Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts Cheat Sheet

Posted by Writing PIs on October 15, 2015

In Gmail, some keyboard shortcuts are on by default, while others need to be enabled to use them (Google provides lists of what’s on & what’s off here: Keyboard Shortcuts for Gmail).

To use the below shortcuts, you’ll need to first enable the “off” shortcuts in your Gmail (go to Settings and select Keyboard shortcuts on).

Below shortcuts are for the Mac. For a pdf of PC shortcuts, click here.

Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts Cheat Sheet

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A Ransomware True Story and Cyber-Security Tips

Posted by Writing PIs on October 6, 2015

cybersecurity computer desk licensed shutterstock

It’s Relatively Easy to Set Up Cyber-Security on Your Computer (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, a good time to review safety measures for protecting our online lives. Unfortunately, it’s not just large businesses and online sites that are victimized by cyber-criminals — it happens to individuals, too, which recently happened to someone we know.

Cyber-Criminals Hacked Into a Writer’s Computer

One Click Opened Her Computer to a Cyber-Criminal (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

One Click Opened Her Computer to a Cyber-Criminal (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

One of the Guns, Gams and Gumshoes has a writer-friend whose computer was recently hacked by cyber-criminals who blocked her access to all files on her hard-drive. A horrible situation as she was nearing the end of finishing a novel and could no longer access any of the book files.

The cyber-criminals demanded a ransom if she wanted access to her files again. Hoping her computer-tech shop could find a way to get her files back, she took in her computer for analysis. Unfortunately, they could do nothing, only verify that her hard drive had been locked by “ransomware.”

Ransom Kept Increasing

Meanwhile, every day the cyber-criminals increased the ransom. With a heavy heart, she paid the ransom, and access to her files was returned. She immediately bought a new computer, a different brand, and her tech-computer shop helped set up her files along with stronger cyber-security.

One Click and the Cyber-Hacker Was In

Sadly, cyber-criminals gained access to her computer via her clicking on a single link in an email she thought was sent by a close friend. A reminder to all of us to never click on a link in an email, or other electronic communication, before verifying your friend/associate/whomever was the sender.

Six Ways to Safeguard Your Computer

(image licensed by Colleen Collins)

(image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Shaun Kaufman, a criminal lawyer, shares these six tips for protecting your computer (via shaunkaufmanlaw.com):

  1. Maintain updated computer software & apps. Setting up automatic updates is ideal because if you or your webmaster is logging in to update software/apps, that means there were bugs present prior to the update, and bugs = vulnerabilities.
  2. Download from official sites only. There’s a lot of free stuff available for download on the Internet, but you can end up downloading a lot of problems along with that freebie app, program, whatever. Therefore, download from official sites only. It’s also a good idea to be conservative in the number of downloads, too.
  3. Create unique passwords with upper & lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. I know, you’ve probably heard this password warning a gazillion times, but making passwords easy to guess, or using the same password across multiple sites, invites a cyber-criminal to pay a visit. Some people say you shouldn’t use a password manager as some are fraudulent. I don’t use a password manager, nor do I have any idea which ones might be corrupted, so I’ll leave that topic for you to further research.
  4. Cover your computer camera. I just read about this security measure the other day. Seems hackers have taken over people’s computer cameras without their knowledge (with no light indicators alerting the users, either). I can see the reasoning behind this — for example, you’re speaking to someone on your phone about a confidential business manner while you’re at your computer, that dialogue could be captured by cyber-criminals. Even if the audio isn’t captured, the computer user is so close to the camera, lip-reading could be easy. Covering the camera with a piece of tape is easy to do. Then remove the tape when you want to use the camera.
  5. Use encryption software. This site ranks the top encryption software products and their prices:10TopTenReviews: 2015 Best Encryption Software Review
  6. Backups. Regularly back up your files — especially those book files, writers! –and store them offline.  (Thanks, @Mededitor)

Additional Resources

Stay Safe Online: Tips for keeping a clean computer, protecting your personal files and more.

