Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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    A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths

    "How to Write a Dick is the best work of its kind I’ve ever come across because it covers the whole spectrum in an entertaining style that will appeal to layman and lawmen alike."

    Available on Kindle

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Posts Tagged ‘How Do Private Eyes Do That?’

#Excerpt How Do Private Eyes Do That? – How PIs Are Used in Cases Where DNA Evidence Is Employed

Posted by Writing PIs on November 8, 2014

How Do Private Eyes Do That? is a compendium of articles about private investigations, currently available on Kindle.

“A must have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff.”
- Lori Wilde, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“A spectacular bargain. It will help sweep out misconceptions, empty the waste bin of trite, worn out cliches and give you plenty of room for fresh ideas. Man, it’ll save your life.”
- C. M. Briggs

“I have been “snooping” for over 30 years. I worked Security and Law Enforcement, in the military, back in the 80′s. I WAS TRULY IMPRESSED with the information in this book!”
~I. Reed Alott

Excerpt: How Does DNA Get to a Crime Scene?

There is known DNA evidence (produced by the victim) and there is evidence produced by a suspect (foreign depositor.) This evidence must be collected by a definite protocol because deviation from this collection method might spark a courtroom challenge to the reliability of that evidence.

How is a private investigator used in a case where DNA evidence is employed?

A private investigator might be retained and used to challenge the manner in which DNA evidence was gathered and handled by their opponent. The private investigator might look for evidence to substantiate a challenge to laboratory staff’s credentials or he might look for evidence that their test results have been successfully challenged in other cases.

When Is DNA Evidence Used?

DNA evidence is used in criminal prosecutions (to show a suspect is the perpetrator of a crime) and in an increasing variety of civil cases (to prove that an individual was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a crime, to show paternity, and to establish lineage in estate matters.)

As an example, “wrongful conviction” cases have created a new type of litigation. Civil lawsuits are routinely brought by those

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA. The bases lie horizontally between the two spiraling strands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

exonerated through DNA evidence against police, prosecutors, and the forensic laboratories who helped bring about the wrongful conviction. For example three young men who played on Duke’s Lacrosse team and were falsely accused of rape and wrongfully prosecuted for that crime over a twelve-month period sued a North Carolina District Attorney and thirteen others. The trio also sued the laboratory used by the prosecutors for withholding evidence that pointed to their innocence. This is the laboratory that initially attested to a match between their DNA and samples taken from their accuser. This laboratory is now under scrutiny for its handling of evidence in this and other cases.

Note to writers: If you’re writing a story with a private investigator character, he/she (who could easily have a scientific or an investigative background) might be involved in gathering evidence about how certain laboratories are crooked, how they employ “bad science,” or even what makes some scientists charlatans.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

Posted in DNA Crime Scene, Nonfiction book: HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT?, PI Topics | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off

Happy 4-Year Anniversary Guns, Gams and Gumshoes! #bookgiveaway

Posted by Writing PIs on June 8, 2013

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: A Defense Attorney and PI Who Also Happen to Be Writers

On June 9, 2013, Guns, Gams & Gumshoes celebrates its four-year anniversary — thanks for being along for the ride!

Our blog byline started out as “A couple of PIs who also write” but as one of us is now a criminal defense attorney, we’ve changed it to “A defense attorney and a PI who also happen to be writers.”

We’ve had a great time writing these blogs.  Four years ago, we started this blog  to help fiction writers better understand the tools and tasks of contemporary private investigators for their characters and stories.  But we’ve also written for our peers in the profession, as well as those simply curious about the real-world of private investigators.

Shoutouts to Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

Along the way, we’ve garnered some recognition:

We’re Giving Away Books!  Yeah, We’re Talking Freefree

What’s a celebration without some free stuff?  To celebrate our anniversary, we’re offering free downloads of our two nonfiction books on private investigations on June 9 and 10.  To download a book for your Kindle, PC or Mac computer, browser or a variety of mobile devices, click on the links below.

