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 ‘NYT bestselling nonfiction books’

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

Posted by Writing PIs on May 29, 2012

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

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

Rural Surveillances: Don’t Look Like a City Slicker

How to Not Blend in on Surveillance

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

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

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Excerpt from How to Write a Dick: Loss Prevention/Industrial Security

Posted by Writing PIs on January 29, 2012

Excerpt from How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, available on Kindle and Nook

Basically, loss prevention refers to people hired to prevent theft and fraud in a retail establishment. An investigator who specializes in loss prevention might handle the following types of cases:

  • Credit frauds
  • Employee thefts (for example theft of money or merchandise)
  • Theft by store customers (for example, shoplifting, credit card scams, auto thefts)
  • Staged accidents.

A Deeper Look Into Employee Theft

The majority of bankruptcies in the United States are filed by organizations and are attributable to employee theft.  One study shows that the company loss per customer shoplifting incident is $207.18 whereas the loss per employee theft incident is $1,341.02!  Employee theft causes bonuses, promotions and raises to decrease as profits shrink and the company losses increase. This means there’s a big incentive for an organization to hire an in-house investigator or an outside investigator who specializes in investigation of embezzlement, staged robberies, “shrinkage” and computer frauds.  A ripe specialization for your fictional PI!

What signs of employee theft (specifically, cash money) might your fictional PI encounter?

  • No sales at register
  • Fictitious refunds and voided sales
  • Income from medical appointments paid with cash
  • Failure to record sales
  • Abundance of collections and donations
  • Passing to friends
  • Sales prior to opening the business
  • Refunds/Voids after the business closes
  • Questionable coupon redemption
  • Robbery with scanty identification information.

Signs of employee non-cash money theft:

  • Questionable credit card refunds
  • Phantom payroll
  • Fictitious vendor accounts
  • Bogus travel expenses
  • Kickback schemes
  • Credit card fraud with friends.

Signs of employee merchandise theft:

  • Direct theft
  • Fictitious mail order
  • Fraudulent receipts (free merchandise)
  • Fraudulent computer entries.

As of the writing of this book, the online Loss Prevention magazine is free and offers access to past issues as well.  Great resource for researching topics such as asset protection technology, shoplifting cases, retail investigations and more.

Writer’s Slant: If Your PI Specializes in Loss Prevention, Think About

  • His background — is he a former thief, or more likely, a former police officer?
  • How did she get her skills in developing and documenting a case against a target?  (Many times a PI must present a completed case file ready for prosecution to a Deputy D.A. or to a company official who can then legally fire an employee.)
  • What ambivalences might your PI have about going after someone without benefit of the tools that law enforcement agents have, such as search warrants and intelligence data?
  • On the other hand, your fictional PI also has an easier job than a police officer in this investigative field because employees in the workplace might waive many constitutional rights to privacy, the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney’s presence when questioning takes place (steps the average police officer must respect).
  • The relationship between this job and the kind of work done by other, similar investigators who assemble cases for submission to insurance companies so that a claim for loss is paid. After all, loss prevention investigators are frequently making a case for money from an insurance company, which is not all that different from how personal injury investigators work.

Praise for How to Write a Dick:

“If you want authenticity in creating a fictional private investigator for your stories, then this is a must-have reference book. Its authors, Colleen and Shaun, are living breathing PIs with years of actual experience in the PI game.” ~ R.T. Lawton, 25 years on the street as a federal special agent and author of 4 series in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

“What every wanna-be sleuth needs: a revolver, a bottle of scotch, a trusty sidekick, and this book.” ~ Mario Acevedo, author of Werewolf Smackdown

“How to Write a Dick is a gift to crime fiction authors everywhere, a comprehensive and no-nonsense compendium of information, analysis and thought-provoking writing prompts that will help you create your own 21st century shamus with confidence and class. An absolute must for the library of any PI writer!” ~ Kelli Stanley, critically acclaimed author of City of Dragons and the Miranda Corbie series

Posted in How to Write a Dick excerpts | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Excerpt from How to Write a Dick: Loss Prevention/Industrial Security


Posted by Writing PIs on October 15, 2011

Never Sleep with Anyone Whose Troubles Are Worse than Your Own

-Lew Archer in Black Money by Ross Macdonald (attributed to Nelson Algrin)

Originally published in NINK, newsletter for Novelists, Inc. April 2011

A common misconception is that a PI’s work mostly involves surveilling cheating spouses. Actually, there are dozens of investigative specialties that PIs practice, from accident reconstruction to insurance investigations to pet detection. Infidelity investigations, aka chasing cheaters, is one of those specialized fields.

