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The Personality Battlefield – Avoiding Mines in Insurance Fraud Investigations

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The Personality Battlefield – Avoiding Mines in Insurance Fraud Investigations

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

A Study Review on Insurance Fraud

by Samantha Castillo

Insurance Fraud Investigations


When working insurance fraud cases, our company addresses a wide range of targets, from preachers to convicted criminals. Current research, “The Dark Triad and Willingness to Commit Insurance Fraud” suggests that certain people are more likely to commit insurance fraud based upon dark personality traits (Modic et al, 2018). While it is typically not our job to make determinations about a person’s character based on our impressions or observations, we do need to take our own precautions. Each case carries its own weight and we have to be prepared in advance for any potential conflicts that may arrive whilst performing field work.

Modic et al explored the possibility that psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism are linked to the increased likelihood of committing insurance fraud. These three traits comprise a “dark triad” and are distinct but overlapping constructs, which help in explaining a variety of behaviors typically viewed as unethical, blameworthy, deceitful, manipulative or self-centered (Modic et al, 2018). As investigators, we spend most of our time in close proximity to or interacting with our subjects in the field. A crucial part of preparing for these interactions or observations is to conduct a survey of the target’s (or subject’s) criminal history and past indiscretions; creating a basis for the level of aggressiveness that we can put forth.

By producing an environment where participants could make simulated insurance claims, Modic et al hailed results by two methods. The first method introduced items for claim without any circumstances around how the items were damaged. The second introduced another layer to the equation, whereas the item was damaged while the claimant was drunk, angry or it was damaged purely by accident.  The study created a baseline for fibbing with the first method and then went a step further by introducing the monetary incentives and situational factors (Modic et al, 2018). When the results of their study were evaluated, Modic et al found that the dark triad of traits has an impact on one’s likeliness to commit insurance fraud, more so the traits as a whole construct are more influential than the individual traits themselves.

What does this mean for insurance fraud investigations though? It cannot be concluded that all people that participate in fraudulent claims perpetually have one or all of those three dark traits, but we can use the possibility that a trait was present at the time of the claim. According to Modic et al, it is possible that situations that elicit anger or frustration increase the likelihood of fraudulent behavior, especially in individuals with high psychopathy (2018). The majority of the insurance claims that we see stem from an accident that caused supposed great physical or emotional damage to the claimant. It would be daft to not assume that the situation involves an element of anger or frustration.

High level claims that involve large monetary payouts, can many times carry an elaborate production from the claimant. Trying to catch a target in this production is the riskiest part of an investigator’s task. We want to get that target both using and not using that brace, crutches, or wheelchair. When we interview them, we want to ask questions that will provoke answers that stand out as controversial to any prior statements or claims they have made. But in doing this, what happens when you finally catch someone in a lie? How will they react?

These questions reiterate the importance of getting to know your subject’s temperament. Arrest and conviction records, social media, driving records, marriage and divorce records, child support or custody records, bankruptcy and foreclosure records, eviction records, police reports, and  prior interactions with other agencies; all of these things can be sorted through in order to build a profile and action plan for investigators in the field. The last thing that is wanted is for an investigator to find themselves in a position of danger or to wind up ruining a case. The goal should always be to maximize our opportunity! Ultimately, each step we take as investigators should not be impromptu and learning to make informed decisions is what it’s all about.



Modic et al., Cogent Psychology (2018), 5: 1469579 https://doi.org/10.1080/23311908.2018.1469579

Casualty Surveillance on Back Friday

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

Conducting Casualty Surveillance on Black Friday

BLACK FRIDAY!!!  What a wonderful, and opportunistic, time to run casualty surveillance on all those claim files…right???  I used to think so.

Here is a brief history of the circus that is commonly referred to as, “Black Friday”.  The earliest iteration of a similar sort of “Black Friday” phrase is from the early 1950s.  This was not used in a positive sense; instead it was how Philadelphia police referred to the massive crowds the day after Thanksgiving that would appear for shopping and tourism, often in advance of the Army-Navy college football game which was often hosted in Philly.  It was also, early on, used briefly to describe the day after Thanksgiving in terms of employees calling in sick at work so they could have a four-day weekend.  The idea of the day after Thanksgiving being a massive day for holiday shopping has never been lost on retailers…

So… what about the casualty surveillance aspect?

