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."

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Archive for the ‘PI Topics’ Category

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

Posted by Writing PIs on June 2, 2015

fedora black and white

Since we kicked off Guns, Gams and Gumshoes in June 2009, this post has remained readers’ #1 favorite year after year. It might seem to be a simple question, but there are all kinds of government (meaning public) investigators — from police detectives to coroner office investigators to FBI agents — as well as different kinds of private investigators, including newspaper reporters, insurance investigators, skip tracers and more.

Also, there are “amateur sleuths” in some mystery stories, which are not private investigators as amateur sleuths do not accept money for their investigative services. To read more about private investigators in fiction, check out the Private Eye Writers of America website.

So now let’s answer the question:

Private vs. Public Investigators: What’s the Difference?surveillance female hanging out of car with camera

What’s with the word “private”?  Without being glib, it’s the opposite of “public.”   Police officers and government agents are public investigators.  There are differences between private investigators and public investigators, such as:

  • Private investigators do not have ready access to privileged government information about most of us nor do they always share investigative leads and similar intelligence with other investigators.
  • A private investigator’s job status alone does not imbue her with an ability to carry firearms.
  • Private investigators pay for their own equipment, some of which can get quite expensive (such as radios, computers, still/video cameras, automobiles, etc.).  Public-sector investigators (police, etc.) do not pay from their pockets for such equipment.

Why Pursue a Career as a PI?

So why become a private investigator when public ones get better access to information and free tools? For starters, it’s always appealing to be your own boss. If you’re writing a private detective story, keep in mind that as in any well-run business, your sleuth character will need to be good with details, legalities, watching the bottom line (or hire someone to help him/her with it).

Also, a private investigator’s work is challenging, exciting, sometimes downright fun.  Robert Scott, PI and author, sums up the private investigator’s life in The Investigator’s Little Black Book 3 with these words: “It’s a front row seat to the Greatest Show on Earth.” That’s because a PI has a front row seat on life and its constantly revolving characters and life situations — many just as entertaining, if not more so, than you’ll ever see in movies or on TV.  What a rich vantage point for your own fictional PI.

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.

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

Click on book cover to go to Amazon page

Posted in Public vs Private Investigators | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Memorial Day History: Honor Them with Words and Deeds

Posted by Writing PIs on May 23, 2015

My father (center), 1945 Honolulu

This picture sat on my father’s desk for as long as I can remember. I always thought he looked like a movie star in the photo — in fact, the picture reminded me of a still from a black and white movie. On that sunny day in Honolulu, my dad and his two good friends were getting ready to head back out on battleships to the South Pacific. Unfortunately, his friends’ ship sank during battle weeks later, and Dad was the only one to return home after the war.

Dad returned to his college studies, fell in love and married my mom, became a father to her two girls, then three when I came along. Eventually all of us moved to California where he pursued a career in education.

Whenever I visited my parents, I spent hours in my dad’s office. I loved looking through his history books, the notes he left to himself on his daily calendar, the mementoes scattered through the room, the paintings by my mother on the walls, and this photo of Dad and his two friends that always sat framed on his desk.

After he died, I asked for that photo. It’s one of my prize possessions and I keep it where I can always see it. I think Dad would have liked that.

Memorial Day History

Originally, Memorial Day was called “Decoration Day” in the South for Confederate Soldiers Who Had Died in Battle

Memorial Day was first enacted to honor Union soldiers after the Civil War, and was expanded after WWI. Although initially the day was called different names, such as Decoration Day in the South (for the Confederate soldiers who had given their lives), the term “Memorial Day” was first used in 1882, and became commonly used after WWII. It was declared the official name by federal law in 1967.

In our business, we have at times researched WWII histories, so I’ll share some of those links below.

WWII Research Links

Research WWII military records.  You can search, for free, military personnel and service records at the U.S. National Archives. Searches include casualty lists, pictures, and other WW II records. To research WW II records, click here.

From the Internet Archive: Pamphlet on Mediterranean Theater of Operations & the Middle East

WWII Archive (Internet Archive): A collection of public domain WWII books, news, broadcasts, old time radio, training films and more. Curated by a librarian.