Homeland Security: Events, tips and related links for National Cyber Security Awareness Month

FBI Website: Cyber-criminal facts, FBI’s cyber-threat investigations and additional resources


All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

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October 2, 2015 Wrongful Conviction Day: Articles and Videos

Posted by Writing PIs on October 2, 2015

Old Jail Cell on Route 66, Arizona, by Carol Highsmith (photo is in the public domain)

Old Jail Cell on Route 66, Arizona, by Carol Highsmith (photo is in the public domain)

Today, Oct 2, is Wrongful Conviction Day, an international day that recognizes those convicted for crimes they didn’t commit, their families and their advocates. It is a day devoted to educating the public about the causes, consequences and complications associated with wrongful convictions.

Articles and Videos

Wrongful Conviction Day – Videos: Interviews and speech excerpts with those falsely convicted for crimes they didn’t commit, including:

  • John Artis, co-accused and wrongly convicted with Rubin Hurricane Carter in 1966 and released from prison in 1981.
  • Sunny Jacobs & Peter Pringle, each wrongly convicted for crimes they didn’t commit. After being exonerated, they met at a talk Sunny Jacobs gave about her ordeal, which included her living in solitary for years. They fell in love, married, and now live in Canada, “at peace” with their past.

Barry Scheck Answers Questions About Wrongful Convictions (by Crime Traveller)

Resurrection, the story of Robert “Rider” Dewey who spent 17 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit (5280 Magazine)

At Defrosting Cold Cases, cold case blogger and human rights defender Alice de Sturler writes about the wrongful conviction of William Thomas Zeigler.

California Steps Up for the Wrongly Convicted Governor Jerry Brown signed into law California Senate Bill 618, which provides much-needed changes to the crippled compensation process for the wrongly convicted (California Innocence Project)


All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

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Investigating Crime Scenes: Police vs. Private Investigators

Posted by Writing PIs on September 27, 2015

crime scene tape

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

When we opened our private investigations agency in 2003, one of us (Shaun) had nearly two decades experience as a criminal trial lawyer who had litigated many felony cases, including several high-profile homicide cases. During that time, he also trained numerous legal investigators. Our early clients were seasoned criminal lawyers who respected his knowledge and insights into criminal law and investigations.

One hired us for our very first case: Investigating a crime scene (a bar) where a homicide had occurred.

Live vs. Cold Crime Scenes

This crime scene wasn’t “live”–where the crime is recent and guarded by law enforcement–but a “cold” crime scene, meaning law enforcement had completed their investigation and released the crime scene to the public. In our case, the crime scene had been released five months earlier. This was the first of numerous cold crime scenes we investigated over the years.

Don’t Assume Cold Crime Scenes Lack Evidence

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Cold crime scenes may contain overlooked evidence (Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

At the end of this article are links to articles about PIs and crime scenes, several of which describe cases we solved based on evidence found in cold scenes. In one, we found physical evidence that had been overlooked months earlier when the scene was live. That evidence proved a man was not guilty of two counts attempted homicide. Without that evidence, he faced a possible 48 years in prison if found guilty.

Physical Evidence Is King

In some crimes there are no witnesses, and in the absence of self-incriminating statements by a suspect, the only means of obtaining a conviction may be through physical evidence, such as:

  • Evidence with viable DNA
  • A blood sample, a fingerprint, and so forth.

In any crime, sharing knowledge of physical evidence with suspects may loosen tongues and stimulate confessions. DNA, fingerprints or serologic evidence are tough to debate and bring many criminals to a place where their lips move easily. Simply put, physical evidence is king.

Police vs. PIs: Deception in Investigations

Interestingly enough, private investigators work under a burden created by ethical constraints that police detectives do not labor under.

While courts have consistently held that police may lie to a suspect to stimulate a confession without tainting that confession (we once saw this in an episode of The Closer), very few private investigators can credibly present statements obtained by deceptive means. By “very few” we mean in the few instances where the PI has investigated an individual who is extremely unsavory or has committed a particularly heinous act, then jurors are more likely to trust the PI’s statements even if the PI lied to obtain them. Great fodder for a story.