What needs to be kept in mind here is that the day after Thanksgiving, that “Black Friday” for eager shoppers looking for door buster deals, has grown, ridiculously!!  It’s no longer a single day, starting at midnight, anymore, where we could easily target a mid-evening casualty surveillance to obtain video evidence of claimants driving, shopping and carrying heavy items, potentially.  I’ve recently seen, and heard, a number of advertisements making claim of “Black Friday all week!”, “Black Friday starting at 2 p.m. on Thursday!” OR “Black Friday starts NOW!”.  (The latter was during a college football game on Saturday!)  All of a sudden, it makes sense to run surveillance on a claimant starting the Monday morning of Thanksgiving and giving it as much time, money and resources available up to, and through, “Black Friday”!  But wait!!  Let’s not forget “Cyber Monday”…

“Cyber Monday” is a marketing term for the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. The term “Cyber Monday” was created by marketing companies to persuade people to shop online, beginning in 2005.  This was meant to help combat late night shopping, extensively long lines and the running, pushing and shoving to obtain that one item you intended to waste your Friday evening attempting to purchase.  This online shopping spree also offers many, many deals to consumers, without the pains of dealing with the doorbuster mobs of aggressive shoppers!  So… who wouldn’t want to stay home and enjoy the same types of deals from the luxury of their laptops, tablets and cell phones?

In review, when determining the best time to target a claimant for casualty surveillance surrounding “Black Friday”…well…there is no definite equation.  There is no “special sauce”.  There is no real element that screams “do surveillance NOW!” during this shopping carnival, aside from having those brilliant claimants that keep their social media pages current, VERY current!  Casualty surveillance surrounding this upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, and all the bargain shopping, comes down to this:  Setting this mousetrap is a crap shoot!  Do we start at 9:00 A.M. the Saturday before to catch those deals?  Do we start at noon on Thanksgiving, banking on the notion that your claimants will leave family dinner and football for some early Black Friday shopping?  How about the old traditional shopping that day after our holiday feast in hopes that your claimant might be out for the midnight shopping run??

I’ve been asked, by many clients, my personal thoughts regarding casualty surveillance on Back Friday.  Bottom line is this:  all we can really do is analyze any social media postings, determine the possible stores demographically that MAY be visited and then hope for a little luck.  With all the options available now to help avoid the public on that dreaded day after Thanksgiving, I simply suggest keeping with an individual’s routine that week.

Where does the Difference Lie Between Private Investigators and Police Officers?

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

By: Samantha Castillo

It is often assumed that the roles of private investigators and police officers are interchangeable, with the key difference being that one operates solo and the other is part of an organization. This assumption is very far from actuality. Police officers hold entirely different powers and often are called into action when there is already evidence of a crime. Private investigators on the other hand, are limited in their authority and are more likely to be utilized to gather proof that a crime exists.

The skill set of both professions are where comparisons can really be drawn. The ability to conduct research in a legal manner in order to compile a profile for a subject or suspect is a key part of either position. Take that and compile it with in-field tactics and safety, and you have established a basis for conducting investigations and collecting evidence. So why does there seem to be disconnect between the two professions and their cooperation with each other? Logically, it would appear that there is a complimentary relationship between the job functions and the sequence of events in an investigation. But in real life, the day to day interactions between the two professions are minimal, strained or non-existent.

The private sector is composed of a vast variety of individuals, disproving the common misconception that all private investigators are former police. While many of our staff have police experience (sworn and civilian), as well as military experience there are some that began their careers in the private sector. Potentially, that may provide one reason for the disconnect with the professions, the private sector’s superficial lack of homogeneity.
Another reason for the dissonance may come from the imagery that is assigned to private investigators through the media and pop culture. Unfortunately, subpar investigators are given the limelight for their poor decision making and illegal investigation methods. This in turn makes it appear that private investigators are lacking accountability and are not to be trusted.  On the flip side, a private investigator’s ability to solve a case before the police is bad PR for a police department, further discouraging them from working alongside us.

The question now is – how can we improve these relationships for the future of policing and the private sector? The benefit of a mutual relationship has to be realized by both parties. Here are some examples of what that relationship can look like:

Difference Between Private Investigators and Police Officers-         Police departments can use the advantage of multi-jurisdictional reach that PIs possess.

-         Underfunded and understaffed departments can benefit by working alongside PIs that are hired by external entities to work the same case, perhaps bringing a different perspective or new leads.

-         PIs can also help with internal affairs in the police department such as internal investigations and background checks, items that will tie up officers and staff that could otherwise be utilized better elsewhere.

-         PIs can use the aid of police when conducting surveillance and field operations in criminal cases, providing a safety net for particularly dangerous case situations.

-         Rapport with local departments can provide police perspectives on cases that PIs often work, such as auto accidents.

Considering each other as a resource, rather than a hindrance, will lessen the parallelism of our careers and accomplish more in the end game.

How Military Surveillance Techniques and Civilian Surveillance Correlate – Part 3

Friday, October 19th, 2018

I’m going to go ahead and start by pointing out that the OODA Loop is one of the most over-used and under-understood concepts ever postulated. It is often boiled down to the sum of its most easily understood parts akin to me telling you that the movie “Fight Club” is just about a Fight Club. Anyways, I will do my best not to bore you to death in the explanation phase of this blog. Rather, I will give a brief overview and some history, then get into how it works. I strongly encourage you to think of this as a primer and if this intrigues you, to read more (from a more qualified author) on John Boyd and his philosophy of strategy.

