Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A blog for PIs and writers/readers of the PI genre

  • Writing a Sleuth?

    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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Posts Tagged ‘bestselling nonfiction books for writers’

Answering Writers’ Questions about Human Trafficking and Exotic Animal Trafficking

Posted by Writing PIs on February 24, 2012

Writer’s Question: Could you please talk about the problem of human trafficking coming up in investigations? For example, does an investigation lead a PI there, maybe? Could you also direct me to resources addressing the issue from the point of view of an investigator?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Answer: This isn’t an area we investigate, but we have a few resources for you (listed below). As to an investigation leading a PI to a human trafficking situation, Colleen has known PIs (from a group of women investigators that she belongs to) who successfully helped a young girl escape from a trafficking situation (the women PIs, from different states, coordinated a safe pick-up and travel arrangements for the girl). To the best of her recall of the situation, Colleen believes the girl had found her way to a phone, called a relative, who then called a local PI (that PI then coordinated the group-PI/multi-state effort).

Miscellaneous Resources on Trafficking

Dottie Lassiter trains organizations on the financial risks of human trafficking

Human Trafficking organization

FBI’s page on human trafficking (which has numerous resources & articles)

Ty Ritter, PI in California, who specializes in kidnap recovery in other countries (we’re heard praises about his work from other PIs)

PI’s DeClassified is an Internet radio show run by a well-respected PI, Francine Koehler. One of her past shows was on human trafficking. One of its past guests was Dottie Lassiter (see above) who talked about human trafficking.

Writer’s Question: What about illegal exotic animal trafficking? Can you provide me some background information on that?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Answer: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, part of Homeland Security, oversees the enforcement of exotic animal importation restrictions.

Also, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which supervises enforcement of human trafficking laws, has a public affairs officer listed on their site, so that might be an excellent resource to ask further questions about human, as well as exotic animal, trafficking (Jenny Burke 202-344-1313).

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Excerpt from How to Write a Dick: Financial Investigations

Posted by Writing PIs on July 29, 2011

How to Write a Dick: A Guide to Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths

Financial Investigations

Financial investigators might be certified as financial investigators and fraud examiners and have clients who are commercial litigators and enforcement attorneys.  Many financial investigators also do background checks (which include verification of employment, residences, schools, credit, criminal history, and so forth) for such people as employers and landlords.  Financial investigators also perform asset checks (an examination of a business’s or individual’s assets) as well as conduct other information verification for domestic relations attorneys and others interested in performing “due diligence” assays. (Due diligence verification is done to confirm data relied on in securities offerings and in business acquisitions–translate this to big money, and the person doing the work better be right or be ready to be sued.)

A financial investigator’s services might include:

  • Finding and recovering money owed
  • Enforcing judgment and restitution in criminal and civil lawsuits
  • Recovering financial loss through fraud, embezzlement, non-performing loans/leases
  • Performing due diligence in pre-litigation, mergers and acquisitions, investments
  • Investigating bankruptcy fraud.

A financial investigator might have one or more of following background/credentials:

  • Certified Financial Investigator
  • Certified Fraud Examiner
  • Certified Protection Professional
  • Certified Public Accountant
  • Expertise in forensic accounting
  • Expertise in computer forensics
  • Expertise in health care billing and bill coding
  • Expertise in questionable documents
  • Expertise in banking
  • Expertise in the law of real and personal property, taxation, securities and trusts.

One financial investigator claims that only 20 percent of civil cases actually collect, and the other 80 percent go uncollected.  Of those who win restitution, only 3 percent collect.  Almost sounds like a financial investigator’s job is like shooting fish in a barrel, doesn’t it?  The field can be lucrative, but the work can be time-consuming and tedious.

Sample investigation methodology a financial investigator might use:

  • Computer research
  • Public records research
  • Confidential sources
  • Analysis of financial statements
  • Subpoenas
  • Interviews, witness statements
  • Affidavits, depositions, and careful review of legal pleadings and lawyer’s files.

Where might a financial investigator look to find where people have hidden money?

  • Corporations
  • Limited Partnership
  • Limited Liability Company
  • Trusts
  • Off shore accounts
  • Relatives
  • Combinations of the above (recently we discovered a man had created a corporation for his wife and had given her substantial property, which she then deeded to the corporation. She headed the corporation, which then sold the property, and she liquidated the assets, and returned them to her name)

What indicators of fraud might alert the financial investigator?