WWII Forums. This community forum provides free resources for reading and researching WWII, with topics including first-hand accounts by veterans, WWII obituaries and more.

Finding Information on Personal Participation in WWII.  This online document, provided by the National Archives and Records Administration, contains tips for researching military records relevant to those with personal participation in WWII.

Other Wars: National Archives’ Research Links

Click on link for documents in that category:

Civil War

Vietnam War

US Army troops on break during Vietnam War

US Army troops on break during Vietnam War

Korean War

War of 1812

Military Service Records

Although all military service records were once sent to the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) which is under the jurisdiction of the National Archives and Records Administration, only the Coast Guard now sends their records there. Address The National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records, 9700 Page Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri 63132, fax: 314-801-9195.

The Navy stopped sending veterans’ records to NPRC in 1995. For Navy personnel discharged after 1994, those records are now sent to NAVPERSCOM in Millington, TN (1-866-827-5672).

The Marines stopped sending records to NPRC  in 1997, and they are now sent to Quantico.

The Army stopped sending records to NPRC in 2002, and they are now sent to the Army Human Resources Command in St. Louis.

The Air Force stopped sending records to NPRC in 2004, and they are now sent to Randolph AFB, TX.

Memorial Day – More than BBQs and Fireworks (Internet Archive blog)

B-17 Flight Evokes Images About What WWII Missions Were Like (b-townblog.com)

10 Historical Facts About Memorial Day (USA Today)

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.

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What Happens When a Person Is Arrested and Charged in a Criminal Case?

Posted by Writing PIs on May 21, 2015

handcuffed hands

This material is from our recently released second edition of our nonfiction book A LAWYER’S PRIMER FOR WRITERS: FROM CRIMES TO COURTROOMS. This new edition includes images, additional resource links and other material. All Rights Reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman.


Book Excerpt: Arrests and Charges in a Criminal Case

Let’s look at the events surrounding a person being arrested and charged, depending on whether it’s a federal offense or a lower jurisdiction crime.

Arrests for Federal Crimes

If a person is arrested and charged with a federal crime by law enforcement, the accused goes to either a federal detention center or a local jail. Otherwise, a US attorney for a federal district seeks an indictment from a grand jury who, after reviewing evidence and testimony, decides whether or not there is sufficient evidence to proceed with prosecution. If there is not sufficient evidence, the case is dismissed. If an indictment is issued, the US attorney requests an   arrest warrant   from a judge, and the defendant can either surrender or be arrested by the US Marshals Service.

Let’s take a moment and discuss probable cause.

Probable Cause

police searching trunk of car

If a Drug Dog Alerts During Appropriate Duration of a Stop, Police Have Probable Cause to Search

This is the requirement, found in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, that must usually be met before police can:

  • Make an arrest
  • Conduct a search
  • Obtain a warrant.

Courts typically find probable cause when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime might have been committed (and therefore the arrest was necessary), and that evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched.

It’s important to note that just because someone is indicted does not mean he or she is guilty of any crime. The grand jury process is simply a means of charging someone with a crime, and the grand jury’s decisions are based merely on probable cause.

FBI Special Agent

Tip for Writers: The FBI is willing to help writers accurately portray how their agents conduct arrests, among other procedures. Their guidelines and contact information is on this page: Working with the FBI: A Guide for Writers, Authors, and Producers

Arrests for Non-Federal Crimes

After a person is arrested, he or she is booked at a police station where they are photographed and fingerprinted, and their personal property is taken and stored. Each person is allowed to make one phone call before being put into a jail cell. Just as you’ve probably seen in the movies or read in stories, that one call is often to a lawyer.

Taken Into Custody Without a Warrant

When a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that one or more misdemeanors or felonies were committed, or if a crime was committed in the officer’s presence, the officer can immediately arrest a suspect without an arrest warrant.

The officer then takes the accused person into custody, which means the person is now being guarded by that law enforcement agency. The officer will next submit a warrant request, sometimes called a charging request, to a prosecuting attorney that suggests the potential charges to be authorized.

