I have done one of these before and these pop up a couple times a year, but there seems to be sufficient interest for a another one.

I am a Private Investigator, working in the North East. I work for a national firm, dealing mostly in Worker's Compensation and other Insurance claims.

I'll try to answer all questions the best I can, at least through the end of the day.

Edit: Verified

Comments: 487 • Responses: 107  • Date: 

GreatCanuk69 karma

How do you investigate things? Do you use gadgets?

ElDochart83 karma

A typical Investigation starts with a background check. We receive an automated database check for each case which provides us with all recent addresses, phone numbers, relatives, criminal history, vehicles, professional licenses, etc. After reviewing this, I delve deeper, looking for social networking profiles and other webpages that mention you. Even if you don't have a facebook, there is a good chance that one of your relatives or roommates do, and a good chance that they have pictures of you or information about you online. The very best situation is one where I find an e-mail address. A google search of someones e-mail pulls up an incredible amount of information, basically every site you ever used it to register to.

After all that, a typical case requires 2-3 days of surveillance. I park inconspicuously in the neighborhood, either within view of the residence (best case) or watching the most likely route that the person would take to leave. From there, I'd follow the person every where they go, usually in 8 hour shifts, and document their every activity.

For equipment, I have a 70x zoom digital video camera, an awesome little twisty tripod that can attach to just about anything, and a covert camera that looks like a button to use if I follow people inside a building.

freevo36 karma

A google search of someones e-mail pulls up an incredible amount of information, basically every site you ever used it to register to.

Just googled my own email address: three results, all from the same site, all irrelevant. Ha! Does something like this happen very often? How careful are people with their email addresses and personal info usually in the U.S.?

ElDochart36 karma

It depends the age of the person. People who are 18-24 or so you can almost guarantee they have social networking, and are usually not careful about hiding it (unless a lawyer tells them to). 24-40 or so are very careful and sensitive about their privacy online. Over 40, if they use social networking at all, usually do not know enough about it to use privacy settings properly. They also tend to post less.

metalbum14 karma

How do you manage to get around the privacy settings that might be set up on social networks? Or is it not worth it to bother?

ElDochart28 karma

There is no legal way around the privacy settings. I know of some Investigators with private companies who will using phishing, or create false profiles to friend people on facebook, but those practices are illegal, and an easy way to lose your license if your caught.

That being said, about 50% of the time, if the person has a completely hidden facebook, I can still get pictures of them and information about them through other people's profiles who are not as careful with their information. I usually get a list of relatives and neighbors for every case. If the person is a parent to a highschooler, I can almost guarantee that I'll find a "Family" album on their child's profile, or something similar.

CrisisOfConsonant10 karma

As a person who has no social media and actively avoids pictures, has no friends, and doesn't really do anything I'm your worst nightmare. I also use different user names on pretty much all the websites I register on.

Well I would be except I don't do anything interesting enough to warrant being investigated.

Why do you think 24-40 is so careful about privacy? I've been on the internet for a long time, I realize the permanence of it, but I feel there are plenty of 30 year olds who don't (they're not generally as active on social media as 18-24 but that's because they weren't raised on it).

ElDochart10 karma

I only find social profiles about 50% of the time. A surprisingly large number of people don't maintain an online presence at all.

dog_in_the_vent17 karma

I park inconspicuously in the neighborhood

How often to people come up to find out what you're doing?

ElDochart23 karma

I stay far enough away from my claimant's residence where they won't have any idea that I am there, my camera's zoom is strong enough to read a newspaper from 150 feet away. That being said, I usually am sitting directly outside of someones house for 8 hours at a time. I don't always get asked questions, but I probably get approached a few times a week. I'm good at lying though, and people tend to trust me.

dog_in_the_vent18 karma

That being said, I usually am sitting directly outside of someones house for 8 hours at a time.

That's more what I was worried about. I'd certainly be curious about a stranger who was parked on the curb outside my house.

What do you tell people when they ask what you're doing?

ElDochart54 karma

Usually I tell them that I'm doing a vehicle repossession. If they inquire further I just tell them that I could lose my license for disclosing any further information, and they typically accept it. The trick is sound extremely professional when they first approach you, and then to bitch about your job/boss giving you pointless dead end files. If you complain about your pretend job, people automatically believe you.

billylooser16 karma

If I would run into someone observing a residence from his car how do I know it's a private investigator and not a burglar?

