What Can a Private Investigator Do?
Ever wonder what things a private investigator can do that are legal during the course of an investigation? Here is a list of five things that a private investigator can do, along with some common misconceptions and best practices. For each item in this list, we will discuss some of the things we are allowed to do legally, a common misconception about this allowance, and why this misconception is incorrect. For a list of what we are NOT legally allowed to do, check out the upcoming companion piece to this one, Five Things a Private Investigator CAN NOT Do Under Any Circumstance.
1. As long as we aren’t on private property, a private investigator can sit outside of your house or workplace and watch everything you do.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be vigilant about strange or suspicious vehicles parked on your street. If you see a vehicle that you feel doesn’t belong there, please call the police. The police will question the individual and make sure they have a legitimate reason for being there. And if not, they will force the person to leave.
MISCONCEPTION: I have to authorize any picture or video taken of me.
2. We can follow you wherever you go and record everything you do there (yes, even that).
This is kind of a corollary to #1 above, but I wanted to re-iterate it again. If we can “see” you from where we are on public property, you are fair game. Be VERY careful about what you do in public. We are very sneaky and have all kinds of high-tech sorcery that allow us to blend in and appear bland and nondescript. Forget the fedora, trenchcoat, and magnifying glass. We make our livings out of blending in and not drawing attention to ourselves. Again, if you notice we are there, we have failed.
MISCONCEPTION: If I am in my car, then what I do is private.
Negative. We can’t ENTER your vehicle (obviously), but your car has windows and we can see through those windows just like you can. If we can SEE it from public property, then we can RECORD it from public property. I’ll say it again for the people in the back: BE VERY CAREFUL WHAT YOU DO IN PUBLIC! If you don’t want to see yourself on video in a court of law one day or you are doing something you wouldn’t want your spouse to know about, think twice before doing it anywhere in public. Think twice before doing it at all, but you get my point.
3. We can go through your garbage.
This one surprises a lot of folks. Destroy/shred/whatever anything you don’t want to be recorded, gone through, and shown to a judge/jury, your insurance company, or your spouse. Don’t throw away your bank statements, telephone records, or the receipts you used to take your mistress out on the town. Destroy them. Even shredding has its limitations and a highly skilled and resourceful private investigator can piece them back together again.
There is one caveat, though: we can’t touch it, look at it, open it, etc. until you set it out to be collected by the city. Trespassing laws are pretty strict and until you set it out on the street to be collected, it’s still on your property and we can’t touch it. We can, however, watch your property and scoop it up as soon as you set it out for the garbage man.
MISCONCEPTION: Because my trash is mine, it’s private and it’s safe from prying eyes.
Wrong. Once you set it out to be collected, it becomes public property and we are well within the law to drive right up to your curb, throw it in our vehicle, and speed off without you even knowing it’s been done. We just saved the garbage man a stop and your trash is now a treasure trove of useful information. Fans of the television show Columbo should know this was a favorite tactic of the famous detective. He always went through the trash. It can be a gold mine.
This is mainly because people aren’t careful about what they throw away. The trash is actually one of the worst places you can dispose of sensitive documents or information. Think before you throw anything away. There are many people who realize the potential in your garbage. Not only can private investigators use it for evidence, but it can also be a treasure trove for identity thieves.
Also, don’t set your trash out “the night before.” Wait until the morning of pickup to set out your trash and do it as close to pick up time as you can. This will minimize the window of time that thieves and others (we) have to scoop it up. If it’s out there all night while the whole world is asleep, then you’re just asking for it to end up on a table somewhere and poked through.
4. We can lie…to you, your family, and your acquaintances (NOT our clients, though)
This is given the fancy-sounding name “pretexting.” Whatever you call it, it’s basically lying and this right here is one of the many reasons private investigators have kind of a “shady” reputation with the general public. A pretext is a gambit designed to do one thing, trick you (or those who know you) into giving us information. And in this game, information is everything. Private investigators are in the information-gathering business. It’s what we do.