Crime Affects Search + Evidence

Bullet casings (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

In a crime scene, the area searched and the evidence sought will depend on the crime under investigation. In crimes of violence, the crime scene tells the detective what happened, but the detective must also read the signs left by the evidence. Signatures of crime include:

  • Fingerprints
  • Blood stains
  • Bullet slugs, bullet holes
  • Tool marks
  • Fibers, hairs, fingernail scrapings
  • Glass fragments
  • DNA samples
  • Items added, overturned, removed or displaced.

Suspects = Part of a Crime Scene

Keep in mind that the suspect is also part of the crime scene. What does he leave at the crime scene and what does he take away from the scene? Such evidence helps to prove that he was there. If the police take him back to the crime scene after his arrest, the evidence of his presence at the scene, when presented in testimony in the courtroom, may serve only to prove that the police took him there. This may cause your fictional PI to think twice before taking a possible suspect to a crime scene.

Police vs. PIs: Different Views of Crime Scenes

US Army CID agents at crime scene (image is in public domain)

US Army CID agents at crime scene (image is in public domain)

It’s important to make the distinction between what crime scene investigators for the police consider a crime scene, and what the rest of us, including PIs, consider a crime scene. In the latter instance, a crime scene is really just the place where a crime happened, which has returned to everyday use.

On the other hand, what police and crime scene investigators consider a crime scene is that area where, such as the space inside the yellow tape, careful protocols for evidence recordation and extraction are followed.

Related Articles

Private Investigators and Crime Scene Investigations, Part I (Colleen Collins Books)

Private Investigators and Crime Scene Investigations, Part II (Colleen Collins Books)

Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make at Crime Scenes (Novel Rocket – Two homicide detectives and Writing PIs (a criminal lawyer & PI) talk about writers’ top blunders when depicting crime scenes.

Crime Scene Investigation (PINow)

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. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

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A Tribute to James Garner’s Iconic Private Eye Jim Rockford

Posted by Writing PIs on September 13, 2015

James Garner as Jim Rockford (L) in THE ROCKFORD FILES (image is in public domain)

James Garner as Jim Rockford (L) in THE ROCKFORD FILES (image is in public domain)

Below is a post I wrote a year ago, July 2014, after learning that James Garner had passed away. What a terrific actor, often playing the cool, good-natured, witty anti-hero. Funny that he played the anti-hero so well, when in real life he was a hero. Two Purple Hearts after being wounded, twice, during the Korean War.

The below article contains links to my/our various articles over the years either about, or containing references to, James Garner’s one-and-only Jim Rockford, private eye, in The Rockford Files. (I’ve corrected links to articles that were updated since initial postings.)

James Garner as PI Rockford (R) in photo still from THE ROCKFORD FILES (image is in public domain)

James Garner as PI Rockford (R) in photo still from THE ROCKFORD FILES (image is in public domain)

Remembering James Garner’s Jim Rockford

July 2014

Today we’re sharing some articles in which we referenced one of our favorite private eye characters, Jim Rockford, from the ’74-’80 TV show The Rockford Files. Below are those posts, along with excerpts:

The Rockford Files: Magical Surveillances In A Gold ’78 Firebird (from colleencollinsbooks.com)

I’m a huge fan of the old TV series The Rockford Files, staring one of my all-time favorite actors James Garner — in fact, my husband and I own the entire series on DVD.  But gotta say, how’d he pull off all those surveillances in a shiny gold Firebird?

Magic.

Pretexting: Okay for Jim Rockford, But Not Always for Real-Life P.I.s (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

We own the complete DVD set of the The Rockford Files TV show that ran from 1974-1980.  Love James Garner in that show as the droll, I’d-rather-be-fishing private eye Jim Rockford.  He kept his gun in a cookie jar and carried around a printing device so he could quickly imprint a business card with a bogus ID whenever necessary…

James Garner, 1959, as Bret Maverick, the role that made him famous (image is in public domain)

James Garner, 1959, as Bret Maverick, the role that made him famous (image is in public domain)

Realistically Portrayed Private Eyes in Books and Film (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

(Among our answers was Jim Rockford)

We love a lot of PI genre fiction, both in books and other media, although too often books, TV shows and films add flash and drama to make the PI protagonist seem bigger and badder than how he/she might really be in the real world. For example, searching public records is a cornerstone of a private investigator’s skill set, but it’s pretty tedious work, hardly worthy of a TV show.

