Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Staying Legal in a Shady Business: When PIs Are Asked to Break the Law

Posted by Writing PIs on April 9, 2013

fedora black and whiteCan You Break the Law for Me?

Can’t tell you how many times a potential client will call and ask us to do something blatantly illegal.  We’ve had requests asking us to “put some muscle” on someone who’d confiscated a car (a Ferrari, mind you) to putting a GPS on a vehicle the person doesn’t own to downloading listening software on a person’s cell phone.  We’ve politely explained that unlike Tony Soprano, we don’t do muscle and we’re not into committing felonies.  In the latter two examples (illegally latching GPS trackers on cars and wiretapping phones) we tell the caller that if he/she decides to do that on their own, they’ll be up on felony charges if they’re caught.

Wiretapping & Cell Phone Spyware

More people have smart phones these days, but “back in the day” (not so many years ago), most of us were using cell phones.  Remember them?  I now think of them as stand-alone cell phones.

It was interesting how many ads were out there (magazines, Internet) for cellphone spyware that a buyer could download on someone’s cell phone and listen to (and track) all their conversations.  No mention that the product was inviting people to commit wiretapping, a federal offense and a state crime (both felonies).  Some spyware also allowed the listener to hear conversations that occurred in the vicinity of the phone, even when it was turned off.

We had callers say, “But they claim their product is legal in the ads!”  No, they didn’t claim their product was legal, but they sure

gavel and scalesmade it sound that way.

Committing Burglary and Theft

Probably our most uncomfortable request came from a lawyer, whose name we won’t mention.  He asked us to enter a home to take something from it under a false pretense.  We reminded the lawyer that the law calls those actions burglary and theft. His response?  “Well, use your own judgement.”

We did.  We turned down the case.

Using Shady Business in Fiction

But let’s turn this around to writing fiction–imagine how it bumps up the stakes and tension if a fictional sleuth, knowing he/she is committing a felony, does it anyway.  They illegally track with a GPS, knowing the consequences if they get caught, but they’re doing it for a compelling reason (to save a child, for example).  Adds complexity and tension to the story, doesn’t it?  Or they go into the gray zone and purchase that illegal cell phone software as a last means to track a killer.  As a writer, knowing what’s legal or not for your protagonist sleuth helps you crank up the stakes.  Plus it adds plausibility.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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How Law Enforcement Is Using Social Media to Solve Crimes

Posted by Writing PIs on October 24, 2012

Social media is about more than connecting with pals and learning tid-bits about other organizations and people–it’s also a tool for private investigators and law enforcement to investigate and solve crimes.  Today we’ll look at some recent stats on law enforcement and how they’re using social media.

New York PD Lays Out Rules for Cops Using Social Media

Recently, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued a five-page memo outlining guidelines for the NYPD’s rules for using social media in their investigations.  For example, offices involved in cases that involve social media may register their social media aliases with the department, than use a department-issued laptop (whose IP cannot be traced) for their social media interactions.

Below are several articles about Raymond Kelly’s social media measures:

Ray Kelly and NYPD: How the NYPD Has Opened the Floodgates for Social Media Spying

NYPD says cops can use social media aliases to investigate

NYPD to boost gang unit over social media violence

Whatever You Say or Show on Social Media Is Public

Some people seem to think that just because they’re on a private account where they monitor who has access means they can post whatever they want.  Think again.  What if one of those people who’s been granted access goes to the police, or the police go to him/her, and that person provides their login/password to the police to review someone else’s posts/pictures/etc.? That’s exactly what happened Melvin Colon, a suspected New York gang member who who not only posted Facebook photos of himself flashing gang signs, but he also made references to past violent crimes.  One of his pals gave police access to Colon’s “private” information, and this past August a federal judge ruled Colon lost all claims to privacy when he shared these photos and stories with his friends.

80 Percent of Law Enforcement Personnel Use Social Media in Their Investigations

Based on data from and, Background Check created this inforgraphic that shows such information as which social media networks law enforcement accesses most often, for what reasons law enforcement uses social media (#1: identifying people and locations), the percentage of government agencies using social media in their investigations (the top user: 81% of federal agencies), and more.

To read the infographic, courtesy of, click here

Private Investigators Use Social Media, Too

Here at Gums, Gams, and Gumshoes, we’ve posted several articles about the use of social media, including some social media resources:

Tracking People: Google, Social Media and Surveillance

Free Online Resources for Backgrounds, Phone Numbers, Professional Licensure and and Real-Time Social Media

Hot Research Sites, Tips from a Lawyer and Support for a Fellow PI

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Related articles

NYPD is monitoring Facebook to fight gang bloodshed (

Criminal Investigation Stats – Increasing Amounts of Officers are Solving Crimes with Social Media ( (

Law Enforcement Takes Social Media Seriously (

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