We can call, text, DM, etc. your family, your job, your neighbors, etc. and social engineer them in a way that sets them off guard and pushes them to inadvertently help us get information on you. Social engineering is essentially tricking someone into giving out information they wouldn’t normally divulge. It takes many forms and can be used for all kinds of nefarious practices by people with less-than-legal (or moral/ethical) intentions, but private investigators use it legally all the time. And your social media accounts make this almost effortless. It’s one of the first places we look. Pay very close attention to what you post online and what you allow others to “tag” you in, especially pictures. We have closed many cases of infidelity without even leaving the office simply by scouring social media and downloading pictures of the subject all smoochy-smoochy with someone who is not the spouse or significant other.
There are a couple things we can NOT do within this arena. We can’t misrepresent ourselves as law enforcement or a representative of a real-life company. That’s a big no-no. We also can’t misrepresent ourselves as a real person to get private information on that person. A private investigator can’t call your bank and pretend to be you in order to get information about your account, for example. It’s also a legally grey area to use pretext when a subject is represented by counsel in pending litigation. This can potentially land the private investigator in trouble with the court and that investigator could find him or herself at the business end of a TRO and/or harassment suit.
But, we can certainly be your “long-lost classmate” who is looking for you so we can get your address for our upcoming class reunion, we can be an “old college buddy” from back in the day who is inviting people to the wedding of someone we know you have in common, or we can pretend to have something of value that you “dropped on the subway” and we would very much like to return it, if only we knew where you work so we could drop it off, etc. It sounds hokey and like something that would never work, but you’d be surprised at the information you can get if you ask for it the right way.
MISCONCEPTION: Any evidence gained via pretext or misdirection is inadmissible in court.
Wrong again. This is a common misconception spread by television and movies. Much like a police officer doesn’t have to tell you they are a police officer if you point-blank ask them (this is also a myth), a private investigator does not (and never would) disclose who they are during a pretext scenario. This would invalidate the entire reasoning behind the endeavor. We want the information, and as long as we don’t misrepresent ourselves as law enforcement or the representative of a real-life company (see above), then we can misdirect and set off-guard anyone we think can point us in the right direction.
5. We can use any public record available in order to deliver the most complete package of information to our clients.
Private investigators have access to all kinds of juicy information about you. You’d be awestruck at the sheer volume of information about you that is floating around in the world. Edward Snowden didn’t even scratch the surface of the surface. Everything you do online is cataloged and databased and essentially sold to the highest bidder under the context of “advertising.”
There are a few things we (or anyone else) aren’t privy to. For example, medical (HIPAA) and financial records are off-limits and protected by the federal government. Interestingly, so are educational credentials (FERPA). We can’t get your college transcripts, your bank records, or the results from your most recent doctor’s appointment. But pretty much everything else is available for the taking for someone who is crafty and knowledgeable enough to know where to find it. This skill oftentimes goes by the moniker OSINT (Open-Source INTelligence) and is a service we offer to our clients, both outbound (gathering outside information on another person) and inbound (shedding light on their own vulnerabilities).
MISCONCEPTION: My information is private and protected and companies have my best interests in mind when they collect it.
Ha! That’s funny. I hope you’re starting to notice a pattern here. There is no more privacy in the digital world. For someone who is motivated enough, any information about you can be gotten with enough determination and skill. You’ve read the horror stories about identity theft and corporate hacking centered on the release of the personal data of thousands (or even millions) of unsuspecting and trusting individuals. These are real. Your information is NOT safe. Just do the best you can, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. There are a few things you can do to protect yourself and minimize your risk, but that is far outside the scope of this article.
Just know that your data is out there and it’s never coming back. Be very careful who you allow to have access to your information and check your passwords and privacy settings often. It’s the wild west out there.