Do All Private Eyes Carry Concealed Handguns? (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

In the writers’ classes we’ve taught on private investigations, this question has come up a lot. In those great old noir films, seems every shamus carried one and used it freely. Then along came Jim Rockford from the TV show The RockFord Files), and that easy-going, beach-loving PI preferred to keep his gun in a cookie jar rather than carry it.

Have a good week, Writing PIs

fedora black and white

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. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

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Three Tips for Conducting a Reverse Phone Number Lookup

Posted by Writing PIs on September 5, 2015

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

There’s lots of ads out there for free phone look-ups — often what you get is some free information (such as the possible geographical location of the phone carrier), then they ask you to “click here” and for $1.95 or $34.95 (prices vary), you can get the full report on this person.

Buyer beware.

There’s no magical 100% correct database out there that’ll spit out the latest and greatest information associated with a phone number. We’re not saying you can’t get correct information. You might. But you, the buyer, should know that you are paying for information that could be outdated, input incorrectly into a database, or the phone number might have been correct at one time but has since been ported to a new carrier.

Saying all that, here are three tips to conduct a reverse check on a phone number:

Type a phone number in Google for a quick reverse number search (Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Type a phone number in Google for a quick reverse number search (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Tip #1: Run the phone number in Google. Google remains the most comprehensive, free public search engine. Search results reflect every document, website, blog, resume, ad (such as Craigslist), and other online places where that phone number displays.

We once found a person who was on the run by conducting a reverse cell phone number search in Google. Although she had disconnected her cell phone service, that number was still listed on her MySpace site, which she had kept public (not private), meaning anyone could read her comments. Although she had worked to cover her tracks, she was taking the time every day to log into her MySpace account and chat with friends. And we were taking the time every day to read where she’d eaten lunch, what time of day she drove into a certain town, what motel she was staying at, and more.

Tip #2: Check the carrier, geographical region for the number. There are sites that offer free checks for type of phone line, carrier, and geographical region of the phone number. One site is Phone Validator, another is SpyDialer, the latter also offering options to hear the person’s voicemail message and look up the phone owner’s name and photo.

Again, keep in mind that the information returned is only as good as the database, and there’s no guarantee how recently the information has been updated. For example, I just ran my personal cell phone number in SpyDialer, and although it got my first name correct, it displayed a photo of what appeared to be a restaurant along with a man’s name. Perhaps he (or the business) had this number before me.

Tip #3: Hire a private investigator.  A qualified PI is experienced at digging for information and can interpret its accuracy or legality. To find a PI in your area, contact the professional investigators’ association for your state: Private Investigator Associations by State (PINow.com).

Related Article

Last winter, Shaun (now a criminal lawyer), cross-examined an investigator during a trial. Key to the case was the owner of a cell phone found at an apartment. The investigator said it belonged to the guy who’s bedroom he found it in. Problem was, there were multiple bedrooms and roommates at this residence, with recent parties in the apartment attended by others, so deciding ownership solely on where the phone was left was flimsy evidence. Shaun then asked the investigator if he’d run a reverse on the phone. That story is here:

Investigator Takes the Stand: Tales from a Trial

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned or licensed by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any photos noted as being in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

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Do All PIs Carry Concealed Handguns?

Posted by Writing PIs on August 22, 2015

In movies and books, private eyes often carry handguns (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

In the writers’ classes we’ve taught on private investigations, this question has come up a lot. In those great old noir films, seems every shamus carried one and used it freely. Then along came Jim Rockford from the TV show The RockFord Files, and that easy-going, beach-loving PI preferred to keep his gun in a cookie jar rather than carry it.

We used to stash a stun gun under the front seat of our car, otherwise we don’t own or use any guns, and we know many PIs who don’t carry as well.