Infidelity Investigations: An Investigative Specialty

Chuck Chambers, PI and author of The Private Investigator’s Handbook, specializes in infidelity investigations. He offers this interesting statistic: 98 percent of his female clients who suspect their husbands of cheating are correct, and 50 percent of his male clients who suspect their wives are correct.

At our agency, we specialize in legal investigations (trial preparation/investigations), but occasionally we get the “I think my husband/wife is cheating” call. We’re hesitant to take these cases because they’re fraught with emotion, from tears to homicidal rage. Tears we don’t mind, but that latter passion makes the work potentially dangerous. Remember the woman in Texas who ran over her philandering husband three times in the motel parking lot? Know how she learned her husband’s location? The PI she’d hired to follow her husband called her, explained her husband had just entered a hotel with another woman, and gave her the motel name and address. That PI’s firm was later sued for gross negligence and will ultimately pay the children of the deceased philander millions of dollars.

Chasing Cheaters: Adding Danger (or Humor) to a Story

Infidelity investigations being fraught with danger might be undesirable in reality, but it’s great for fiction. Maybe your sleuth/PI takes a cheating-spouse case thinking it’ll be an easy way to make a few bucks, but before the sleuth has time to focus her camera, she becomes a witness to a murder. The Texas PI mentioned earlier actually filmed the murder as it took place and then provided testimony to convict the spurned client. What if the infidelity case was just a ruse, and actually the betrayed-wife pretext lures the PI into solving another crime (think Chinatown).

Chasing cheaters can also add humor to a story.  We know a PI who ended up marrying his client’s divorce attorney. And – true story – we once followed a suspected philandering husband who the wife said also “appeared to be involved in some kind of new business.”  We learned what that new business was…a brothel.

What steps might a PI follow in a cheating-spouse case?

Catching the Cheater

When we accept an infidelity case, we request:

  • Information about the suspected cheater’s habits, work schedule, days off, etc.
  • Photographs of the suspected cheater (and the suspected girlfriend/boyfriend, if available)
  • Addresses and phone numbers (suspected cheater’s home, businesses, etc. as well as addresses/phone for suspected girlfriend/boyfriend)
  • Any known routes suspected cheater takes on way to work, home, to exercise gym, etc.
  • Vehicle descriptions, license plate numbers for suspected cheater (and suspected girlfriend/boyfriend)

What About Attaching a GPS Device to the Suspected Cheater’s Vehicle?

Unless the spouse’s name is registered on the suspected spouse’s vehicle (and it’s surprising how many spouses think their names are, but they aren’t), this is a big no-no. We’re talking felony. Not counting the possibility of extraordinarily bad publicity.

But again, what’s bad in reality can be great for fiction. What if your PI knows he’s courting a felony, but attaches the GPS device anyway, gets caught, and ends up in jail. We know a PI who this happened to. He knew his client’s name wasn’t on the spouse’s vehicle registration, but attached the GPS anyway. A woman in an adjacent parking lot saw him crawl underneath the vehicle with an object, then reappear empty-handed. She called the police and said, “I think a guy just attached a bomb to a car.”

Next thing the PI knew, police, fire trucks, and bomb squads arrived, and he was in handcuffs. Nearby schools, homes, and businesses were evacuated. News stations picked up on the story, reported the bomb threat. It took him nearly two years and $8,000 in legal fees to salvage his investigations business.