So, that was five things that private investigators are legally allowed to do. There are many more, of course, and we will discuss those in a future post. Many of the laws governing private investigators are state-specific and what is allowed in one state may be banned in another (recording phone conversations, for example). But this list is pretty inclusive. Most of the private investigators licensed and working in the US today are able to (at a minimum) do the things outlined in this list. And it’s all perfectly legal.
Check out our next post where we will discuss some of the many things private investigators CAN NOT do, under any circumstances.
Shaun is the owner of Red Door Investigations. He has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Arlington and is a licensed pilot and certified scuba instructor.
Can Relationships Overcome Infidelity?
Infidelity and cheating are viable threats to any intimate relationship. Predicaments of an affair are a possibility for anyone, especially during this era of technology and virtual anonymity. Betrayals of relationship integrity, whether through infidelity, cheating, or adultery are, unfortunately, more common than one would think. If the couple has children, the fallout can be even more devastating. The following statistics help to illustrate the possibility of adultery occurring in one’s relationship:
- 40% of unmarried couples and 25% of married couples experience at least one incident of infidelity or cheating at some point within the relationship.
- 70% of all Americans engage in an affair of one type or another at some point in their marital life.
- 45% of men and 35% of women have been either sexually or emotionally intimate with someone other than their committed partner.
- 45-50 % of married women and 50-60% of married men engage in extramarital affairs at some point in their relationships.
That Sounds Bad! Is My Relationship Doomed?
No, but it will take some work. It may seem hopeless to repair a relationship that has been damaged by one of the ultimate betrayals. Cheating is the one error in judgment that is considered to be a deal-breaker for most relationships. Trust is a necessity in all aspects of relationships. It stands to reason, therefore, that a violation of trust, such as infidelity and cheating, can cause great heartache and devastation within a marriage. Infidelity can undermine the bedrock and the very foundation of marriage itself. It can devastate, humiliate, and crumble a once-thriving and loving union.
However, with hard work and a resolved commitment to make the relationship succeed, many relationships can (and do) survive a bout of infidelity or cheating. Just because your partner shows signs of cheating does not mean they are being unfaithful. And, even if your partner is cheating, an instance of infidelity doesn’t mean that your marriage is doomed. Marriage and family therapist Gabrielle Applebury states “adultery is no longer a deal-breaker in many marriages,” and that “70 percent of couples actually stay together after an affair is discovered.”
It takes time, patience, and commitment to overcome this obstacle. Relationship advice author Kevin Darné said, “one of the most important things a betrayed person should do is take some time to determine if they really can forgive.” When both partners are committed to healing the damage and closing the gap caused by a significant breach of trust, many marriages do survive and, with concentrated effort and work, can actually become stronger and experience deeper levels of intimacy.
The Three Types of Intimacy
There are three specific tools to “affair-proof” your relationship: Self Intimacy, Conflict Intimacy, and Affection Intimacy. These three tools can be thought of as the mortar to the building blocks of any relationship. Every recipe for a long-term relationship has at least some of each of these three ingredients.
To start, self-intimacy is knowing what you feel, think, and want, and sharing these with your partner. It is being self-aware. When we are self-aware, we acknowledge what motivates us so that we can make healthier, more mature choices. We use our Emotional Self Awareness to strengthen Self Intimacy. Emotional intimacy is the foundation of any solid relationship. “Emotional intimacy can be defined as allowing yourself to connect more deeply with your partner through actions that express feelings, vulnerabilities, and trust”, says Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist in New York City and faculty member at Colombia University. It is being open and vulnerable and expressing that vulnerability to your partner. This brings couples closer together and enhances overall trust. And overall trust enhances intimacy.