Click on the book title link (or the book cover) to open its Amazon page. Remember, these downloads are free on June 9 and 10 only:

How Do Private Eyes Do That? by Colleen Collins

HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT cover

“A must have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff.”
- Lori Wilde, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“Real-life private investigator Colleen Collins spills the beans.”
~The Thrilling Detective

How to Write a Dick: A Guide to Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman

How to Write a Dick cover

“This is an amazing book and I’m very happy that I got it. The authors cover so much ground about a PI’s life and work, I’d find it hard to get a more thorough overview. Since this book is geared towards writers, I think the authors provided just the right amount of detail regarding specific PI work.”
~Allie R.

“HOW TO WRITE A DICK is an accessible, up-to-date guide to the realities of P.I. work uniquely tuned in to what fiction writers want/need to know. If it had been around when I was fiction editor for THE THRILLING DETECTIVE WEB SITE, my job would have been much easier.”
~Gerald So

Readers’ Favorite Articles Over Four Years

In four years, we’ve written 256 posts in 165 categories, with nearly 200,000 of you dropping by to read and post comments. Below, we list our readers’ top 10 favorite articles since we opened our blog doors in 2009…

Our readers’ #1 blog post over these four years has been:

Private vs. Public Investigators: What’s the Difference?

Below are the next most popular readers’ posts, from #2 through #10:

Can You Put a GPS on My Boyfriend’s Car?

Booklist Online’s “Web Crush of the Week”:  Guns, Gams and Gumshoes

How to Find Someone: Free Online Research Tips

When the Amazing Race Reality Show Called and Invited Us to Audition

Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins, the Writing PIs

What’s the Importance of a Crime Scene?

Private Investigators and Murder Cases

Marketing the Private Investigations Business

How to Find Someone’s Cell Phone Number

iPhone Apps for Private Investigators

Our Other Sites

Shaun Kaufman Law

Colleen Collins Books

Thanks for dropping by, Writing PIs

Posted in Amazing Race Audition, Book Giveaways, Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Answering Writers’ Questions: Taping Conversations and PI-Police Relationships

Posted by Writing PIs on March 25, 2013

Thanks to all who downloaded How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-life Sleuths How to Write a Dick coverduring its 99-cents sale this past weekend.  As of this morning it is on three Amazon bestseller lists, and #1 on two of those lists.

Screen shot March 24 2013 3 Amazon bestseller lists

The book began as a series of courses we taught writers about crafting a private eye character/story.  We got a lot of great questions over the years — today we’re sharing two of those.

Question #1: Is It Legal to Tape a Conversation with Another Person?

Detectives

WRITER’S QUESTION: Is it legal to tape your conversation with another person if you don’t make them aware that they are being taped? I believe this is different for different states.  Do you know where I might search online to find these regulations?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Here’s a list of state laws on recording: http://www.rcfp.org/taping/states.html

WRITER’S QUESTION:  In my story, a cop (not PI) routinely turns on a tape recorder in his pocket when he’s questioning witnesses, but there’s one time in particular that I don’t want him to have to ask permission.  I’m not worried about whether it’s
admissible in court, but if it’s a big no-no to even do it, I’ll need to change the story at that point.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Unless your cop is asking permission to tape the conversation, he’s playing with eavesdropping (which is a felony). Saying that, cops have certain privileges to work around these things, such as necessity. Keep in mind a D.A. most likely isn’t hot to prosecute a cop for eavesdropping. Our suggestion is to interview a cop about your story scenario.

As PIs, we don’t record anyone without their permission. Period.

Question #2: Do Private Investigators and Police Detectives Never Get Along?

Writer’s Question: I just read a book where the police detective and the private eye kept sparring before developing a friendship. Are cops and PIs like that in the real world, too?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: We see that same kind of PI-cop conflict all the time in books, TV shows and movies, too. In reality, most real-life PI-cop relationships are characterized by professional distance and unemotional exchanges.