John Boyd (1927-1997) was a badass. He literally revolutionized everything he ever got involved in. A fighter pilot in the Army and then the Air Force (when the Air Force was created in 1947), his lasting strategic and scientific contributions to the military cannot be understated. In the Air-Force, John Boyd wrote the first manual on Combat, Aerial Maneuvers (which is extremely scientific, drawing profoundly on concepts from thermodynamics) and heavily aided in the architecture of the F16/F15 and A10. As an Honorary Marine (as of 2014, there were less than 100 Honorary Marines total), his work in land-based maneuver concepts is still used today and, by the Army, his work in Land Force Strategy is still used today (I went through a planning course in June of 2017 where we learned about Land Force Strategy and he is still cited as a primary contributor). Keep in mind, this is still a gross, under-appreciative accounting of his contributions to the specific branches of the military. Suffice to say the man fundamentally and radically changed the military forever…and for me, now as a private investigator, how I use it in Civilian Surveillance.

John Boyd’s most famous contribution to society is without a doubt the OODA Loop. This concept is utilized in a remarkably widespread manner, including being an investigator doing civilian surveillance. The OODA Loop is most easily explained as a cognizant recognition of the most basic process of decision-making that all humans undertake. Or, in layman’s terms: the dude basically weaponized the scientific method. By understanding, then deliberately (instead of instinctively) moving through our, evolutionary based decision-making cycle, John Boyd figured out a way to think better. Yes, I said it, and I meant it: think, better; that’s how revolutionary this concept was/is.

Ok I’ll get on with it, then I’ll explain why I bored you to death with the two acronyms I predicated this entry on.

OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

It is an OODA “Loop”, because when you complete the process, you are continually repeating the process until it becomes more likely than not, that it will be successful (just like the scientific method). We all do this, consciously or sub-consciously. Humans are fundamentally designed to look for patterns (Fair warning, I’m going to be throwing a lot of “absolute-sounding-statements” out here like this. You can fact-check me if you want, trust me I’ve done my research on this topic). From a practical, evolutionary standpoint, it affords our brain two modalities of thinking: The High-Road and the Low-Road.

The Low-Road is best described as when you’re driving home in your car from work, singing your favorite song and then you realize you’ve already made it home, without being able to fully remember how you got there. What has happened, is that you’ve driven home from work so many times, your brain recognizes the pattern and doesn’t need to put as much energy into repeating it. The High-Road is best described as… well the opposite of the Low-Road; you engage in some (usually new) activity where an incredible amount of critical and creative thinking is required to solve a problem. The correlation between these two methods of thinking, is that when you repetitively engage in a similar High-Road thought process, it eventually becomes a Low-Road process. Thus, that process becomes easier to progress through and therefore you can finish it faster, more efficient and it even becomes more pliable in relation to its application into various, other, similar situations i.e. you get good at swinging a bat, therefore your ability to swing a bat also increases.

Thus, if you can understand and prepare yourself for common aspects of your decision-making process before you must engage in them, you can actually hack your brain into progressing through new problems faster. For example, if you say, were to find yourself in a situation where you might need to think defensively, then coming up with a broad acronym for understanding key factors in defensive strategy might come in handy. For example, if you’ve already oriented (prepared) yourself to potential factors like Observation, Cover and/or Concealment, Obstacles, Key Terrain Features and Avenues of Approach, then when it comes time to solve a problem involving these things, you’ll actually be able to do so faster (A huge part of the OODA Loop is how fast you can complete the “loop”).

Ok, ok, ok I’ll explain the cycle.


O – Observe.

In order to begin the cycle, you must first observe a problem, potential or certain. This sounds simple, but like the rest of this deal, I promise it goes deep. The observation of a problem is more than just a physical observation of say, some dude coming at you with a knife. In order to completely observe a problem, you have to undertake many, many steps. In fact, John Boyd would argue that due to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the necessity for universal application of scientific laws, it is impossible to completely “observe” anything… but that’s a little too deep for this blog. Let’s just settle with: you have to understand you have a problem in the first place. You might physically see a problem, but that doesn’t always mean you recognize that it is one. I suppose the simplest comparison here would be a drug addict not admitting that they have a problem. Even in the case of “some dude coming at you with a knife”, the “dude” might be a chef and he’s coming to cut your dinner, he might be a dude coming at you with a knife to cut you free because you’ve been capture, he might… you get my point. Objectively understanding the situation you find yourself in, is easily just as important as physically observing a problem.


