were separated. A few months previously, Jacob had hired us to follow Martha for almost two weeks straight. I’d reported to Jacob about a man I saw entering Martha’s house without knocking. I knew the man. His name was John, and he was an attorney who lived across the street from Martha. Still, entering without knocking or ringing the bell seemed a little strange to me.

Jacob pooh-poohed the idea that John could be Martha’s lover. He was just a friendly neighbor. Yeah—real, real friendly, as it turned out. I’m sure she was getting good legal advice from John, and at a very good exchange rate as well.

Now, Jacob wanted Martha followed some more because Martha had admitted she’d had a fling with John but that it was over. I’ve heard that more times than I can count. So had Jacob. We were back on the case. Unfortunately, Jacob had told Martha that he’d had her followed before, so now she was paranoid and watching for us. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that somebody’s not following you. We were certainly on Martha’s tail, figuratively speaking.

One day, about 10 days into the surveillance, another investigator and I were conducting a two-man surveillance on Martha. We followed her down a busy four-lane road. A car similar to mine was riding her bumper all the way down to an interstate on-ramp. When Martha roared onto the interstate, this car still stayed right behind her. This unknown car was the same color and make as mine.

I was staying way, way back, keeping as many cars between my vehicle and hers as I could while still keeping her in sight. She exited the interstate, and this other car didn’t. Finally, the other car was off her bumper. My other investigator was farther back than I was, so I sped up to follow her off the interstate. Once off the freeway, she could have gone any of four different directions, and we didn’t want to lose her.

Well, unknown to me, she’d pulled off and stopped and was just sitting there. As I drove past her, she got on my tail. I tried to pull into a nearby gas station, but she whipped around in front of me and blocked my path. She hopped out of her car and jumped right into my face.

“Why are you following me?”

“Lady,” I said, thinking as fast as I could, “I’m not following you. I just pulled into here to get some gas, and you’re blocking my way. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, damn it. And you are, too, following me. You’ve been following me for the last 15 minutes. I’ll tell you why you’re following me: you’re following me because Jacob paid you to follow me. And you’re not very good at it, either. How much did he pay you to follow me?”

I just shrugged my shoulders and motioned toward the gas pumps. “Lady, I’m just trying to get some gas.”

“Well, I’m going to tell Jacob what a lousy PI he hired. He’s wasting his money.” With that, she jumped back into her car and took off.

What a blow to my ego. Of course, I wanted to tell her that I’d been following her for 10 days straight and she never knew it. And that I’d followed her for more than two weeks the month before and she never knew that, either. And the only reason she’d made me today was because of a case of mistaken identity. Of course, she was gone, and I couldn’t have said those things anyway, but boy, did I want to. I did tell Jacob. He just chuckled about it and paid me in hundred-dollar bills. Of course, what she didn’t know was that my partner had picked up the surveillance when she took off, and we held on to her for a few more days.

Here’s a short checklist of what to do if you’re confronted by a subject (don’t use this list if you’re made by the police; I deal with that in Chapter 10):

Deny that you’re following the person who confronts you.

Don’t identify yourself as a private investigator.

Never reveal the identity of your client or your subject.

Leave the area as quickly as possible, but not so quickly that you give the impression you are fleeing.

Stop the surveillance for the day and give it time to cool off.

If surveillance is reinstituted on another day, utilize different vehicles and, if possible, different personnel.

Why leave the area? I was with another investigator in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, working a surveillance. We’d followed our subject for most of the day when he pulled into a very small strip mall. My other investigator, Mike, pulled in right after him. (Wrong move.) The subject exited his vehicle, walked over to Mike, and asked why he was following him. Via our radios, I told Mike to leave the area. Did he? No. He got out of his car and engaged the subject in a heated discussion. Soon the subject’s friends surrounded them. Shoot, I really didn’t want to get into rumble. It was about 12 of them to 1 of Mike. I pulled in, got out of my car, physically pushed Mike into his car to make him leave, and then left myself. I went around the block and watched the strip mall. Within a couple minutes, the crowed had dispersed. We swapped our rental cars and got back on our man the next day. What was to be gained by having a confrontation? Nothing. Don’t do it. Don’t let your ego, manhood, or whatever overrule the “no confrontation” rule.

Using GPS for Surveillance

Following a subject got a lot easier thanks to advances in GPS technology. Maybe. Check your state law on the use of tracking devices before investing. If it’s allowable in your state, buy the equipment and rent it to your client. About two rentals will pay the cost of the equipment.

You can use GPS technology to track your subject in at least three ways. They all involve attaching a device to the subject’s vehicle that reports the vehicle’s location.