Many PIs Have Law Enforcement Backgrounds

We’re saying most here. A majority of PIs have law enforcement backgrounds, and with the agencies with whom they worked, they typically maintain a more collegial relationship. Do these former law enforcement PIs get perks — such as inside information, tips, and access to law enforcement databases — from their former agencies (which is also often depicted in books and film)? No. Although there are friendly exchanges and social invitations exchanged, neither party wants to be seen as improperly advancing information and displaying favoritism to law enforcement officers (LEOs).

Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, we work with various PIs who are former LEOs. Generally speaking, we have found their life experience to cause their investigations to slant toward law enforcement and prosecution. While they work for defense lawyers, they still think like law enforcement officers.

Former-LEO PIs Often Have Years of Experience on the Streets with Tough, Violent People

sheriffMeaning, a former LEO PI might have unsubstantiated bias against their criminal defense clients. In all fairness, this bias is the product of years on the street with tough, violent, and often dishonest people — easy to see how a former-LEO PI might have developed opinions about the ethics of accused individuals.

To balance this point of view, former LEO PIs are also best situated to know how current police can make mistakes in their investigation procedures, such as constitutional propriety and evidentiary processing. These PIs are best able to advise defense lawyers about how to attack the integrity of a police investigation.

We Have a Good Friend Who’s a Police Detective

For many years, the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes PIs had a unique situation in their neighborhood. A few blocks over was a coffee shop owned and run by a local police detective (he worked at the small coffee shop during his off hours). We liked to hang out at the shop and jaw about cases, both past and current. Add to the mix that one of us is also a criminal defense attorney, there were some lively conversations and a lot of good-natured teasing about our various roles.

To be clear, we never discussed shared cases. However, both we and the police detective got valuable information about the how-tos, whys and the end results of investigations. In this particular relationship, all three of us stepped outside of our professional roles and transcended our rivalries.

Postscript: Our detective friend no longer runs the coffee shop.  We miss the java, but the friendship goes on.  So much so, that recently when a radio producer wanted to contact someone who knew us well because she needed to fact-check an interview set to run on national radio, we called the detective and asked if he’d be willing to be this contact.  He was all over it, insisting we give the producer not only his personal cell phone, but his home number, too.  Do PIs and PD detectives never get along?  Maybe in the movies and fiction stories, but not for us.

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Surveillances: When in the Country, Don’t Be a City Slicker

Posted by Writing PIs on May 29, 2012

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?  When conducting a surveillance in the country, don’t act like a city slicker.  But if you’re a citified PI who rarely, if ever, conducts rural surveillances, maybe you’re unaware that dressing in jeans, a flannel shirt and boots only goes so far if you’re also driving a spanking-clean pick-up.  Same applies if you’re a writer writing a PI-character doing a surveillance in the country — some of these tips might come in handy in your story.

Today, we’re sharing a few of our slides from a recent presentation we made at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference on Surveillance 101.

Rural Surveillances: Don’t Look Like a City Slicker

How to Not Blend in on Surveillance

On the other hand, if you’re writing a humorous character, make him/her not blend in!

Win a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate: Check out contest by clicking here.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in PI Topics, Rural Surveillances | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Surveillance Rule Number 1: Blend In

Posted by Writing PIs on May 15, 2012

Your Writing PIs

Last month we gave several presentations at the Pike Peak Writers Conference, a fun, informative annual conference held in beautiful Colorado Springs, Colorado. We taught two workshops for writers: “Surveillance 101″ and “Missing Persons 101.”

Today we’ll share a few of our “Surveillance 101″ slides on the topic of “blending in” while on surveillance:

Rule Number One: Blend In!

Types of clothing to wear on surveillance, based on locale, weather, length of surveillance

Choose an Appropriate Surveillance Vehicle for the Locale

Tips for Picking Effective Surveillance Vehicles

More Tips for Effective Surveillance Vehicles

We loved The Rockford Files, but this is hardly an effective surveillance vehicle!