Secondly, conflict intimacy is the ability to “do conflict well” in a relationship. This is a key tool that many couples lack. Differences and tension are inevitable in all relationships, especially those weathering infidelity, and being able to talk about these with one another is essential. Conflict intimacy is a marker of how well the couple can overcome tensions and difficulties within the relationship. The more effectively a couple can handle stress and tough times, the stronger and closer that couple is. Being able to “argue well” is a good indicator of how strong your relationship is. When couples can talk with respect and calm, they can begin the process of working through the negative, while simultaneously remaining in touch with the positive, loving aspects of their relationships.
And finally, affection intimacy is the “gravy” in the relationship; it is the sweet, sensual, and passionate/sexual aspects of the relationship. It feeds the love that grew early in the courtship. When a couple is good at Self Intimacy and Conflict Intimacy, their Affection Intimacy grows and flourishes. Their relationship is resilient and can handle differences. More importantly, they have a way of constructively dealing with the inevitable challenges that happen in all relationships. In this context, relationships with high levels of affection intimacy are able to discuss issues of personal integrity. Subsequently, they are better prepared to weather risks to relationship integrity. They are able to present fears and vulnerabilities in a way that does not harbor insecurities or view secrets as acceptable.
The Need for “Love” and the Influence of Commitment Phobia
We are all human. We cannot simply turn off our biological urges and ignore our instincts. However, we ARE able to control our behavior and not give in to our darkest desires. Unfortunately, many of us do succumb to this desire, especially during a vulnerable time in our life. It is very important that we maintain healthy communication within our relationships. We must do this with consistency, respect, understanding, and kindness.
Ultimately, human beings are social creatures; we all crave connection and unity with other people. In relationships that do not meet this need, it can be easy for one to stray. For some, it’s difficult to live up to the expectations of others. For others, commitment phobia and relationship anxiety are real and trying fears that can influence every relationship in their life. This is particularly true in romantic relations.
Some Common Causes of Commitment Phobia
Some common causes of commitment phobia can include:
- Worrying that the relationship will end without notice or signs.
- Fear of not being in the “right” relationship.
- Concern about being in an unhealthy relationship characterized by abandonment, infidelity, abuse, etc.
- Childhood trauma or abuse.
- Unmet childhood needs or attachment issues.
- Complicated family dynamics while growing up
For these reasons, some relationships are especially challenging to preserve, and cheating can result from some of these unresolved issues. Inevitably, not every relationship can withstand the transgression of an affair. Therefore, the unity and intimacy that once thrived in a healthy relationship can become extinguished and a single act of betrayal can develop into a casualty of the marriage.
What Happens if the Cheater Decides to Leave His or Her Spouse and Marry the Outsider?
Well, statistics are not in their favor. For instance, roughly 3% of men who engage in extramarital affairs marry their mistresses. Men who do marry their paramours have a subsequent divorce rate as high as 75%. In fairness, most second and third marriages fail regardless of why the first one ended. A couple beginning their relationship on the betrayal of a sacred vow may have the odds stacked against them. But a marriage constructed out of unconditional love can overcome many obstacles, including infidelity.
What Are the Next Steps if My Partner Has Cheated?
For couples wishing to repair a marriage upended by infidelity, carefully consider how to proceed. Before choosing to decide whether to stay together or go your separate ways, take the time to heal and understand what was behind the affair. This is not a time to make important family decisions based on emotional responses. A marriage constructed out of unconditional love can overcome many obstacles, but there is also honor in fighting for your vows. In this, honor can heal wounded hearts. The following are significant tools that one may choose to apply in the healing process of their marriage:
- First, seek guidance from a licensed psychologist and/or certified counselor who specializes in marriage and family therapy. Within these sessions, remain focused on the marital problems that built up to the affair. Do not stray away from the underlying problems. Find a therapist that encourages both parties to take accountability, this is imperative. Stay within boundaries. This is not the time to bring up any topics that existed prior to the relationship, such as childhood issues or any comparison of your current partner to those of previous relationships. A good marriage counselor will help you put the affair into perspective and help to identify the contributing factors that led to the affair. He or she can further provide both parties with the tools to rebuild and strengthen the relationship.