ElDochart35 karma

Call the police. If they are a private investigator, the police will know that they are there, and will assure you that they can remain there. If they are not a private investigator, the police will want to know that they are there. Win win really.

chrislck18 karma

Nice - does it mean you are required to tell the police where you are when you are observing?

ElDochart34 karma

It's not required, but we do it as a mutual courtesy. They don't have to waste their time coming out to check on us, and In turn they don't blow our cover.

ComradeCube11 karma

Usually I tell them that I'm doing a vehicle repossession.

People never call the cops on you to be sure?

ElDochart14 karma

They do. Actually, I usually encourage them to do so. I check in with the local PD every morning, so they know I'm out here. When I neighbor calls the police don't give away any information, the just say that they know I'm here, and that there's nothing to be worried about.

ComradeCube5 karma

Anyone scare you off by outing you to the nearby houses?

ElDochart13 karma

No. One thing I've learned while doing this is that I am the scary one. The really bold people will approach my vehicle with a cautious attitude. I've never had anyone become violent with me, and have only had someone get aggressive once.

Par1ah6 karma

What camera and lens are you using?

ElDochart14 karma

It's a Sony Handy Cam, 70x lense zoom, and a 2000x digital zoom. Fantastic little camera.

msnthrpy2 karma


ElDochart14 karma

It happens pretty often, there are way more cul de sacs than I realized before I started this job. I wouldn't sit in view of your residence. I'd sit on the main road that your road comes out on, and just watch for every single car that leaves. It's more work, but it usually works out. If even that isn't possible, I'll probably ask a neighbor who is far down the road to park in their driveway. Most people oblige. If I am parked legally on a road, I will only move if I think the claimant is getting suspicious. There's nothing neighbors or police can do to force me to leave, as I am exempt from loitering laws as a PI

benwaaaaaaaah8 karma

So I just Googled my email address and nothing came up related to me. Also, my FB first and last name are completely different than my real life name. What would you do in that case?

ElDochart11 karma

Not everyone keeps a strong online presence. Some people that I investigate don't even own a device that can go online. I would just discount the social networking check, and continue normally. I'd still know all the basic info from our back ground checking program: vehicles, addresses, relatives, etc. You might be careful with your facebook, but are other people careful with it? Does anyone list you as a relative or as in a relationship? Do they have photos of you on their facebook pages? If I can't find a profile, I'll typically look through their relatives, find someone whos between 15 and 20 years old, and look up their facebook page. They will undoubtably have one, and will probably not care for their own or anyone else's privacy.

trmatthe2 karma

Thank you for the reply.

And to determine your willingness for AMA, how best can we make things tricky for you? :)

ElDochart3 karma

Get a lawyer. Unrepresented claimant's are way easier to investigate. When they aren't represented I can actually approach the residence, talk to them under cover, call their house to confirm them home, things like that. They also tend to be less on the look out, and less attentive to online privacy.

Cyborg_Penis-Pump6940 karma

When my sister was in high school she was dating an older guy (25). My parents were like "wtf, this guys a loser" but they didn't trust him so they hired a p.i. The guy came back and told my parents that the guy was probably the most boring person he has ever followed.

Does this ever happen to you or are you always on important investigations?

ElDochart53 karma

I'd say that probably just about half my cases are complete duds. The problem is that the sort of person who commits insurance fraud is usually the sort of person who just sits around at home all day and doesn't do anything. Either that, or the insurance claim is completely legitimate and the person is probably lying in bed with a bad back all day.

NotYetRegistered37 karma

Most memorable case?

ElDochart59 karma

I followed a guy who turned out to be in a death metal band. Started early, and right before I was getting off my shift, followed him to a bar, where him and his band were playing. ended up being a 17 hour work day, didn't get home till 3 AM, and had to sit through a bunch of death metal bands. Not really my thing.

HeyFunkyPianist18 karma

Who pays you for this, and why would they?

What is the most common reason for you to investigate someone?

ElDochart28 karma

The insurance companies usually are the ones hiring us. They pay for it because they have anywhere from a couple tens of thousands to over a million dollars at stake.

manskies35 karma

My cousin had a private investigator on him because his wife suspected him of cheating on her. I highly doubt he would do something like that. The P.I. told his wife he was seeing his secretary. Could it be possible the P.I. was lying to his wife so he could get paid?