  • Lack of reasonable consideration for the conveyance
  • Transfer of the debtor’s entire estate
  • Relationship between transferor and transferee
  • Pendency or threat of litigation
  • Secrecy or hurried transaction
  • Insolvency or indebtedness of transferor
  • Departure from the usual method of business
  • Retention by the debtor of possession
  • Reservation of benefit to the transferor

Writer’s Slant:  If Your PI Is a Financial Investigator, Think About:

  • Her background and education.  Most financial investigators have training, if not a degree or certification, in some facet of the financial field.
  • His tenacity
  • Her research abilities and skills
  • How well she knows and uses accounting, psychology, and related disciplines as a whole to uncover assets
  • His knowledge of real-world business matters
  • Her stake in the outcome, as many financial investigators work on a contingency, so they are often as motivated as the defrauding party.
  • How she uses her own past to give her an understanding of the present situation
  • Their understanding of when and how due diligence is performed or required.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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Excerpt from How to Write a Dick: Historical Investigations – Traveling Back in Time

Posted by Writing PIs on May 27, 2011

Private investigators sometimes specialize in historical research, typically for cases involving genealogy research or environmental investigations.  An investigator’s research might include meticulous reviews of such documents as census records, archives of newspapers, old city directories, special collections housed at libraries, obituaries, birth and death certificates and probate records. Fortunately, many of these records are becoming available online.

Genealogical Research

The following websites offer comprehensive research into family histories. offers links to census records, immigration records, photos, maps, old school yearbooks and more. claims it has the largest repository of military records, including draft registrations, pension records and service records. It offers a free 14-day trial membership. provides offers links to newspaper and obiturary archives, death notices, funeral arrangements and more.  Some libraries also contain hard copies of obituaries. is a service provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and offers a network of nearly five thousand facilities all over the world that offer public access to genealogical records. collaborates with hundreds of newspapers in North America, Europe and Austrailia and features obituaries and guestbooks for more than two-thirds of the people who die in the U.S. is a volunteer-driven site that lists free genealogical websites throughout counties and states in the U.S.

Some genealogists also work as private investigators. If your story involves extensive historical research, we suggest you contact The Association of Professional Genealogists. Look up a genealogist in your region who specializes in the era you’re writing about, and request an interview to help you flesh out your story.


Besides offering resources for historical research, libraries sometimes house special collections. For example, the Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy, has a vast section on genealogy, including the ability to search its obituary and funeral notice indices. Don’t forget specialized libraries such as historical museums, university medical libraries, law school libraries and business school libraries, which also offer special collections. As private investigators we’ve learned that sometimes our best investigative tool is the reference librarian.


Available on Kindle and Nook

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

Posted by Writing PIs on September 26, 2009


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

Updated August 20, 2012

We get asked variations of this question a lot.

Let’s start with a definition of GPS (Global Positioning System), which is an assemblage of satellites that orbit the Earth that

Artist Interpretation of GPS satellite, image ...

Artist Interpretation of GPS satellite, image courtesy of NASA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

people with ground receivers use to pinpoint geographic locations.  For most equipment, the location accuracy ranges from 10 to 100 meters; with special military-approved equipment, accuracy can be pinpointed to within 1 meter.  GPS equipment has become sufficiently low-cost so that almost anyone can own a GPS receiver (some of you may have GPS trackers in your own vehicles).

We use GPS tracking devices in our work, but we’re extremely careful that their use is legal before we attach one anywhere.  For vehicles, it’s illegal for a PI to attach a GPS device in/on a vehicle that his client doesn’t own.   No way around it unless the PI wants to court a felony.  We’ve had potential clients ask us to attach a GPS device on their boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s/spouse’s car, and we always ask: “Is your name on that car’s registration?  No?  Sorry, it’s illegal).  We never assume that a husband’s or wife’s name is on the registration for their spouse’s vehicle, btw.  We’ve had husbands and wives claim their names are definitely on their spouse’s vehicles, but we always double-check (surprising how many times both spouses’ names aren’t on a vehicle’s registration).

Available on Kindle and Nook: 

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

“Forget Google and Bing. When you need to research PI work, go to the experts, Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman: they live it, they teach it, they write it. 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.  This will be the industry standard for years to come.”
– Reed Farrel Coleman, three-time Shamus Award winner for Best PI Novel of the Year and author of Hurt Machine

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Be Your Own Investigator: Some Free Lookups and Services

Posted by Writing PIs on August 3, 2009


Updated April 15, 2012

Here’s a few free, public means to look up info, from finding a phone number to looking up inmates:

1. Google offers a wealth of free lookups. Enter the following search terms in Google’s browser, hit return and Google displays the results (commands in bold type):

  • weather city (for example weather denver) gives you weather for any city.
  • time city (for example time denver) gives you time for any city.
  • zipcode (for example 80202) returns the town and a small map.
  • phone number (for example 303-444-0000) returns online listings and other public information about the number (Note: If no information displays, the number might be a pre-paid cell phone number)

2. Want to check someone’s professional licensing?  This website contains links to different states’ licensing divisions, including search lookups for contacting the agency and/or look up someone’s name and registration. To open website, click here.

3. Can’t seem to find any information about a person?  If it seems as though someone might have fallen off the planet, maybe it’s time to check the Federal prison system.  Check the Bureau of Prisons’ inmate locator by clicking here.

4. Want to see what’s located at an address?  Here’s a few options:

    • Google maps.  For a video instruction on how to use this service, click here.
    • Bing maps (click “Bird’s Eye” to get the satellite image): click here.
    • offers a side-by-side Google street view and map, with links to make into a QR code, website link and more: click here.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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