Miranda Rights

When a person is in custody, and before he/ she is questioned by law enforcement, the suspect must be informed of their Miranda rights, which stem from the US Supreme Court 1966 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona. These rights require the arrestee to be informed of his/ her constitutional rights to counsel and to remain silent. If the arrestee is not informed of these rights, any evidence gained from the questioning is not admissible as evidence in a court of law. The wording itself is called the Miranda Warning, and its issuance by an officer to a suspect in custody is often informally referred to as the suspect being Mirandized. Here is the wording in the Miranda Warning:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?

Border Patrol Agent Reading Miranda Rights

Some police departments— such as in Indiana, New Jersey, Nevada, Oklahoma and Alaska— add the following sentence to the Miranda Warning:

We have no way of giving you a lawyer, but one will be appointed for you, if you wish, if and when you go to court.

The person in custody must issue a clear, affirmative answer to the Miranda Warning. In other words, silence is not a response, nor is silence an indication that the person is waiving his/ her rights, because the arrestee may not understand or may not speak English as his or her first language. Throughout the US, many law enforcement officers have translations of the Miranda Warning on forms or cards that they present to those in custody.

Let’s say a suspect in custody clearly and affirmatively waives his Miranda rights. If he changes his mind at any time prior to or even during a police interrogation and expresses a wish to remain silent, the interrogation must cease. Or, if the arrestee states that he wants an attorney, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present.

US military branches provide for the right against self-incrimination through a form that informs suspects of their charges and their rights, which they are required to sign. This ends our introduction to arrests and charges. Below are further resources to learn more about these topics.

Additional Resources

Arrest Procedures (American Bar Association)

Fourth Amendment: An Overview (Cornell University Law School)

How Does a Grand Jury Operate? (Ohio State Bar Association)

What Procedures Must the Police Follow While Making an Arrest? (FindLaw)


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.

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

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Dealing with Cyberstalkers

Posted by Writing PIs on May 13, 2015

Internet investigations

A few weeks ago, a defamatory “book review” showed up on Amazon — the term book review is in quotes because in no way was it a review of a book. Instead, it was a malicious character attack written by someone hiding behind a bogus ID. Unfortunately, I’m not the only author to deal with such non-book-related reviews written by people with personal agendas.

Contacting Amazon About Vengeful Reviews

By vengeful, I mean reviews that contain no analysis of the book, only mean-spirited, spiteful content directed at the author.

Letter Template

Below is part of the letter I wrote to abuse@amazonaws.com. I have replaced real names and titles so this letter is basically a template.


Dear Amazon:

An abusive comment written by “[bogus ID]” remains in a book review for [book title] [link to book review]:
 
[screen shot of review here]
 
This review does not meet Amazon’s review submission guidelines because:
  • It contains no information about the book itself
  • Content is spiteful
  • Content directs readers to go to other sites that are not associated with the book or Amazon
  • Content only contains malicious attacks on the author

For the above reasons, I request you to please delete this review.

Sincerely, [name]


The above bulleted list specifically addresses content Amazon deems unacceptable in reviews. To read more about Amazon’s review guidelines, click here.

I Found More Evidence About This Cyberstalker

Some cyber-searching revealed this person had cyberstalked before

Internet searches revealed this person had cyberstalked before

Additionally, I did some Internet research on this “reviewer” (thanks to a writer-friend’s lead) and found a connection that revealed his real name. From there, I conducted background research and found a police report where this individual had been reported for cyberstalking several years earlier. I forwarded all of that data to Amazon.

This evidence was powerful, but it’s not always the case that such compelling data is discovered. But even without it, I believe Amazon would have taken down the review due to it violating its review policies.

By the way, it might take Amazon several weeks, even a month, to follow up on a takedown request. If you are waiting for Amazon’s response, resist the urge to click on the bad review link, and ask friends and family not to click it, either. Simply put, clicking = interest and interest = higher ranking. You don’t want that vengeful “review” getting more attention.

Others Stalked on Amazon

Sometimes in a big way. Some of you might recall several years back when a Michael Jackson fan group bombarded a book on Amazon (which they felt was derogatory about MJ) with hundreds of one-star reviews.

Below are some articles and threads written by writers on this topic. Although some say Amazon suggests responding to a stalker’s comment, we at Guns, Gams and Gumshoes advise against it (see “Tips for Handling a Cyberstalker” below).