Private Eye Characters and Guns

A few years ago, there was a best-selling novel starring a junior PI (she’d just started work in her relative’s PI agency) and she carried a Glock in her glove compartment. The premise of the story was that her relative couldn’t trust her to take on any serious investigative jobs, so she’d been relegated to background checks and hunting down an occasional cheating spouse — and for those jobs, she carried a Glock? For us, that seriously stretched the story’s believability.

Making It Realistic

But many fictional PIs do carry firearms, and if the author makes it credible, it makes for a great read. There was a book out a few years back that starred a PI who had lost her license, and on top of that, she had a felony rap in her background. She carried a gun, but she knew she’d be in deep you-know if that became common knowledge, so she took great care to hide the fact (of course, she got caught and tossed into jail when it was found). The story was plausible because it reflected reality.

Another female fictional PI who carried a gun: Robert Parker’s female PI Sunny Randall. A former cop with grit and smarts, it’s plausible and nail-biting when Sunny pulls out a rifle and blasts the bad-guy as he trespasses her front door, leaving a bloody crime scene in her own living room.

Just keep in mind that under the conditions any real-life PI would legally carry a firearm, so would a fictional PI.

In The Rockford Files, Jim Rockford (R, played by James Garner) kept his gun in a cookie jar (image is in public domain)

Keep in mind, too, that in the real world armed PIs rarely (if ever) get into the kind of gunplay seen in fiction. Many PIs will tell you that if gunplay or a fight breaks out, it indicates an investigator isn’t doing her job well.  When a surprised client asked PI Jim Rockford why he wasn’t carrying a gun, he said, “Because I don’t want to shoot anybody.” After all, the primary guiding forces for any investigator are stealth and discretion.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned or licensed by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any photos noted as being in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

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Realistically Portrayed Private Eye Characters in Books and Film

Posted by Writing PIs on August 17, 2015

(image licensed by Colleen Collins)

(image licensed by Colleen Collins)

We love a lot of PI genre fiction, both in books and other media, although too often books, TV shows and films add flash and drama to make the PI protagonist seem bigger and badder than how he/she might really be in the real world. For example, searching public records is a cornerstone of a private investigator’s skill set, but it’s pretty tedious work, hardly worthy of a TV show.

Real-Life PIs Don’t Do Flash

Steve McQueen, international drivers license photo (image is in public domain)

Steve McQueen (image is in public domain)

Here’s an example of flash and drama that’s unrealistic: Rolling surveillances in a movie that resemble Steve McQueen’s legendary San Francisco car chase in Bullitt (if you don’t know this film, do yourself a favor and rent it — this 1968 film holds up well in the 21st century, worth watching for McQueen’s car chase scene alone).

However, real-life PIs don’t drive with tires burning and brakes squealing the way McQueen does. Or they shouldn’t — that’s for police units handling emergencies. Conducting a rolling surveillance is typically fairly tame and doesn’t last long. Not to say rolling surveillances aren’t nerve-wracking, because it can be intense following someone without losing them or their catching on that you’re following.

A Few PI Picks

But saying all that, below are several (not trying to be all-inclusive here) realistically portrayed fictional PIs. We’ve written other articles that mention even more right-on PIs in stories, but if we were to lump all of them into an article, it would turn into a novella.

Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes, 1974 (promo photo is in public domain)

Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes, 1974 (promo photo is in public domain)

Jake Gittes. We probably find Jake realistic because we know a current-day PI who makes Jake look second-string: This PI is handsome, an impeccable dresser, can outdo a marriage counselor when it comes to listening to wives & husbands in turmoil, runs an office with several minion PIs who gladly do his bidding, and has personally solved his share of government corruption cases. Previously we said too often fiction creates PIs who are bigger and badder than the real deal, but our real-life guy is just the other way around. Nobody is as big and bad and well-dressed as he is, although Jake comes close.

Jesse Stone.  This isn’t a PI, but both of us love the Jesse Stone character in the made-for-TV movies (starring Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone). He’s a police chief in a small town, and his crafty, persistent, insightful approach to investigations feels very “PI right-on” to us.

