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MAR
21

Christmas Present- Missing Person

A few years ago one December night, I received a telephone call from a frantic mother. She lived up north and told me her teenage daughter was missing. The 19 yr old had moved out and began living with her boyfriend approximately six months ago and they were living in a nearby state with his relatives. The mother told me she had not heard from her daughter since then. Earlier on this day, she had received a call from Gwinnett County Police Department advising her that her car had been impounded in Lawrenceville. The mother told me her daughter was driving the car and had no idea she was in Georgia and had no idea why she would be in Georgia. She told me she had checked her daughter's Facebook page and she had not logged in for the past three months. She then checked the boyfriend's Facebook page and he had checked his status as single and he was looking for a relationship. This did not sound good to me. The mother asked that I try to find out if her daughter was in Georgia and if she was ok. The first thing that went through my mind is that she was deceased and laying in the woods somewhere. I requested the mother to call the impound lot and authorize me to search the vehicle.

The next morning I went to the impound lot and searched the vehicle in the pouring rain. The only thing I found were some paystubs from a restaurant in Dacula where she had been employed. I also learned the car had been towed from the side of the road in Dacula after sitting there for several days.  From there I went to the restaurant and spoke to the manager. He told me the daughter had worked there for several months, but a few weeks ago she did not show up for work and they had not heard from her since. They told me her boyfriend had been banned from the restaurant because he had caused a few disturbances with other customers who apparently were too friendly with his girlfriend. So now I was concerned about the boyfriend's temper and his jealous nature. I requested the last address for the girl, but the manager stated he could not provide that. He would not provide any more information. As he went back to his office and I was preparing to leave, another woman who was employed there, took me off to the side and gave me a telephone number that she had for the missing girl. I called the number and it was no longer in service.

I arrived back in my office around 6:30 PM and ran a search on the telephone number. I came up with a name and address that was not familiar with the mother. I went to the address and upon arrival there were lights on in the house. I knocked on the door and the boyfriend came to the door. I asked to speak to his girlfriend and he said just a minute, she is asleep. My heart jumped, she was alive. A few minutes later she came to the door and we talked a few minutes and I told her that her mother had asked me to find her. She confided in me that the car had broke down and she had no money to have it repaired. Her boyfriend was not working either. She said she had not called her mother because she was too embarrassed about her situation. I told her that her mother was frantic about her safety. While both of us were standing on the front porch, I called the mother and told her she needed to speak to someone. The daughter got on the phone and she started crying, I then got on the phone and the mother was crying and was yelling that she couldn't believe I had found her missing daughter in less then 24 hrs. She told me this was the best Christmas present she had ever received. Well, after hearing that I got teary eyed. The majority of the time with my carreer with the GBI, it was not usually good news that I was telling the parents or relatives. I told the daughter to tell her mother she would call her back in a few minutes, so I could get my phone back and leave. The daughter gave me a hug and said "Thank you". The next morning the mother called me again and could not thank me enough and told me again this was the best present she had ever received. The next Christmas I received a Christmas card from the mother bringing me up to date on her daughter and how things have improved. The daughter was staying in touch with the family and again she was very grateful for finding her missing daughter. This case had a very happy ending for everyone. The mother and daughter reunited and happy, and I know I was on cloud 9.