Have a great day, Writing PIs

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Stop Giving Away Your Personal Information to Google

Posted by Writing PIs on April 7, 2012

Unless you’ve been living in a black box, you’re aware that Google has been blithely tracking user activity on the Web. Below are a few recent articles on this subject (click on link to read an article):

Google Caught Tracking Safari Users: What You Need to Know

Google announces privacy changes across products; users can’t opt out

Did Google intentionally track you?

A warrior’s forum member had this stringent advice for stopping Google from tracking your web activities:

if you want to avoid Google knowing anything about you, stop using Google’s services. Like in Orson Well’s 1984 big brother wants to know everything. The more information you allow Google to know, they more control they gain over your life.

Okay, but some people do like to use Google — after all, it’s still the most comprehensive public, and free, search engine available. Fortunately, there are other options, as well as preventative measures, that people can take to protect Google from tracking their web activities.

How Trackable Is Your Browser?

Panopticlick, a research project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, tests your browser to see what information it shares with other sites. The service is free and anonymous.

A Few Tips for Protecting Your Browsing

Also, check out “Related Articles” at the bottom of this post.

Why Not Use a Proxy Service?

Although a proxy service, such as Anonymizer, hides a user’s IP address, it doesn’t necessarily anonymize the user’s personal information found in HTTP headers.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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Private Eye News: From Training Programs to Gadgets

Posted by Writing PIs on April 3, 2012

 

Some news items related to private eyes, both the real-life variety and those in fiction. Click on links below to read more:

Top 25 Private Investigation Training and Education programs from PINow.com:  http://www.pinow.com/articles/1115/top-25-private-investigator-training-education-2012

Got a client who needs home security? Easy-to-install, night-vision home security video camera that requires no software installation. Plus it’s relatively cheap. Check out Dropcam.

The Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s PIs will be teaching “Surveillance 101″ and “Finding Missing Persons 101″ at the Pike’s Peak Writers Conference April 20-22.

News item about former PI-turned-chef who claims O.J. really didn’t do it: “Private investigator releases book claiming he has evidence O.J. Simpson didn’t do it”

April 3 news blurb about our own Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Colleen Collins: Kindle Nation Daily Bargain Book Alert: Colleen Collins’ THE ZEN MAN is Our eBook of the Day at just 99 Cents, with 4.2 Stars on 8 Reviews, and Here’s a Free Sample! http://bit.ly/HbFZvX 

A guide to what data mining is, how it works, and why it’s important: “Everything You Wanted to Know About Data Mining But Were Afraid to Ask”

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Private Eye Stories That Get It Right

Posted by Writing PIs on March 28, 2012

Today we’re looking at a few writers who nail private investigations in their stories.

Steve Hamilton, Misery Bay. In this short paragraph, he captures how it sometimes feels on stationary surveillances when you’ve been sitting and staring for a long, long time:

Another hour passed. The sun tried to come out for a few seconds, but the clouds reassembled and then it was a normal Michigan sky again. Cars went by, one by one, kicking up slush. I stayed where I was, feeling like I was slipping into some sort of trance, but always with one eye on the side-view mirror.

George Pelecanos, The Cut. Sometimes we think that if we say we’re private investigators, the person will refuse to talk to us, so we’ll simply say we’re investigators or legal investigators…omitting the word “private” can keep the conversation warm.  However, we’re careful not to lie about our work, and if asked who we’re working for, we’re upfront that we’re working on behalf of the defense.

In the below dialogue, the PI, Lucas, is looking for potential interviews on a case. Lucas speaks first.

“Look, I don’t mean to bother you, but I’m looking into a theft on this block.”

“You police?”

“I’m an investigator,” said Lucas. It didn’t answer the question exactly, and it wasn’t a lie.