O – Orient

This is the most complicated step of the entire process. In the scientific method, its parallel is the “hypothesis” step. This is where you figure out what’s going on. The way we as humans instinctively fathom what is happening now, is by basing it off what has happened to us previously. So, I guess we’ll keep going with the “dude coming at you with a knife” situation (yes, I realize it’s a pretty weak trope). So a dude is coming at you with a knife, you observe that the dude is wearing a white coat, a poofy hat and is holding a fork in his other hand. You recognize the knife as a chef’s knife and you instinctively use your previous life experiences to rapidly orient yourself to the fact that he is going to try to cut your dinner for you (because you’re apparently rich and eat at restaurants where the chef’s cut your food for you… I don’t know, work with me here). From this example we can theoretically extrapolate variations in the scenario and begin to understand the consequential loss of speed in the decision-making process that would occur from unfamiliar situations. However, again, if you were to have broadly, conceptually prepared for a “dude coming at you with a knife” (say by committing an applicable acronym to your Low-Road memory) then you wouldn’t suffer a loss of speed in your orientation to the situation.

One of the key factors here is the Analysis of the factors of the situation and the Synthesis of a solution. John Boyd based entire books off of the concept of “Analysis and Synthesis”, so I’m not even going to try to get into it. I recommend googling “Analysis and Synthesis Snowmobile example”.


D – Decide

From “Orient” it gets simpler, not easier mind you, but more straight-forward. You’ve observed a problem, you’ve oriented yourself to the situation (analyzed the factors and synthesized potential solutions) and then you simply decide the best answer for the situation. “Simply” being the key word here. Without belaboring this: the decision you make should be based off the solution you want i.e. you shouldn’t choose a decision based off a one-step action. You should decide on a solution based upon a continuous path you want to go down.


A – Act

And then, clearly, you have to actually do what you’ve decided to do. In this phase, action is predicated upon the understanding that you have completed only one loop. In any new, complex conflict wherein you are searching for an elegant, precise, efficient solution, you will undoubtedly not get it right the first time. Edison went through his loop hundreds of times before he invented the light-bulb. The big takeaway here is that you need to act based on the understanding that your action will have a reaction/consequence. The observation and orientation to this leads us down two paths: Competition and Science.

In Science, the application is purely academic. The understanding of your OODA Loop can allow for the refinement of your application of the scientific method, which allows you to alter your experiment in such a way that garnishes the result you’re looking for.

Competition goes much, much deeper. This is where my explanation of John Boyd “weaponizing the scientific method” can be appreciated. When you understand that all humans undergo the same basic, looping, decision making process, you can begin to start manipulating it to garnish a desired outcome. When you understand that your action will force the competition to Observe your actions then Orient themselves to you, Decide then Act, (and visa versa) you can begin to “get inside your opponent’s OODA Loop” and once you have done that, in John Boyd’s opinion, you have already won. Thus, any way you can increase the speed and flexibility in which you complete, and are able to complete, your loop, is an advantage you gain over your opponent. To chop it up in Private Investigator terms, if you observe that when your subject leaves their residence that they will have to go either left or right, you can orient yourself to both possibilities. Then, when it comes time for your subject to decide what to do, you will already be a step ahead of them, vis-à-vis the Decision step of the OODA Loop. Thus, you are now “inside” their loop and therefore the decision of “left or right” will not beat you… it seems obvious, but in its simplicity, it is profound.


Throughout my research, the big takeaway for me, is that objective, conscientious understanding of our actions leads to a refinement in our over-arching, decision-making modality, which ultimately leads to improvement in most aspects of life

I need you to keep in mind that this is a four-page, ramshackle explanation of one of the most comprehensive concepts there is. John Boyd used every form of published science, philosophy and strategy he could get his hands on and head around, then applied it into improving how we fundamentally solve problems. Even if you aren’t trying to use your noodle to this degree, just the exposure of some of the basic concepts in this strategic philosophy can greatly benefit you in every day life. I strongly encourage you to research the works of John Boyd further; it’s rawrsome.



-          JJH

How Military Surveillance Techniques and Civilian Surveillance Correlate – Part 2

Monday, September 10th, 2018

This next entry will be a continuance of the previous entry highlighting two of the most important acronyms utilized in the army during surveillance operations and how I incorporate them into civilian surveillance: SLCTOP and OCOKA. In the last entry, we covered SLCTOP (Security, Location, Targets, Observation and Position Improvement). In this entry we will cover OCOKA and its implementation in the operational environment.

In retrospect, I probably should have detailed my goals for explaining two acronyms in the spectrum of the decision-making process. I am planning on remedying this by Quentin Terrantino’ing my outline and writing a prologue. Anyway, lets get into it.


