Interview with Steven Brown, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating”
Posted by Writing PIs on January 11, 2010
We’re pleased to have as our guest Steven Kerry Brown, founder and president of Millennial Investigative Agency in Florida. Steven began his investigative career as a special agent for the FBI. He’s appeared on such television programs as Hard Copy and 60 Minutes, and is the author of just about the best book on private investigations around (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating, see link at end of interview). Like the gumshoes at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, he’s also a “writing PI” whose current PI fiction novel is making the rounds of publishers.
Because of the wealth of information he provided in this interview, we’re breaking it up into two parts (Part 1 today, Part 2 to be posted this Thursday).
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Good morning, Steven, and welcome to Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes. First, we have to say that The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating is one of our favorite resource books. It was published in 2002, with the second edition out in 2007. As we haven’t seen this second edition, we imagine you’ve updated it with more technology and tools–saying that, what is one of the more useful technological techniques you’ve recently started using in your investigative work?
Steven: There are three really useful techniques that are relatively new that I use a lot. Two of them I describe in detail in my book. The first is the GPS tracking device. Below is a photo with the unit in a waterproof Pelican case and a 50 pound pull magnet and a long life lithium-ion battery pack. (Not much larger than a man’s hand.)
I set this unit (I have two of them) to report in every 10 minutes. I change the batteries out once a week. I also have the capability of clicking on “tracking now” on the unit’s website and receive a real-time location of where the unit is. So you or your client can sit in front of their computer and see where the unit is at any given time. Of course, the primary use of this is in family law cases. Even though Florida is a “no fault” divorce state (meaning that proof of adultery doesn’t have a real impact on property settlement), still the client needs to know the facts of their situation before they can make an informed decision. Hence, using the GPS to track the spouse.
We follow-up the use of the GPS with a little judicious surveillance. Even though the GPS will tell us where the spouse is, it won’t tell us who he/she is with, so a few photos of the spouse and the other party will usually do the trick. And don’t be fooled by clichés. There are not more men than women committing adultery. We find it splits about 50-50.
The second technique I like a lot is Spoofing Caller ID. Now you have to be careful with this as it is now illegal in some states, like Florida, if you spoof a caller ID with the intent to deceive. How does it work and how do I use it? You can do a websearch on Spoofing Caller ID and find lots of folks who will sell you spoofing time. I use Spoofcard.com For $5.00 you get 25 minutes of spoofing time. Basically spoofing caller ID means that you can use this service to call a target number and the incoming caller ID will display any number you want it to show. The technology behind it is the spoofing company uses Voice Over IP (VOIP) to make the call and in doing so can send whatever Caller ID data you want sent. (You can find full details in the CIG to PI pages 184-188)
How do you use caller ID spoofing? Well, you might for instance, want to see if a certain person is at a particular residence. Before the law changed in Florida, I called a witness to a case that I needed to talk to. He wouldn’t answer my calls so I spoofed my number to look like his mother’s phone was calling him. He answered the call.
The third technique I like only works on cell phone numbers. You can use this service and it will bypass the phone and go directly to the cell phone’s voice mail. That way you can hear the message on the voice mail and sometimes figure out who the phone belongs to without them ever knowing you called the phone. It’s not perfect and your number might show up as a missed call on their phone. The service is called Slydial and their number is 267-759-3425. It’s free, give it a try. A database only available to PIs called Skipsmasher, has a much improved version of this service which will not leave your number on the target’s phone as a missed call and it will record the voice mail message for you. I love it and use it often. Kudos to Skipsmasher.com.
End of interview, Part 1. Check back in on Thursday, January 14, for Part 2 where Steven discusses the recession and private eyes, crafting non-fiction vs. fiction, and how much real-world PI dirt he puts into a fictional-world PI story.
Amazon link to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating: http://tinyurl.com/guide2privateinvestigating