James Garner as PI Rockford (R) in photo still from THE ROCKFORD FILES (image is in public domain)

James Garner as PI Jim Rockford (R)  (image is in public domain)

Jim Rockford.  We’re both diehard Rockford fans, even though no PI in their right mind would do lengthy surveillances in a shiny gold muscle car (talk about sticking out!). Nor do PIs get embroiled in the quantity of violence and lengthy car chases Rockford does. But if you peel away the gold car, fights and squealing brakes, he’s a hard-working, blue-collar character who reminds us of many PIs. Btw, it’s no coincidence that both McQueen and Garner do brake-squealing scenes — both were avid race car drivers, which is probably why they were also good friends in real life.

Ray Dudgeon.  We’re big fans of author Sean Chercover’s PI Ray Dudgeon. Happy for Chercover that he’s moved on to writing mainstream thrillers, but we’re sorry to see his PI Ray Dudgeon fade away. We found Dudgeon to be a three-dimensional, compelling and realistic PI. Not such a surprise as Chercover is a former PI.

Milt Davis.  One of our favorite PI short stories (“Death Flight” by Ed McBain, 1954) stars a tough PI (Milt Davis) who’s filled with doubt about handling a particular case because he thinks he’s unqualified. And, in truth, he is (which also happens in real-life private investigative work). Milt Davis’s grit, native intelligence, determination, and self-doubt to see a job through make him a realistic PI.

Note:  Interestingly enough, Ed McBain didn’t create many private eye characters, claiming that he found it “difficult to justify a private citizen investigating murders.” He may have found it difficult to justify, but that didn’t stop him from developing a compelling, real-to-life PI character.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned or licensed by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any photos noted as being in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

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Answering Writer’s Question: Finding Someone’s New, Bogus Online ID

Posted by Writing PIs on July 30, 2015

A writer asked, “I’m trying to figure out how a PI would discover the identity of someone who has intentionally (but not through legal channels) ditched a previous identity and assumed a new one. This person claims to be an immigrant from IT but is American.”

It appears this writer would like a PI character to detect the new identity based on the old one. We have a few ideas. But first, a few caveats:

We’re limiting this search to a possible new online ID.  After all, assuming a new ID in a broader context — new home address, new driver’s license, and so on — is a large topic, one entire books have been written about. We’re not recommending any of the following books, just noting they exist: How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trials, and Vanish Without a Trace by Frank Ahern; How to Be Invisible: Protect Your Home, Your Children, Your Assets, and Your Life by J.J. Luna.

As to the individual claiming he’s an immigrant from IT: We’ll assume for this post that IT = Italy. While a PI is conducting his/her search on the new ID, they would keep an eye out for any Italian references, names and so forth in the results. Of course, based on the writer’s scenario, the guy isn’t really from Italy, but if he’s pretending he is, such a reference might pop up.

We’re providing these ideas for the sake of a story. However, in real life we’d recommend a person retain the services of a professional PI who specializes in locating people (AKA skip tracers). To find a skip tracer, contact your local state professional private investigator association: Private Investigator Associations by State (PINow). For example, a PI can run a person’s SSN in a proprietary database and learn a lot about the individual no matter what online IDs this person is juggling.

Now let’s look at three free online ways a fictional PI (or even a non-PI) might try to discover the identity of someone’s new online ID based on their old (ditched) one. For our example, we’ll call the old ID “Joe Smithy.”

1. What phone number did Joe Smithy use?

We once had a case where a man had been operating as multiple IDs on different dating sites, often ditching one ID and creating another to fit his needs. Except he kept the same phone numbers! Which we discovered when we ran a single reverse on a number he had provided our client (before he “disappeared” online) — and we discovered he was still using that old number.

modern cell phone

Yes, from a single reverse phone number search on Google, we got a listing of his interactions & IDs on different dating sites. Our poor client was devastated — she had never heard of a reverse phone number search before…but after learning how easy it is to run one, she saw for herself how busy this guy had been elsewhere. For more info on reverse number searches: How to Reverse Search Phone Numbers.