 OCOKA (pronounced “Oh-Coke-Uh”)

Observation – Cover and/or Concealment – Obstacles – Key Terrain Features – Avenues of Approach


We begin with “Observation” there is obvious cross over here with SLCTOP and rightfully so. Observation is the foundation of pretty much all operations in that situational awareness, the assessment of the situation, the synthesis of problem solving in these situations etc. all comes from first, observation. In this context, “Observation” is used quite literally in the way of “how much can you see from where you are” and “can you see enough from where you are?” This use of observation is concomitant with security in SLCTOP as well in that, if you can’t see enough to be safe, you should probably move.

Next is “Cover and Concealment”. It is important to distinguish the dichotomy between the two, so we will have a common departure point. All cover is concealment, not all concealment is cover. This is the important take away here: concealment will hide you, cover will protect you. In the realm of civilian based surveillance, this is an interesting dynamic in that concealment can be as simple as the anonymity of society around you. In other words, in contrast to being in a combat zone, in the civilian world, just being a seemingly unassuming person can be considered “concealment”. It is equally important to consistently consider and assess your options and utilization of cover “hiding yourself” and concealment “utilizing anonymity” in civilian based surveillance as it is in military use (where cover is protection and concealment is obscuration).

Obstacles” are always considered and utilized in two ways regardless of the implementation of OCOKA. The first is as an obstacle to you, the second is as an obstacle to the enemy/target/subject. In this way, you can establish your observation posts so that, in the event of a rapid egress, the encumbrance of obstacles will be minimized i.e. traffic, stop lights, pedestrians. Likewise, you can observe potential obstacles that the subject will have to circumvent i.e. traffic, stop lights, pedestrians. And orient yourself accordingly. (You’ll notice I replicated the obstacles to both you and your subject. This is not always the case, but the point is to differentiate between obstacles to you, the subject, and the crossover that often occurs wherein you both share obstacles.)

Key Terrain Features is best described as unmovable landmarks that area easily identified and used for spatial orientation. This correlates deeply with situational awareness. For a Private Investigator doing civilian surveillance, the quick and accurate orientation to your operational environment is often paramount. The utilization of Key Terrain Features is a valuable trick for rapidly acquiring your relative location. Some examples include:

  • Major road orientation i.e. in Michigan, Mile roads run East and West
  • The sun (although it moves, it predictably rises and sets in the East and West)
  • Major city buildings in an urban environment

In the military, Avenues of Approach is primarily used for defensive posturing in a combat environment. However, I believe it is fairly obvious how orienting yourself to potential avenues of approach (roads, sidewalks, bike paths, doorways, parking lot/structure entrances/exits etc.) is something that should be measured in civilian surveillance as well. Avenues of approach is best defined as you and your subject’s potential routes of travel. The awareness and preparation for primary, secondary, tertiary etc. routes of travel can be the difference between getting the shot you need for your case, and watching your subject drive off into the sunset. In its application, the investigator should consider any potential routes the subject will take from most likely to least likely, and then orient accordingly.

So that’s another acronym. I’m sure by now you’re thinking “cool, an army dude is explaining acronyms” and believe me, I understand that its been a little dry so far. I can’t promise it won’t continue to be dry, but I can assure you that the next entry will explain why and how these acronyms can actually help you manipulate time itself in the application of your decision-making process.

Next time we’ll get into the OODA loop and I’ll try to bring this ship full circle. Believe me, it’s pretty cool… if you’re into that kinda thing.


Thanks – JJH

How Military Surveillance Techniques and Civilian Surveillance Correlate

Friday, August 10th, 2018

I suppose I should begin by introducing myself; for the purposes of this blog, I’ll just go by JJH. I’m a currently serving, nine-year, Army combat vet. For the entirety of those nine years, I have been a Forward Observer. A Forward Observer is one of the harder jobs in the military to explain. Suffice to say, we’re essentially a combat surveillance team that carries enough radio equipment to talk to anyone (everyone) on the planet. The reason we burden ourselves with hundred-pound radio packs, is a consequence of our two primary purposes, which are to 1: provide real-time battlefield intelligence to the commander of the ground forces and 2: our primary (primary) task is to provide targeting coordinates and specific instructions to… basically anything from a mortar system to thermo-nuclear warheads… and blow things up. All this to qualify that while I’m certainly not the best at what I do, surveillance, of any form, isn’t new to me.

What I’d like to share today will probably wind up being a three-ish part… blog? About the decision-making process that I’ve developed/been trained in over the years. It is by no means the end all to a personal decision-making process, but it has served me in the reconnaissance/surveillance/observation field well for the better part of a decade.

So, I guess let’s get this party started with some acronyms.

The purpose of remembering acronyms, is to re-enforce a mental checklist of stuff you need to do whenever you attempt to accomplish a task. By no means does everyone remember every acronym, but I’ve found that the people who are really good at their job have a few acronyms that they use as touch-stones. The two acronyms I’m going to focus on are (in my opinion) the two best acronyms for surveillance-based operations that the military has to offer. They are both pretty similar, but unique in their application. The first (SLCTOP) is used for combat-based procurement of an observation post. The second (OCOKA) is primarily used for defensive based operations i.e. you take an area and then figure out the best way to hold it. If you ask anyone who’s ever ran recon, they’ll know, or hopefully heard of, these two acronyms.