KDP Thread: Dealing with a Stalker

I Was Stalked on Amazon.com

Wish I could say this recent cyberstalking episode was our first, but it’s not.

A Book Blog Tour Stalker

This happened almost five years ago, only this stalker didn’t stop at fake reviews. He saw where we were on a book blog tour and posted derogatory comments at each site. Yes, we had our own tag-a-long book-blog stalker. He hadn’t even read the book, how rude.

Working with Blog Hosts

We contacted our blog hosts ahead of time, briefly explained that we had our very own personal stalker and suggested the host monitor all comments and delete his offensive rants. Oh, and to please forward us the stalker’s IP address, thank you. Gee, imagine our surprise (not) to see all these derogatory comments were from the same IP address.

Blog Host Put a Stop to It

One of our hosts (decorated ex-military, unafraid to tangle with anyone) posted one of the stalker’s rants, and publicly censured the stalker for acting like a cowardly baby hiding behind his mommy’s skirts. Yes, those were his exact words. Must have hurt the stalker’s feelings because after that his public shenanigans stopped cold. He just…disappeared. Poof! Like smoke.

smoke from empty boots

We didn’t know that particular host would do that — in fact, if we had been told ahead of time that he was going to post a public comment to embarrass the stalker, we would have requested there be no public exchange.

We don’t specialize in stalking cases, but we have been contacted by writers and others who are being stalked, and we always suggest they ignore the stalker and document all activity in case the person wishes to later involve the police or hire an attorney.

What Is Stalking?

Classically, it is a repeated pattern of unwanted, offensive contact intended to harass or frighten the subject. The Internet, unfortunately, provides opportunities for stalkers to anonymously intimidate their victims.

Tips for Handling a Cyberstalker

Here are some tips for handling a cyberstalker.

1. Save all correspondence, including header information in emails and other forms of electronic correspondence.

2. If you are 18 or under, let your parent (or an adult you trust) know about the cyberstalking.

3. Respond in writing with a cease & desist request. Then do not engage further with the cyberstalker. Clearly state that the contact is unwanted and that the cyberstalker should immediately stop all forms of communication. Check the filtering options on your email (and other communication services, such as social media) and apply the filtering options to halt the cyberstalker’s messages from reaching you.

4. Contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and file a complaint. If you’ve learned the cyberstalker’s ISP, also file a complaint with their ISP, too. ISPs have policies in place to handle cyberstalking, such as eliminating incoming messages from the cyberstalker, if known.

5. If the cyberstalking continues, contact your local law enforcement or local prosecutor’s office to see what charges (if any) can be filed. Save these communications as well, including any police reports.

6. Consider changing your email address, phone numbers, ISP, and other contact information the cyberstalker is using. Also considering using encryption software.

Resources on Cyberstalking

HaltAbuse.org: Working to Halt Online Abuse

Reputation.com: How to Prevent or Defend Against Online Stalking

Women’s Web: Violence Against Women – Stalking

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.

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Two Article Series: Better Call Saul and Why PIs Investigate Crime Scenes

Posted by Writing PIs on May 3, 2015

fedora black and white

We have recently posted two different sets of articles at our other websites: Shaun Kaufman Law & Colleen Collins Books. One discusses a few legal nits in one of our favorite TV series “Better Call Saul”; the second offers updated course material that we taught a few years back to mystery writers.  Enjoy!

Better Call Saul

Would a Criminal Lawyer Really Do That?

Legal No-Nos in Dumpster Diving Scene

PIs Investigating Crime Scenes

Private Investigators and Crime Scene Investigations, Part I

Private Investigators and Crime Scene Investigations, Part II 

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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.

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Free Social Media Search Engines

Posted by Writing PIs on April 25, 2015

hat and magnifying glass on computer

Google remains the most powerful search engine available, but if you want real-time, niche results, consider using a social media search tool. The ones listed in this post are free with some offering premium plans for a monthly fee.

On a side note, if you choose to register with one of these sites, it might require that you provide an email address. My suggestion is to not provide your private email addy as it could be sold to a third-party vendor, such as another database. Instead, try setting up an alternate email via one of the below options.