Don WinslowThe Gentlemen’s Hour. Winslow is a former private investigator , so no surprise he nails the PI profession in his writing. The below excerpt, where the PI brainstorms case strategy, legal aspects and the legal players with the attorney, hit home with us. Often we work closely with defense attorneys on case/investigative strategies and issues — this type of “brainstorming” relationship is due to our backgrounds (before returning to the practice of law, one of us was a former criminal defense attorney) and also our established attorney-PI relationships that have been built over time where both sides have proven track records and mutual respect.

In this passage, the attorney-client, Petra, is speaking to the PI, Boone. Corey is the defendant whose family has retained Petra. The first line is Petra’s.

“I’m not sure it’s a viable defense anyway,” she says. “But it’s worth looking into. Where else do you want to take it?”

Boone starts off with where he can’t take it. He can’t talk to Trevor Bodin or the Knowles brothers because their lawyers know that their interests conflict with Corey’s and won’t let the interviews happen. Those kids, smarter than Corey, started making their deals right in the police interview rooms. The best they can hope for is that Alan takes a chunk or two off the rest of the crew’s credibility during cross-exam, but that’s about it. So that’s no good. But he can run down more info on the Rockpile Crew and the “gang” issue, find out what they were all about.

Boone sums all that up for Petra, and then says, “If Corey takes that attitude into a trial, Mary Lou will ride it to a max sentence.”

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Private Investigators and Murder Cases

Posted by Writing PIs on February 27, 2012

At Elizabeth A. White’s blog, Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s PI Colleen Collins posted a guest article that responds to novelist Ed McBain‘s comment “The last time a private eye solved a murder was never.” An excerpt from the post “Do Private Eyes Solve Murders?” is below; to read the full article, click here.

Do Private Eyes Solve Murders?

The last time a private eye solved a murder was never.” -Ed McBain *

Like many of you, I love a gritty, fast-paced private eye story where the shamus solves a grisly murder or two. Investigating death makes for compelling storytelling rift with bodies, suspects and clues. In my current novel The Zen Man, the private-eye protagonist must solve a murder in thirty days or face a life sentence behind bars.

But how true is it in real life that private investigators solve murders? Is Ed McBain right that the answer is never? I compiled a few popular theories on this topic — some from the Internet, others my PI-partner-husband and I have heard over the years – with analysis for each.

Theory #1: In stories, private eyes are often effective because they are less constrained by government rules than law enforcement. But in reality, law enforcement must be wary about endorsing a PI’s evidence because 1) it’s unknown what methods the PI used in obtaining that evidence (if the PI obtained the evidence through illegal means, it would be thrown out at trial), and 2) by accepting a PI’s evidence, the police could be seen as using the PI as a state agent (“acting under color of law”) and any improper behavior by the PI could be imputed to the police department.

Analysis: It’s true that PIs, who are civilians, are less constrained by government rules — for example, PIs are not bound to the same evidentiary laws as law enforcement. It’s an assumption, however, that an experienced PI, especially one who specializes in legal investigations, would use “unknown” methods for obtaining evidence. In our investigations agency, we’ve gathered evidence using established rules and procedures to establish chain of custody (documented procedures demonstrating how we got evidence from where it was to our evidence locker). These procedures guarantee reliability and have resulted in courtroom admissibility and victory for the lawyers who employed us.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

Examples of Private Investigators Investigating Murder Cases

Below are links to several more articles written by private investigators about their murder investigations or how they went about conducting such investigations. Also included is a recent news article about three murder suspects who’ve requested a private investigator to clear their names. Click on link to read article.

The Kurt Cobain Murder Investigation by PI Tom Grant

Private Investigators Research Murder Cases (P.I. Stories.com)

Private Investigator’s Investigation Re-Opens Murder Case (Private Investigators in Virginia)

Attempted Murder, 4 Bullet Slugs, and a Dog Named Gus (The Zen Man)

3 Suspects in Covington Dismemberment Case Request Private Investigator

Have a good day, Writing PIs

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Valentine’s Day Checklist: Candy, Flowers, and a Background Report

Posted by Writing PIs on February 13, 2012

Ah, it’s almost Valentine’s Day. A time to celebrate love with that special person in your life. A time to share a romantic evening with candlelight, roses, champagne…maybe even pop the question. You know the one. Which is a whole lot more than a romantic evening out…now we’re talking about spending your life with someone, sharing sensitive financial data and resources, possibly raising children together, combining assets and more.