2. Did Joe Smithy have a photo?You can run a reverse photo search on Google

Google has a comprehensive reverse photo search option where anyone can plug in the photo and run a search on it…it’s possible Joe Smithy’s photo is appearing under his new ID. To learn more about running a reverse image search on Google: Fast and Easy Google Search Tips (scroll to Trick #2: Use images to search for photographs, illustrations and other graphics). Another free reverse photo search engine is TinEye.

3. Know Smithy’s hobbies, nicknames, etc.?

Run them in a social media search engine and see what pops up. For example if Joe Smithy was an avid online poker player, run “Joe Smithy poker” and see if a new ID is popping up on sites where Joe’s used to. We wrote about these search engines here: Free Social Media Search Engines.

Related Articles

“When Your Lover Is a Liar” by Philip A. Becnel (Pursuit Magazine). Excellent article by a private investigator on relationship fraud and bogus IDs.

Made in China: Fake IDs (New York Times). According to this 2015 article, the number of U.S. counterfeit IDs from China is on the rise.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

(As the Writing PIs are currently working other cases, as well as completing writing projects, we are unable to accept any new questions at this time. Thank you for your understanding.)


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. 

Posted in Be Your Own Investigator, Creating False IDs, Handy Resources for Private Investigators, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations, Reverse Number Searches | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on Answering Writer’s Question: Finding Someone’s New, Bogus Online ID

International Private Investigators’ Day: History of the PI from Vidocq to Pinkerton

Posted by Writing PIs on July 24, 2015

Eugene Francois Vidocq, recognized as the first P.I.

Eugene Francois Vidocq, born July 24, 1775, recognized as the first private eye

National and International Private Investigators Day is July 24, the birthdate of Eugene Francois Vidocq, recognized as the first PI. There are an estimated 80,000 professional private investigators worldwide.

Vidocq Introduced Criminal Investigation Techniques

In 1833 Eugene Francois Vidocq, a French ex-criminal, founded one of the first private detective agencies, Le bureau des renseignments (Office of Intelligence) where he oversaw the work of other detectives, many ex-criminals such as himself.  He is credited with having introduced record-keeping, criminology, and ballistics to criminal investigation.  He also created indelible ink and unalterable bond paper with his printing company. Apparently, he had an altruistic bent as he claimed he never informed on anyone who had stolen for real need.

With Vidocq, the private investigator was born.  As the industry evolved, clients often hired PIs to act in law enforcement capacities, especially in matters for which they were not equipped or willing to do.  This led to PI agencies sometimes performing like private militia and assisting companies in labor disputes.

Pinkerton National Detective Agency

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on August 25, 1819, and emigrated to the United States in 1842, where he founded a barrel-making shop in Dundee, forty miles outside Chicago. As an abolitionist, he set up his shop to also be a station for slaves escaping via the “underground railroad” for freedom in the northern states. After his work helping bust up a counterfeit ring, the Cook County sheriff offered Pinkerton a job as an investigator in Chicago. Within a few years, he accumulated more arrests for burglaries and murders than any of the other police officers within the department. He also gained a reputation for being fearless, having an iron-clad integrity and the ability to quickly read people.

Pinkertons’ Ops’ Ethics

In 1850, Allan Pinkerton established the Pinkerton National Detective Agency at 151 Fifth Avenue in the heart of Chicago.  In an era with many law enforcement personnel openly associating with criminals sharing their illegal profits, Pinkerton stood out by promising that his agents would not only produce results, but always act with the highest ethics.   He promised to:

  • Accept no bribes
  • Never compromise with criminals;
  • Partner with local law enforcement agencies, when necessary
  • Refuse divorce cases or cases that initiated scandals of clients
  • Turn down reward money (his agents were paid well)
  • Never raise fees without the client’s pre-knowledge, and
  • Apprise clients on an ongoing basis.

It’s remarkable how many of the above ethical standards are mirrored in many PIs’ standards today (such as regularly apprising clients, partnering with law enforcement, and raising fees only with clients’ knowledge).  It’s also amusing to read how Pinkerton’s men refused divorce cases considering today many PIs specialize in marital investigations.