Disposable and Masked Email Addressesemail around the world

A few ways to create alternate email addresses:

Have a public email address that you use for such requests. For example, create an account on Gmail (such as use4forms@gmail.com) that you use for online registrations. If you decide you want to see emails from an organization, you can set forwarding for its emails from use4forms@gmail.com to a personal Gmail account.

Create a disposable email address. One of my favorites is guerilla.com.

Use a Masking Service.  I use the free version of MaskMe for email addresses and passwords. As I start to enter my email address into a form, a MaskMe window opens that asks if I’d like it to generate a secure email and/or password. If yes, it adds these to a table I can access at any time. For $5/month, Mask Me will also protect phone numbers and credit card numbers.

Now let’s check out social media searches.

Four Social Media Search Engines

Listed in alphabetical order:

SmashFuse: Immediate real-time results in social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo and others. Easy-to-view layout with share buttons.

SocialMention: Real-time search in over a hundred media properties, from blogs to comments to images. It also provides social media analysis broken down by Strength, Sentiment, Passion, Reach, Top Users, Top Hashtags and Sources.

Social SearcherSearches content in social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ in real time. You can also sign up for “monitoring” that includes history, advanced analytics, increased email alerts and more.

Topsy: Real-time results and analytics for Twitter only. Search by links, tweets, photos and more. This search engine has been around since 2008 and is still going strong, unlike a few that fell by the wayside over the years.

Social Media Search Sites That Are No More

Sorry to see these sites go…

Kgbpeople.com: This used to be one of my favorite search sites, which checked a variety of social networking sites, search engines, websites, photos and more. The search results used to be comprehensive, but these days are slim to nonexistent.

Kurrently.com: Formerly combined results from Twitter and Facebook in an easy-to-read format organized by date stamp, but the site is now dead.

Whos Talkin: This social media search tool once searched conversations in over 60 social media gateways, but my last search attempts went into an endless “search spin.”

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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#BookExcerpt The Work of a Legal Investigator

Posted by Writing PIs on April 7, 2015

gavel and scales

Today we’re offering an excerpt from A Lawyer’s Primer for Lawyers: From Crimes to Courtrooms on the work of a legal investigator (from the chapter “Private Investigators”).

A Legal Investigator’s Tasks

Some of you may be familiar with the PI character Kalinda Sharma on the TV series The Good Wife. This is an example of a legal investigator who works in-house at a private law firm. The investigator will have an office, or share an office with another investigator or legal professional. As attorneys need the services of an investigator, they’ll contact their in-house PI to schedule the task.

Other legal investigators might work exclusively for public defenders’ offices or district attorneys’ offices. As there is a lot of investigative work needed for these types of agencies, these investigators would likely have offices within these organizations.

hat and magnifying glass on computer

Then there are legal investigators who work as independent contractors, typically under the umbrella of their own investigations agency. Some of these PIs might have their own offices, and some might work out of a home office. We never knew any PIs who had virtual offices, such as with a law firm, but that’s entirely possible, too.

Wherever a legal investigator works, below is a basic list of their common work tasks:

  • Locating and interviewing witnesses
  • Drafting witness interview reports for attorneys
  • Reconstructing scenes of crimes
  • Helping prepare civil and criminal arguments and defenses
  • Serving legal documents (process service)
  • Testifying in court
  • Conducting legal research (for example, drafting pleadings incorporating investigative data, devising defense strategies and supporting subsequent legal proceedings)
  • Preparing legal documents that provide factual support for pleadings, briefs and appeals
  • Preparing affidavits
  • Electronically filing pleadings.

An Example of a Legal Investigations Agency

Below is a list of services we listed on our legal investigations website. Next to each service are examples of the kind of law practices for which we did that type of investigative work.

Asset Search

Often divorce attorneys would ask us to check the assets of a client’s husband/wife, sometimes to see what money the soon-to-be ex-spouse might be hiding. At times we also conducted asset searches for probate lawyers to determine if a family member was suddenly buying high-ticket items they couldn’t afford, indicating they might have surreptitiously taken money from a family trust.

Background Research

Many different kinds of lawyers would request background research on an individual or a business, including criminal defense, personal injury, divorce and business litigation lawyers.