How well do you know this person? Do you know his/her background?

Even if you’re not planning on getting married, knowing your beloved’s background is important. Not the background they choose to share, the black-and-white background documented in public records, such as a criminal history, arrest history, driving history, previous marriages and divorces. Keep in mind that co-habitation is as much a business venture as it is as a romantic enterprise.

You might be thinking, “But he’s [she's] a fantastic person! No way I’m going to sneak around behind their back to find out their history!”

But if you’re interested in this special person, seriously considering taking the next step — be it a committed relationship, moving in together or getting married — it’s smart to do a background check. Better to know the facts ahead of time than be surprised down the road.

Below are a few cases that have come into our office.

I’ve met this great guy, but I know so little about him…

This client called several years ago, referred to us by an attorney who’d handled her previous divorce. After she’d told the attorney she’d fallen for this great guy, but she knew so little about him, he stopped her right there, told her to contact us for a background check. We ran a quick criminal background check…and our jaws dropped! This dude had reams of felony charges and arrests, including a stint in prison for a felony conviction in another state. Seemed he was big on embezzlement…and when we shared this news with her, she admitted she’d been “loaning” him a lot of money, to the tune of thousands of dollars.

She ended the relationship. Then she started carefully reviewing her credit card statements and bank statements, and learned he’d misappropriated her credit card information, forged checks, and promised various lenders and businesses that she’d co-sign on loans.

She never got her money back. Not a penny.

Shame she hadn’t obtained a background check on this guy beforehand.

My ex-girlfriend is going after my assets!

This poor guy lived with a girl for a year, then they broke up and she moved out. She promptly went to an attorney and claimed she and her ex-boyfriend had been secretly married in a ceremony at a hotel the year before and that she was entitled to half of his assets. The guy (we’ll call him Tom) had to hire his own attorney to counter her claims. We were hired as investigators on Tom’s case. After we obtained evidence that showed she’d denied being married while living with Tom –and in fact, identified herself as a single woman on a notarized document to the federal government, the court dismissed her case.

Unfortunately, hiring an attorney was costly to Tom. His ex-girlfriend, angry that she’d lost the opportunity to win half his assets, called his work and made false claims about his sexual behavior at a company function she’d attended with him back when they were an item…and poor Tom was then forced to fight that charge (more $$ to the attorney) and he wasn’t allowed to return physically to his office for months until that case, too, was dismissed.

In our investigations, we learned she’d done this exact same thing to another guy a few years before! Except the previous guy, rather than hire an attorney, just settled with her for $20,000 to go away.

How’d she get by with this? She knew the law. She worked as a paralegal for a divorce lawyer, so she knew the ins and outs of common law marriages, and the possibilities for profit.

Shame he hadn’t obtained a background check on this asset-happy woman beforehand.

Could you check out my new boyfriend…he seems nice, but after the last time…

Remember the woman who found out her boyfriend had been embezzling money from her (first story, above)? Well, after that experience, she called us when she started dating again, asked us to conduct a background check on the new guy in her life. Guess what? No criminal records, no messy divorces in his past, no arrests. Everything he’d shared about his past (that we could verify through public records) was true. They’re now an item, considering moving in together.

So you see, background checks can also be a safety measure so you can move forward to the next step.

How to Get a Background Check

Many PIs conduct background checks. An easy way to find a PI who specializes in this area is to contact your state professional private investigators association and request (or look up) the name of a PI who conducts background checks. Below is a link, courtesy of PI Magazine, that lists state PI associations:

Private Investigator Associations Listed by State

Have a great week, Writing PIs

How Do Private Eyes Do That?

How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle and Nook

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