SLCTOP (Pronounced “Slock-Top”)

Stands for: Security – Location – Communications – Targets – Observation – Position Improvement.


So, you can probably already start to connect the dots why this acronym crosses the military/civilian surveillance barrier so well.

Security” is kind of a stretch, I agree, but as far as a checklist goes, it’s probably not a bad way to go in any circumstance. In the military, the first thing you do in any and every situation, is obtain 360degree security of your location. Anyone who’s ever worked a case in Detroit can probably appreciate the applicability of the first letter here. The takeaway is that if you’re not secure in your observation post, you can’t effectively complete your assigned task.

Location” has to do with the place you’re in for the job you’re doing e.g If you’re trying to observe a large area, the higher the ground, the better. If you’re trying to observe a singular point, then the opposite policy can apply. “Location” is extremely broad here and I could write a dissertation on the methodology of determining the best observation locations. Suffice to say, location is the first thing you should be thinking about in every context that is applicable to the surveillance you’re conducting.

Communications” is also primarily a military aspect of this acronym, but it can be very important in this case too. If you’ve ever worked an IME or a Deposition and had absolutely no idea when, or if, the subject was going to arrive, then the importance of communications comes into focus a little better. For instance, if you park in a parking garage with no cell signal, it can really put a damper on your effectiveness as an investigator.

Targets” has to do primarily with the disposition of the… well, target. We obviously don’t like to use the word “target” in civilian surveillance, but the point remains. Disposition of your subject is a crucial aspect of any case, military or civilian. Are they mobile? Do they have vehicles present? Are they aware of their potential observation? Are they violent, do they have family, are they physically ambulatory? All these questions (and more) can and should shape the way you operate.

Observation” is self-explanatory and can be rolled into location most of the time, but again: the reason we utilize these acronyms is to remember the priorities of work (what you need to do to setup) and actions upon an objective (your purpose for being there) when conducting surveillance.

Position Improvement” is at the end of this acronym for a reason. When you get everything else done, you figure out ways to improve your security, location, communications, or observation. If your communications are trash, once you situate yourself to the location, improve it. If your observation presents a problem with possible egress routes, then improve it. The tricky part about this is that “improvement” is usually synonymous with “moving” and moving is always the last thing you want to do.

I’m going to save OCOKA (Pronounced “Oh-Coke-Uh”) for the next blog entry because I’m at a thousand-ish words already and OCOKA is an extremely useful (maybe more-so than SLCTOP) acronym for surveillance-based ops. It will also segue nicely into the over-arching decision making process that I’ve grown over the last decade to use daily, if not hourly: The OODA Loop.


Thanks – JJH

Do you have what it takes to be a Surveillance Investigator?

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

One of the most amazing things about surveillance investigators, is the diverse background that they all seem to come from. Most found their way through an interest in the criminal justice system, but the eventual routes they take are as varied as the people themselves. In the years I have been working this industry, I have observed people come and go, fail, succeed, and flourish in Surveillance. One of the most amazing things though, is that there is truly no way to know how someone will do as a surveillance investigator before putting them out in the field.

Sure, there are some jobs out there that can give you an idea on how they will deal with things. Former military people seem to be especially suited to the “hurry up and wait” mentality that is abundant in both positions. Some jobs even give you the experience of watching over a specific location, watching a specific person, and taking notes on all their daily activities. Former police officers may have plenty of experience in conducting stakeouts and writing up long reports documenting all interactions they had throughout their day.

What does it take to be a Surveillance InvestigatorThat being said, I have seen people with absolutely no experience in anything related to this field, walk in and become a superstar. I have seen resumes from people that look like they should immediately be among the best of the best, and not get through training, and people you would never expect – college graduates, tire shops managers, oil-rig workers, crime scene cleanup specialists – come in and be among the best you will find. Certain fields will provide a good “backbone” for this line of work and the different aspects involved.

Regardless of previous work experiences, education, or background, the one thing that ties all good surveillance investigators is attention to detail, and an interest in providing the customer the absolute best product possible. At the end of the day, our business is really in the customer service industry. People come to us with questions, and it is our responsibility to answer them. Investigators who accept and adopt that mentality, have endless opportunities in front of them. Sound like you?


Client Coordination Helps Casualty Surveillance Results!