Court Records Search

Pitkin County District Courthouse (photo by Carol Highsmith)

Pitkin County District Courthouse (photo by Carol Highsmith)

Similar to background searches, many different types of lawyers requested court records searches, including divorce, personal injury, DUI, business litigation and personal injury law firms.

Expert Witness Location

Although different types of law practices use PIs to locate expert witnesses, we primarily received such requests from personal injury and defense lawyers.

Criminal Records

We would primarily look up criminal court records for divorce and defense attorneys.

Domestic Relations

Divorce attorneys would request us to conduct different investigative tasks for their clients who were in the process of a divorce. Such tasks included surveillances, trash hits (literally this means to check a person’s or business’s garbage for evidence), as well as retrieving criminal records and conducting background checks.

Drunk Driving Defense

We worked with several attorneys who specialized in drunk driving defense. For them we would retrieve Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) court and criminal records, as well as conduct surveillances and trash hits.

Financial Fraud

Primarily probate, business, divorce and defense attorneys hired us to investigate possible financial fraud.

Personal Injury

Obviously, this refers to personal injury lawyers who hired us for such tasks as witness interviews, scene documentation, surveillance and background checks.

Process Service

Primarily, divorce attorneys hired us to deliver, or serve, divorce papers on behalf of their clients. We also served legal papers for probate, personal injury, defense and business law firms.

Mitigation Packages

Criminal defense attorneys sometimes, but not often, hired us to research and prepare these reports. Chapter 16 has more information about mitigation packages.

Skip tracing

This term is industry jargon for finding people, also informally called locates — as in “I want to hire you to do some locates” — which we did for all kinds of law firms, but primarily for criminal defense attorneys.

Surveillance

surveillance female hanging out of car with camera

We mainly conducted surveillances for divorce attorneys, but occasionally received surveillance requests from defense, business, personal injury and probate attorneys.

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

~ End of Excerpt ~


Have a great week, Writing PIs

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. Other images are licensed by Colleen Collins, and are not to be copied, pasted, distributed or otherwise used.

Posted in Investigating Fraud, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations, PIs and Lawyers, process servers | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on #BookExcerpt The Work of a Legal Investigator

Three Privacy Tips for Keeping the Cookie Monster Out of Your Browser

Posted by Writing PIs on April 1, 2015

cookie with bite taken out pub domain

What’s a Cookie?

Cookies are small amounts of data that websites drop into your browser so they can monitor your browsing activity. As they are text, they cannot install anything on your computer. And they are not necessarily evil little creatures as some clue in your browser about preferences you have established for certain sites (such as reading newest comments first or ensuring secure logins).

And then there are the cookies that surreptitiously monitor your internet comings and goings, then feed that data to advertisers and others. If you don’t want your personal internet browsing to be stored in their databases, below are three tips for taking a byte out of those cookies.

1. Cookie Notices on Websites

Many websites have a symbol, icon or notice that by your visiting the site, you agree to its cookie-gathering policy. Such notices say something like “We use cookies to improve your experience. By your continued use, you accept such use. To change your settings, please see our policy.”

If you don’t want to agree to a site’s cookie-gathering, simply leave the site.

2. Do Not Track Options

black and white computer keyboard and hand w mouse

Fortunately, browsers offer Do Not Track options so users can opt-out of advertising services and other analytics on websites. Unfortunately, the Do Not Track option is similar to the Do Not Call registry — selecting the option doesn’t necessary mean that the website is going to respect your request.

Nevertheless, based on a recent report from the Information Commissioner’s Office, Do Not Track options block approximately 70% of third-party web tracking, so view it as a basic protective step. Here is a list of advertisers who claim to honor Do Not Track requests: Do Not Track: Implementations

Below are the steps for how to do this for Chrome & Safari (the Do Not Track option is on by default for Mozilla):

Chrome: Preferences/Settings->Advanced Settings–>(Select appropriate boxes)

Safari: Preferences–>Privacy–>(Select appropriate boxes)

For other browsers, check what security or privacy options are available under Preferences.

3. Add-Ons/Extensions

A second line of defense are add-ons and extensions that you download to your browser. These are not 100% remedies, but another, tougher layer of cookie-protection on top of Do Not Track settings.