- Second, seek help from outside sources such as spiritual leaders, understanding and non-judgmental friends, and reading material that relates to infidelity. You may also consider utilizing resources on any of the issues that contributed to the affair. For example, self-help books, educational materials focusing on issues regarding control, and/or abusive tendencies within the relationship (if applicable) could be beneficial.
- Third, if outside influences played a part in the damage that accrued, such as sexual assault, then other sources of help or information are available. If sexual assault is a factor, then other, more pressing issues of grieving come into play. Educating yourself on the sensitive topic of sexual assault, as well as the effects and aftermath, can help you and your partner overcome this trauma. Take the time to learn how to support your partner in healing from a traumatic situation. The support will certainly enhance the healing process and forge a strong bond to move forward with further reconciliation. “The only effort earned is the effort received. You get what you give, so give it your all.” Attitude is everything in life, thus it is important to reflect positive vibes with a mentality of “I’m willing to do everything I can to make this work.”
- Finally, create a plan to re-establish trust, with the goal being reconciliation. If you were the responsible party and the betrayal is yours, admit your disloyalty to your partner, hold yourself accountable, and seek authentic forgiveness. If it was your partner who committed the infidelity, offer forgiveness when you are truly ready and seek understanding and reconciliation with the helpful tools described above.
You should never consider an act of retaliation by cheating on your partner in kind. The healing process necessitates that both parties work to regain lost trust and respect. Moving forward will probably get worse before it gets better. It can be done, but only if both parties are committed to healing the relationship, despite all the pain and suffering that both parties are feeling. If you can work together and stick it out, the results can be very rewarding. Subsequently, one can achieve a renewed marriage–a partnership that continuously flourishes and will likely exceed any previous expectations and emerge renewed. Ultimately, to move forward successfully, reconciliation must be the end goal for both partners.
How does your divorce affect your children?
Divorce has an impact on everyone in the family. Not only are the parents directly affected (they are, after all, the ones who are making the decision to split up), but the children suffer the collateral damage. Children have no control over what is happening, they are not responsible, and they feel every bit of the turmoil that is going on around them. They often internalize the hurt and the anger and can hold themselves responsible.
The married couple is responsible for the outcome. Children are the ones who silently internalize what is happening around them and can even blame themselves for what is happening to their parents. And, except in instances of extreme abuse or neglect, a custodial parent should never alienate the child from the other, non-custodial parent.
Children pay attention
Many times, in the heat of the moment during a divorce, parents tend to focus more on the negative issues between them, especially when there has been infidelity. All of the happy times of the life they shared are forgotten. The problems become the focus. They either do not notice what this does to the children or don’t pay attention to the potential damage they are causing. Children pick up on everything. They are like sponges and absorb all manner of things in their environment. Therefore, it is very important that we, as adults, also keep in mind that what we do has consequences for our children.
Check out this book
There is a book by Eleanor E. Maccoby and Robert H. Mnookin titled Dividing the Child: Social and Legal Dilemmas of Custody. It is published by Harvard University Press and expertly outlines this phenomenon in detail. If this topic interests you or you are concerned about how your children may be affected by your divorce, please check it out. You can pick up a copy on Amazon.
How we can help
If you or a loved one is facing a domestic dilemma, including litigation, we truly sympathize. Legal and family turmoils, such as child custody and divorce, can be very difficult emotionally and stressful for everyone in the family. When you add children to the mix, things can become extremely daunting and complex. It’s no secret that child custody and divorce proceedings are front-and-center to some of the most stressful times of our lives. Red Door Investigations fully supports the 50/50 child custody rule. Children need the love and attention of both parents. Even more so when things in the home are confusing and scary for them.