A Master at Marketing

Besides being an outstanding investigator, Pinkerton was also a master promoter of his agency. He made sure news of his investigators’ successes at catching murderers and thieves became newspaper stories. He also crafted a logo, an eye surrounded with the words “We Never Sleep,” the motto of his agency, and posted it in magazines, circulars, newspapers, billboards, and even wanted posters.

In 1856, Pinkerton hired Kate Warne as his first female investigator, which was highly unusual at the time. According to the Pinkerton website, police departments did not hire women to join their ranks until 1891, nor did they get promoted to be investigators until 1903.

Kate Warne: First Female U.S. Private Eye

There is little biographical information known about Kate Warne, although some sources claim she was born in 1833 in New York, and was a widow with no children. Allan Pinkerton described her as a slender, brown-haired woman who, in 1856, responded to an ad for detectives at the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Pinkerton presumed she was there to inquire about a clerical job. Later, he said that she demanded to be a private detective, and that he eventually hired her for that role on August 23, 1856. By 1860, Pinkerton had hired several more women to be detectives, calling them his “Female Detective Bureau” which was supervised by Warne.

Dead Ends While Researching Warne

Possible sketch of Kate Warne

Possible sketch of Kate Warne

Lynn H. Levy, owner and president of L.H. Levy Investigations, Inc., in Baltimore is currently writing a book about ten female investigators, including Kate Warne. In her research, Levy dug through 72 boxes in the Pinkerton archives at the Library of Congress, but due to a fire at the Pinkerton offices years before (likely the result of the Chicago fire in 1871), there was very little information about the agency in the 1850s.

In her further research on Kate Warne, Levy said, “I read every book published about Pinkerton, and there was enough information to get a full chapter about Kate. I found a few drawings of her and some photos that they believed were of her, but we don’t really know. She was born in New York and I’ve been trying to find out anything I can from sources there. They’re not even sure that was her last name. Up until she walked into Pinkerton’s office, there’s very little written about her.”

 Warne’s Most Famous Case

In 1861, Kate Warne helped foil an assassination attempt on President-elect Abraham Lincoln on his travels to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s website article “Saving Mr. Lincoln,” Warne accompanied Pinkerton and four other operatives from his agency to Baltimore where Pinkerton had heard a plot to assassinate Lincoln would take place. According to other sources, she both helped to coordinate the operatives as well as to devise a strategy for getting Lincoln safely from Baltimore to Washington, D.C.

Warne and Pinkerton’s Relationship

Pinkerton’s brother Robert wasn’t happy with Kate Warne’s agency expenses as he believed they included funds his brother diverted for gifts and travels with Kate as his mistress. Pinkerton never confirmed such a relationship. Nor is there any documentation written by Kate, not even a letter, to offer any of her insights about her life.

In 1868, Kate fell ill, and Pinkerton stayed by her side, nursing her, until she died. Some say she suffered from pneumonia and that her death was sudden, other sources say it was a lengthy, painful illness that is unknown.

Pinkerton had her buried in his family plot at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, with a spot reserved next to her for him when he died. In his will decades later, he dictated that Kate’s plot was never to be sold. They remain buried next to each other to this day.

Private Investigators in the 20th Century

By the 1920s, due to the expanding middle class in America, the private investigator became better known to the average citizen. Since then, the PI industry has continued to grow as it fills the needs of the public (who retain PIs to work on cases like infidelity, fraud, and criminal defense investigations). Licensing requirements, with criteria a PI must meet, have also been regulated in most states in the U.S.

Additionally, professional organizations (regional, national, and international) combined with good business practices have cast the PI career in a more respected light versus its outdated, fictional reputation as the wrinkled trench coat, fallen-from-grace Sam Spade figure found in books and film.


 

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 History of the PI, Private Eyes in the News, Real-Life Private Investigator Stories | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on International Private Investigators’ Day: History of the PI from Vidocq to Pinkerton

 
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