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018


Contributed by: Christian Van Becelaere

It’s amazing just how much a little coordination between Investigator and Client can benefit a casualty surveillance case, especially when the going gets tough.  Having a client invested in the results of their case and offering additional information to help the investigative process always results in better outcomes.  This goes for the all important early morning update as well, when our clients have the opportunity to aid in the action planning process.  Normally, this entails letting our client clients know what happened the day prior and details our next steps.  This opens up the opportunity for our clients to have some input on how we schedule future days or if they want to add additional time to a file.  This process ensures that our clients know exactly where a case stands so there are no surprises later on.  Having said this, I wanted to share a quick story about a recent surveillance where communication between our investigators and our client paid off huge.

Client Coordination Helps Casualty Surveillance Results!Just recently, we had a request for casualty surveillance on a target during and after a settlement conference where the target was to be present.  Over the course of the last couple of years we have done multiple rounds of surveillance on this individual. We have observed them driving vehicles they claimed no longer to own, living at places they claimed not to.  Suffice to say, we already had a good amount of video that our client could use.  On this particular day, we observed the individual driving and running errands throughout the morning, but in heavy Downtown Detroit traffic we ended up losing visual contact with with their vehicle.

As always, we conducted a canvass of locations we believed they might be going to, but we were never successful in placing them prior to this meeting. We arrived at the location, and after a scan of the parking lot were able to determine than none of the known vehicles to the subject or known family members were present. Through direct contact with our client and their office, we were given notice that the subject stated they were driven to the meeting by their significant other, who had picked them up from their primary residence, as they were unable to drive themselves. After being provided the name of the significant other, we located that person’s address.

Our investigator then looked back through their footage from earlier in the day, identifying a vehicle that was associated with the address that we were unaware of before. A canvass of the meeting spot then identified that vehicle, as well as the driver. Had the communication between our staff and our client not been possible, I cannot guarantee we would have located the subject following the meeting. Nor would we necessarily have obtained the footage of them following the meeting, and returning back to the address that she most definitely does not live at.  It is amazing what a small piece of information can do to aid in a case, so it is not surprising that we sometimes have to look to our clients for a little assist once and a while.

Casualty surveillance, especially with tough circumstances often requires coordination between us as the investigators and our clients.  The results of this coordination are always more positive and our team is great at going the extra distance to make it happen.

A Surveillance Investigator Tale

Monday, March 12th, 2018

Contributed by: Brian Coykendall

As surveillance investigators, we routinely get asked many questions regarding the nature of our job: the thrills of following someone that is clearly unsuspecting, the heightened excitement of being in close proximity during covert surveillance and, of course, completing the objective and catching someone doing something that they probably should not be doing. These topics usually open up an array of “war” stories from any good surveillance investigator.  Most dialogue usually even carries a profound interest and passion, making the conversation even that much more appealing, on both ends.

These conversations usually follow the outline of any real short story:  an introduction, plot establishment, climax, plateau, then the descent to some abrupt ending and/or brief summary.  It usually begins to taper down toward the ending once it’s learned that what we actually do is NOT all James Bond and other Hollywood embellished figures of our profession.  There are no jetpacks that slingshot us into heightened surveillance positions (no, we really do have to run flights of stairs if that’s our plan of action…).  There is no single-person drone hovering above with an investigator at the helm making 360-degree observations undetected (cool though, right?!).  And one of my personal favorites, we are not equipped with every camera lens and filter in existence at any given time so that we may go from normal video observations straight into night vision and then infrared imaging (in the event that our subject may actually be Rambo or Jason Bourne…).

Once all of this is established, and understood with some degree of disappointment, we then get the infamous “How exciting of a job, I could so do that!!”  Is it?  Really?  And, could you???

What’s never exposed as part of what we do as surveillance investigators is the actual day-to-day experiences.  Sure, I can highlight my career with some of my “best bust” surveillance cases and make it sound exciting and appealing; however, what I don’t typically share is the other 90-percent…

Surveillance InvestigatorAs a surveillance investigator, you need to remain flexible (no, I’m not suggesting that you begin everyday with hot yoga…).  Your work schedule follows no schedule like most of you have ever experienced.  Because surveillance follows the schedule of another individual, scheduling the right time to conduct said task is planned by hours, sometimes days, of research and pre-surveillance work-up!  So, any given Friday can quickly turn your Saturday matinee Tigers game and/or your Sunday brunch with loved ones into another day of work!  Those evenings where your favorite dinner had been prepared, just for you by your significant other, and it’s been ruined with a phone call disclosing how your surveillance case has been extended due to unforeseen circumstances (ask my wife…), do become somewhat routine and expected.  And, of course, come prime time for any surveillance during the warm and pleasant months of the year, begin to prepare yourself for what feels like an 8-day work week!

So far, so good??