Unfortunately, with child custody and divorce situations, sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control. There is no other private investigation company that wants to help and support you more in your time of need. We have the means, the tools, and the methods to help during this stressful and emotional time. Leave it to us; our professional private investigators will work to uncover any physical evidence that could help your case. We will use our experience and expertise to help your divorce and/or child custody case reach a successful outcome.
Does Your Spouse Show Any of These Signs of Cheating?
Has your significant other been acting differently than usual and you are wondering whether he or she might be cheating?
There are many behavior “signs” of cheating and infidelity. If you ask 100 experts, you will probably get 100 different answers. I did a pretty quick Google search and found countless lists similar in content to this one. The sources ranged from Psychology Today to Oprah. Many of the behaviors listed in these articles were pretty off-the-wall. However, when I began to look a bit deeper, I started noticing some trends and commonalities. The 20 behavior signs outlined in this article pretty accurately reflect a solid mixture of the behavior cues you should watch out for.
- The first thing to look for is changes in your spouse’s behavior and/or schedule. Staying out late, “working” more than usual, taking “business” trips that seem to come out of the blue with little notice or warning, and so on. These small deviations from your spouse’s normal schedule are usually the first clue that something is amiss.
- Another common sign of a cheating spouse is an unusual preoccupation with protecting their cell phone. This one is huge because it is often an indicator they are hiding something.
- Is your spouse or loved one more concerned about their looks or appearance than usual? They could be trying to impress someone new.
- There are more arguments in your relationship and the arguments are more frequent.
- They are spending more time away from home. This not only applies to work but can also mean going out with friends or co-workers more often.
- Your spouse or loved one receives phone calls during all hours of the day and/or night. They may also seek a safe haven away from the house or, more importantly, away from you to answer these calls. Increased need/desire for “privacy” can mean they are doing things they don’t want you to know about.
- They tell little white lies about where they are going. For instance, they say they need to run to the store but you find they are actually somewhere else, like at the gym.
- This one may seem obvious, but a man taking Viagra for the first time or a woman starting birth control.
- You smell perfume or cologne on your significant other that is not yours.
- Being overly private and/or protective of any electronic device, such as a computer, tablet, etc.
- You find a spare change of clothes in the car.
- Credit card receipts from purchases you don’t recognize. This is oftentimes a sign they are going out without you or buying gifts for someone else.
- A sudden and drastic change, up or down, in sexual behavior, desires, or intimacy in your relationship.
- Frequent and sudden anger outbursts toward you that have nothing to do with you. This is often a subconscious attempt to “distance” themselves from you emotionally or the relationship as it is now.
- There is a reluctance of intimacy or poor excuses for their behavior to be reluctant.
Common Things a Cheating Spouse May Say
- “He/she is just a friend.”
- “I am just not in the mood lately.”
- “I just need space.”
- “It’s not you, it’s me.”
- “Please respect my privacy.”
In closing, it is important to remember that seeing some of these signs in your mate is not proof that your partner is seeing someone else. More importantly, do not lose sight of the fact that you have invested a great deal of emotional energy into your relationship and, if the worst does end up being the case, please maintain hope that not all is lost. If you do happen to find irrefutable evidence of infidelity or cheating and you want to overcome this breach of trust, it is not hopeless. Couples overcome infidelity all the time. If you have any desire to work it out with your spouse, then I strongly encourage you to try. Just because you see some of these signs in your relationship does NOT mean that your partner is being unfaithful.
Furthermore, this list is by no means complete. There are many signs of a cheating spouse that do not make this list and there are instances where your spouse can show many of these behaviors and nothing is going on. The only way to know for sure is to get some proof. If you are unsure how to proceed, I would recommend hiring a local private investigator to gather some evidence for you before you accuse your significant other of any wrongdoing. Usually, most of our clients already know the truth and are just seeking reassurance and verification that what they suspect is actually what is happening. Follow your gut, but don’t make waves where there are none.
Shaun is the owner of Red Door Investigations. He has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Arlington and is a licensed pilot and certified scuba instructor.