Think about how to use infidelity investigations with your fictional PI As in the story above, it could be an expensive, comic subplot. Or maybe a seemingly distraught client hires a PI to watch his/her spouse, when the real reason for the investigation is something much darker.


How Do Private Eyes Do That? is a compilation of articles about private investigations written by Colleen Collins, a professional private investigator (and one of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes blog authors). Its topics are geared to readers interested in the world of PIs, including fiction writers, researchers, investigators and those simply curious about the profession.

“If you’re looking for the lowdown on private investigations, this is it. Packed with details and insights. A must-have for anybody writing private-eye fiction and for anybody who’s curious about what being a private-eye is really like.”
– Bill Crider, author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series and many other novels in multiple genres

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

How Do Private Eyes Do That? on Kindle: Click here

Posted in Be Your Own Investigator, Nonfiction book: HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT?, Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Excerpt from HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT?

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: Catching the Cheater

Posted by Writing PIs on July 12, 2011

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

Infidelity Investigations: Catching the Cheater

When we accept an infidelity case, we request:

  • Information about the suspected cheater’s habits, work schedule, days off and so forth.
  • Photographs of the suspected cheater (and the suspected girlfriend/boyfriend, if available)
  • Addresses and phone numbers (for the suspected cheater’s home, businesses, other places of note as well as the addresses/phone numbers for suspected girlfriend/boyfriend, if known)
  • Any known routes suspected cheater takes on way to work, home, to exercise gym and so forth
  • Vehicle descriptions, license plate numbers for suspected cheater (and suspected girlfriend/boyfriend)
  • Contact information for client, preferred times to call, private numbers person can be reached at, preferred means of contact (work email, cell phone).
  • Any other pertinent information.

As with any other case, we then devise an investigative strategy.  Sometimes the client will call and inform us if the suspected cheater has changed his/her work schedule, is taking off for a surprise appointment or other event.  We can’t always comply with last-minute schedule changes (which we’ve made clear to the client up front) but if time permits, we do.

Part of our contract is that we’ll provide reports on either a biweekly or monthly basis.  However, we’ll work with the client on a different report scheme as long as it’s appropriate, workable and legal.  For example, we’ve had clients who like to call periodically and discuss the case.  We don’t mind discussing the current progress on a case as long as the client remains professional and courteous.  Sometimes a client might request an email update the morning after an evening surveillance, and we’re happy to comply.

The most difficult thing we’re ever had to do was tell a client that we had garnered photographic evidence that her husband was being unfaithful.  It had been a lengthy investigation (several months) and the husband (who had a background in military investigations) had covered his tracks exceptionally well, so well we believed her suspicions were unfounded.  We had scheduled one last surveillance, which she asked us to continue doing, and after that we mutually agreed to terminate the investigations.

It was during that very last surveillance that we saw, and photographed, his infidelity.  The wife’s suspicions of his infidelity had been right on — he was involved with her best friend.  We finished the surveillance, did a wrap-up meeting where we discussed how to present the evidence to the client, then we made the call.  The client immediately wanted to know if her husband and her girlfriend were still at the location where they’d been photographed. We explained the husband and girlfriend had already left the scene, but we had photographic evidence that we would forward in a report.

We’ve since talked to this client and learned that after being confronted with the evidence, he admitted to the affair, and they are now in marriage counseling.  This was a happy ending.  More often, a client’s next call to us is requesting a recommendation for a good divorce lawyer.

PI Wise:  Except in only a few cases, a PI shouldn’t contact a client while the investigation is in process.  Especially in a cheating spouse case, a PI never tells a client, in real time, where her/his spouse is in flagrante delicto.  Remember the woman who ran over her philandering husband three times in the Texas parking lot?  That’s because the PI she’d hired to follow her husband called from the hotel where he was rendezvousing with his mistress and reported the infidelity in real time.  Wifey, enraged, drove over and…let’s just say if the PI hadn’t made that call, wifey might not now be spending years behind bars.

Posted in Excerpt from How to Write a Dick: Catching the Cheater, How to Write a Dick excerpts | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on Excerpt from How to Write a Dick: Catching the Cheater

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