Battling the elements of surveillance can be tough, for anyone!  One of my best cases ever involved a subject with a brand-new auto and bodily injury claim, followed by over three hours of video as he participated in a Saturday afternoon softball tournament.  How fun, right?!  Yes, well, most of that was spent in the back seat of a black SUV, in the middle of July, under a cloudless sky with the front windows cracked roughly two inches, just to gain some breath of fresh air and the hope that maybe the slightest breeze would help combat heat exhaustion.  I think I lost nearly four pounds of water weight that afternoon (which is pretty impressive since I think I drank over a gallon of water without the slightest urge to pee…).  Summer surveillance can be very brutal!  Almost as brutal as last February where most surveillance investigators spent hours in their respective vehicles, parked on some residential side street.  If anyone remembers those temperatures last year, they weren’t pleasant, by any standards!  Some days touched down under the 20-below mark!!  And somewhere, some surveillance investigator was sitting, bundled up as much as possible with his or her hands and arms exposed and at the ready to lift their video camera and shoot a real-life movie.  The temperature inside the vehicle not much warmer and the engine not at idle, as to not cause any suspicion from the subject or surrounding neighbors.  Each breath visible and the coffee purchased just a half hour ago already had a slight chill to it.  Anyone ever try to keep a video camera still at 20-below zero?!

Are we still the envy of the work force??

I could literally go on and on over all the little quirks and qualms that would make many of you rethink your passion for becoming a surveillance investigator.  We could discuss, in great detail, the bathroom situation, perhaps the frustrations of maintaining a good mobile surveillance in the middle of rush hour traffic.  There is always the element of battling boredom.  The hours of sitting still, idle, staring into that little window of tunnel vision that your mind has created for you.  All the while you make every attempt not to let your mind wander into the realm of difficulties and challenges that your life may have set in place, away from work:  worrying about your children, your love life, wondering how your review may go, did you respond to that email, or simply just begin to become scatter-brained in general!  We have data research experts and managers that claim that they couldn’t do my job, nor do they want it.  That’s fair, as I feel the same about their position!

I’m sure that we all have extended lists of the pros and cons of our current job, profession and industry.  I’m also willing to bet that most of us may just find that where we are or where we really want to go is probably just as exciting (in the overall big picture) than that of us lonely surveillance investigators or joining a team of camera monkeys!  Despite all of this, I still (after many years) really enjoy what I do and the people I work with.  The excitement and the opportunity to make a difference, help a client or solve a puzzle still overshadows some of the downsides.

Research Investigation Challenges Create Interesting Week for Team

Monday, February 12th, 2018

Contributed by The Sherlock Research Team

Research Investigation Challenges Create Interesting Week for Team


As research investigators, our job description probably isn’t transparent to most.  We essentially handle everything and anything that doesn’t fit the mold of a surveillance investigation.  We work from behind a computer screen with a telephone, research manuals and Red Bull.  We don’t get out much!  Basically, we dig for information through a variety of sources; HUMINT, OSINT, SIGINT are some of the areas we specialize in, which essentially means that if a piece of information is available, we can find it.  A lot of our clients use our expertise to help track people down, find that shred of evidence that can help their case, discredit a party to a lawsuit or claim and even to prepare themselves for depositions and trials.  Not to mention that we work to setup our surveillance team so that they can select the right times/days to be in the field.  Every case is different, and every case is interesting, but once and a while there is a case that stands out as truly unique in scope.  This week, a simple request came in, that despite being unassuming and straightforward, created a real challenge.


The request was this: “Find a recent signature made by an insurance claimant so that our client can compare it to his alleged signature on a medical Assignment and Release form.”


Simple right?  People sign things all the time?  That is what came to mind when we set about handling this case.  The only trouble was finding something that is public record and available (and recent) to obtain.  The first thought on this one was to locate a copy of the claimant’s deed.  Immediately we were shut down in our efforts; finding that the claimant doesn’t own his residence.  A landlord and any rental documents are not public and although it might be worth a try to tactfully contact the landlord, we also learned that the claimant wasn’t likely to be listed on the lease anyway.  At this point, we were really scratching our heads.  Driver’s license signatures are not available publicly, even with access to the Secretary of State, we can only see the data; no photos, no signatures.  Our next thought was to walk through the subject’s background to see if we could find anything that stood out as requiring a signature, like a business registration document or court filing on another case.  Honestly, we were even hoping he would have been nice enough to have posted a sample signature on social media…   Hey, you never know what you will find on Facebook!
Through our searches, we discovered that a couple of years back, the subject spent some time in county lock up.  This was the break we needed, knowing that a ton of signatures are required to enter and leave the judicial system, the most recent of which is usually the subject’s signature on the property release form that all inmates are required to sign when leaving jail.  After contact with the local Sheriff’s Office, we were in business.  An 18 month old signature to compare to the release form presented by a treating physician that our client found suspicious.


While not the most exciting case in history, it is matters like this that can be the most interesting to a research investigator here at Sherlock Investigations.  If you ever find yourself in need of a tough or oddball piece of information, we encourage you to give our team a call to see what we can come up with for your unique situation.  We look forward to the challenge!