GPS stands for Global Positioning System. It is a system of about 24 satellites that orbit Earth and send out closely timed signals. The GPS receivers on Earth receive the timed signals from multiple satellites and can calculate the receiver’s latitude, longitude, and altitude.

A GPS receiver that records the travels of the vehicle. You can remove the receiver and download and view your subject’s itinerary. This is useful if you don’t need real-time reporting but want to show that your subject travels a certain route or stops at a certain hotel for a specified period of time.

A GPS receiver that reports real-time data. These devices use what is known as code division multiple access (CDMA) wireless cellular technology. This requires that the vehicle be in an area where CDMA is available. Likewise, some devices use the GSM network. Normally, you have to subscribe to the CDMA account for 12 months, whether or not you plan to use it for that long. These devices can be either hardwired to an electrical unit or battery powered. Some devices claim a battery life as long as 20 days. The larger the battery, the longer it broadcasts. Larger batteries mean it is more likely to be discovered.

  The unit itself is about the size of a pack of playing cards. You can view the vehicle as it moves about the streets of your city. Pretty nifty. Cost for the hardware? Less than $750.

A GPS-enabled telephone. Again, you need an account with the provider. You can even duct-tape the phone discreetly to some part of the vehicle and retrieve it when the surveillance is over. Some providers allow you to view in almost real time where the phone is located at any given moment. Check your cell providers; they will be coming online with this feature if they’re not there already.

Previously, the antennae of the device needed a clear view of the sky. No longer is this true. The GPS device still needs to be able to receive the satellite signal, but the devices are far more sensitive than they used to be. I usually try to mount the devices inside the fiberglass bumper, which provides plenty of access to both the GPS signals and the cell phone signal that these devices use to broadcast their location to the monitoring station. A good rule is to always try the installation on a similar make and model of car before actually mounting it to your subject’s vehicle.

Tracking someone using a hidden GPS device might not be legal in your state. Many states have flat-out legislated against the civilian use of vehicle-tracking devices without the driver’s permission. Other states, such as Tennessee, allow if for tracking minors but not for tracking spouses. Notice the word driver; ownership of the vehicle might not make any difference. It depends on your state law. Don’t lose your license—or go to jail—because you installed a tracking device where it’s not legal to do so.

Where do you buy these devices, and which ones are best? I use the devices supplied by www.GlobalTrackingGroup.com. I also recommend the devices sold by Jimmie Mesis at www.pigear.com. Jimmie is excellent to work with and stands behind his products. Do your homework. Ask other investigators which one worked best for them. To get you started, here’s a link to a blog entry by PI Oleg Flaksman in which she reviews some of the devices on the market: www.oinvestigations.com/Private-Investigator-Blog/2012/10/gps-tracking-device-reviews/

In January 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement personnel need a warrant to place a tracking device on a suspect’s vehicle. Take note, though, that the recent Supreme Court ruling applies only to law enforcement, not private investigators. (The Fourth Amendment right to unreasonable search and rights to privacy apply only to the government, not to civilians.) Nonetheless, this is an area where you need to be cautious. Some states, such as Virginia, are in the process of making GPS tracking illegal, with some exceptions. Other states such as Georgia, Mississippi, and Arizona have no such statutes yet.

If a client wants to hire you to place a device on a spouse’s vehicle, I recommend that you get the tag on the vehicle and run the registration. If the client is on the registration or title, you’re probably okay to install it. However, if just the spouse is on the registration, well, now you’re getting into a gray area. One argument for installing the device when your client isn’t on the title is that, if your state is a community property state and the two are married, then whether or not your client is on the title, the vehicle is still half hers and she can give permission. At least, that’s my line of defense if I get sued. I haven’t seen any civil cases in Florida that have given any ruling in this area. Keep abreast of your state laws.

Do not rent the device to your client and let him install and monitor it. You don’t know what vehicle it is tracking. Both you and your client could fall victim to the stalking laws.

The Least You Need to Know

Know in advance where your subject is going by talking to the client or finding out from the insurance adjuster when the subject will be visiting the doctor.

If a husband is impossible to follow, follow the other woman. She won’t be looking for surveillance.

Plan how your subject is going to exit from wherever he is, whether it’s a subdivision or a grocery store parking lot.

To conduct an effective foot surveillance, always keep some cover between you and the subject. Alter your appearance by adding and removing clothing and glasses. Don’t get in front of your subject.

Multiple-person surveillance requires good communication, the ability to position the rest of the team to maximum advantage, and the ability to obtain license tag information during the surveillance.

The most important aspects of a moving surveillance are keeping cover between yourself and the subject and evaluating the traffic lights ahead of the surveillance so that you can make proper decisions when the subject runs red lights.

GPS is an effective means to track a vehicle but you must make sure it is legal in your state.