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MAR
09

Choosing a Private Investigator

If you are considering hiring a private investigator to assist you in an important matter, you should not rush into your decision. Do your research! Ask how long the investigator has been in business. What is their background and experience. Do they have references. What type of investigations do they specialize in. This is a good starting point. Some other things I would suggest, is meet the investigator face to face. How does he present himself; confident, knowledgeable, willing to answer questions? With the economy the way it is today, you have to make sure you are hiring a experienced investigator and not someone who had dreams of becoming a "PI" and started their business one day after passing the private investigators course and is now officially a PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR. One of the most important things you can do is go online to the Georgia Secretary of States web page. Click on Private investigator and look up the company you are considering to hire. Check and see if they have had any complaints filed against them. Or you can call the licensing board and request the information. I think you will be surprised what you may find. Private investigation is more than just sitting down the street in your vehicle waiting for your target to leave the house and then you follow them. I assure you that conducting mobile surveillance is very difficult and takes years to develop the skills to follow someone without being detected or losing the target. Also an investigator has to have "People Skills". He/she needs to know how to talk with people. They need to know how to conduct an interview and ask the right questions. They also need to know the difference between an interview and an interrogation. A good investigator has to have the ability to lead the interview in the direction he wants it to go and to obtain the information needed. If the subject begins to be untruthful the investigator has to be able to pick up on that. An investigator has to react quickly to these circumstances. There are several so called investigators out there that want to carry a badge and gun and bring attention to themselves. "Look at me. I am a PI." If that is their attitude run, don't walk. A good experienced investigator remains calm and is in control. Most of the time when an investigation is conducted that requires surveillance, an investigator should be able to "get in" obtain the video or whatever evidence they are trying to obtain, and then get out, without anyone ever realizing they have been there.

Another suggestion that has to be considered is cost! Ask them what fees they charge. Some charge a flat rate depending on the type of case and some charge an hourly fee and mileage. Most investigators are flexible and can work with you. Also be aware that most investigators will require an upfront retainer before starting the investigation. Most important is to set a budget and tell the investigator you do not want to exceed that amount. I would highly recommend a written contract which will detail the services and the fees. That will prevent confusion or problems on down the road. Another very IMPORTANT factor will be if the investigator knows how to testify in court and present the evidence they obtained. Just answering yes and no is not going to cut it. If a young or fairly new investigator has no experience or very little experience giving testimony in court, then I don't care how great the video is or how good the interview was, he is going to have problems. Especially if the opposing attorney is aggressive. You cannot get flustered or confused on the witness stand. It makes you appear to be unsure of yourself. If a judge or jury are not sure about the investigator, then they will not be sure about the evidence they are attempting to present in their testimony.

Over the years I have had several clients ask if we can monitor telephone calls or cell phone calls. Can we put a recording device in a vehicle or in the house. Can we get cell phone records. All of these actions are illegal and you can be prosecuted. If an investigator tells you he can do it, that should send up red flags. Not only is he violating the law, but you and he are subject to prosecution. In addition any evidence obtained during these illegal activities is not admissible in court. I always advise my clients up front that we will not violate the law in any way just to make the case.

To give you an example, I had an attorney call me last week stating that he represented the wife of a high profile professional athelete. He wanted me to obtain the bank records of the soon to be ex, stating that they believed he was hiding over $1,000,000.00. I told him that the federal privacy laws are very clear about bank records. His reply was, "I don't care how you get them, just get them." I told him he needed to find someone else. It would have probably been a well paid case, but it was unethical and illegal. If it came out on down the road, who do you think would be getting the blame? Not the attorney, I'm sure. In closing, just remember do do your research, ask questions and get references. When you choose a doctor, do you just look in the yellow pages and pick one? I hope not. You ask friends or relatives who they would suggest. If you have an attorney ask them. Just make sure you hire an investigator that has the experience and knowledge of the type of case that you require.

I am updating this blog for various reasons. Over the past few years, I have been contacted by clients who have used another PI company and they really did a poor job. As I have said before, anyone can write a very "nice" report that looks sharp and impressive, but it doesn't have anything in there that helps the client in their case. All it does is to make the PI look good or justify their high cost of the investigation. I have had several clients call saying they did not get anything for their money. Some PI's have not provided a  written report or itemized invoice to the client for their services. I encourage anyone considering hiring a PI to please do their due diligence and check the Secretary of State web site to see if there are complaints and/or disciplinary actions against the company you are wanting to hire. Also do a Google search by the company's name and the owner's name to see what comes up. I would suggest you check at the local courthouse within the county where the PI company is located and see if there are any civil actions filed against the company and/or the owner. You will be very surprised what you discover. 

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