The below services are free, with most offering more additional, comprehensive services for a monthly fee:

Ghostery

Disconnect

AdBlock Plus

Privacy Badger

Here’s to privacy! Colleen Collins

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.

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Answering Writers’ Questions: Riding Along with a PI, Hiring PIs in Cases Involving Foul Play

Posted by Writing PIs on March 27, 2015

eye and magnifying glass

Today we’re answering writers’ questions about riding along with PIs, civilians hiring PIs in cases  involving foul play, and police hiring PIs.

WRITER’S QUESTION: I’ve heard that a client riding along with the PI is illegal in some states. How would we know which states it is illegal in? I’m sure there will be other things that come up that vary from state to state? Should we call a PI from our state to ask?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Calling a PI in your state is a good resource. If you are in a state where PIs are licensed, contact the licensing authority for guidance on these matters (typically this licensing authority will be within the state dept. of regulatory agencies or the state police).

Personally, we have had writers ask to join us while we work a case (for example, on a surveillance), but we always say no for various reasons (client confidentiality and insurance being two). The only time we broke this policy was for a reporter who was writing a story about us for a newspaper — she accompanied us on a process service and a trash hit.

WRITER’S QUESTION: In my story, I have a client hiring a PI to investigate her husband’s death. detective with flashlightShe felt there was more involved than him being killed during a B&E. Is this correct — do people hire PIs if they feel their loved ones met with foul play?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Absolutely they do.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Do police hire PIs for help? I have another story where the police call in a PI to help catch a guy who has been selling black market items.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: More likely, the police would cooperate with PIs on a case (although this isn’t common, it has certainly occurred. For example, a few years back, the NY police cooperated with local PIs to break a theft ring in the garment district).

However, a key reason the police would not hire (versus cooperate with) PIs is that by their employing a private citizen (such as a PI), the police lose “the color of government authority” including the ability to obtain warrants, rely on rules for search/seizure (such as the fellow officer rule), and finally the law enforcement agency concerned does not want the liability of a contract employee who is more than likely carrying a weapon and who very well may not carry enough insurance.

Saying all this, it is plausible that a government agency other than a law-enforcement agency might hire a PI to do an independent investigation. Here in Colorado, a county commissioner office hired a Denver PI to conduct an investigation of sexual harassment and financial misappropriation by an elected county official, who could not have been independently investigated by the sheriff’s office for that county (because of the close ties between the two offices, both elected offices).

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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.

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#MondayBlogs Answering Writer’s Question: When Does a PI’s Activity Become Intimidation?

Posted by Writing PIs on March 20, 2015

bad guy

Today we respond to a writer’s question about PIs and intimidation.

Writer’s Question: When does surveillance, or any legitimate investigative activity, become intimidation?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: Many investigative activities (such as surveillance, knocking on doors and attempting interviews, service of subpoenas) can be done in such a manner to intimidate the target of an investigation. The legitimate activity can be so pronounced and intense that the subject not only knows they’re being investigated, they fear the person who’s hired the investigator (or they fear the investigator him/herself). This is intimidation. An example of an intimidation is to leave a dead fish on the windshield of someone’s car with a rose in its mouth (which L.A. investigator Anthony Pellicano did to intimidate a newspaper reporter ). This reporter was a witness before an official proceeding and Pellicano was charged for intimidating a witness with this not-so-subtle gift of seafood.

While the FBI agents in The Sopranos could sit at the foot of Tony’s driveway and even FBI special agentchat with him on occasion (which is not covert surveillance), they could not attempt to run his car off the road or interfere with his business because those acts constitute intimidation (or police harassment).

Private investigators are regularly asked by bill collectors to visit debtors. This is a dicey area because federal credit collection practice laws permit contact but they don’t permit collectors to threaten with bodily injury or improper damage to the debtor’s reputation. Any time that a debtor can prove that a PI is guilty of these acts then the PI is personally liable, his firm his liable, and the collection agency is liable. Your fictional PI might be employed to knock on doors and collect money, discourage witnesses to testify in a court case, or take photographs of an individual and his/her home, car, workplace, etc. When these acts are done to intentionally frighten the witness and/or drive them from either testifying or bringing a claim in court, those actions are legally classified as intimidation.

Writing PIs

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