ElDochart43 karma

It's unlikely. The PI would get paid either way, so he probably doesn't really care about the outcome that much. Things are never as simple as they seem though. I don't deal with infidelity at all, but there are laws prohibiting videoing people where they expect privacy and what not. The PI couldn't know exactly what he was doing with the secretary, unless they were doing it openly in public, only that he visited the secretary outside of work, etc. The PI probably provided your cousins wife with sufficient hard evidence as well, pictures, video, audio, etc.

artosis42031 karma

What are some tell tale signs that I am being investigated? Apart from someone losing their limp, what type of evidence can you use to prove insurance fraud?

ElDochart50 karma

The best way to know if you are being investigated is to just keep an eye out for cars that you see often. We tend to be pretty good at not being noticed, but if someone is really watching for it they will notice that they keep seeing the same little black honda over and over where ever they go. It will never be obvious, I usually stay a couple cars back when following people, and I try to stay as far from the residence as I can while still being in view of it.

Most cases aren't as cut and dry as someone completely faking an injury. A lot of times it will be a legitimate injury that they are exaggerating, or an legit comp claim that they had, but have since healed and don't want to lose their compensation. Most claims come with restrictions, ie: don't lift more than 10 pounds, no bending at the waist, etc. Most of the evidence is centered around the restrictions.

SomeFokkerTookMyName32 karma

If GTA taught me anything, it's that staying two car-lengths back will make you invisible.

ElDochart49 karma

It's basically true. I hate the stake out missions on GTA, totally inaccurate, and I feel like I'm just repeating myself.

kayleighswift15 karma

How do you/would you handle motorbikes? I imagine it would be hard for anyone in a car to follow me to work, with the amount of overtaking and lane splitting I do.

ElDochart40 karma

I hate motorcycles. On top of them lane splitting, they tend to accelerate far faster than I can, and are extra attentive about the vehicles around them. I have followed them successfully in the past, but its a pain.

familyorfriends10 karma

You make a workers comp or personal injury claim and the defense is contesting the extent of your injuries.

ElDochart24 karma

Pretty much. It's rare to find someone who is completely faking it. When they do, they usually use phycological claims, which are difficult to prove false.

familyorfriends16 karma

I have a question. I live with a person with an "invisible" disability. Sometimes they are able to do things they normally say they can't, like walk without a cane for a period of time, carry a bag, etc. But what normally happens is that they will pay for it later with pain levels.

How often do you use things like that for the benefit of your clients? Do you use little brief moments like that to provide evidence someone is not disabled or as hurt as they claim?

ElDochart18 karma

The "good day, bad day" claim is pretty common. Just because someone bends over to pick up a quarter off their driveway doesn't mean that they don't have a bad back. To combat this, we typically work consecutive days of surveillance and try to show that the person repeatedly breaks their restrictions without any sign of pain or discomfort at the time or later. Sometimes it's obvious though, a claimant will tell their doctor that they can't even move their right arm without extreme pain, and then we get video of them lobbing furniture and trash bags into a dumpster with said arm.

Some clients will try to use individual instances of breaking restrictions to reduce the amount of money being paid out, but if the claimant is represented, they aren't usually successful.

familyorfriends5 karma

By the time they call you in, are your clients fairly convinced that someone is outright lying about or exaggerating their injuries?

Are your clients defense attorneys, insurance companies, or the third party workers comp administrators?

Edit: what stage are you brought in? Do they use your info to deny/approve someone's claim? Or do they use it to support the denial after the fact?

ElDochart7 karma

Hiring a 3rd party investigation firm is fairly expensive, so they usually only call us in when they are confident in their suspicions, usually after an anonymous tip.

I've had all 3 as clients, usually it's insurance companies though.

We are typically brought in to either reduce the claim, or deny it outright after they've already been receiving compensation. If we are brought in before compensation is given, it is usually to conduct statements and scene diagrams.

FlamingEagles23 karma

have you ever been "caught" by someone you were investigating? what happened? how much money does one typically make in your line of work?

ElDochart43 karma

It isn't unusual to get made on cases. If someone is committing fraud, they typically have heightened suspicion and will be looking out for us, especially if they aren't new at it. The worst one was on my first week of work, inexperienced as I was, I sat too close to the residence, and the person saw me with my camera. Usually people will just give you a horrified look, or flip you off, but this guy decided to get in his truck and chase me down. Luckily for me, my car is quite speedy, and I was able to shake him pretty quickly. We walk a pretty thin line between legal stalking and harassment. If a claimant makes it known that they know of our presence, we have to leave immediately or else it becomes harassment.

Money is tricky, as there are a lot of non-taxable incomes and reimbursements. Typically I can count on around 45k a year after taxes, but I've only been at it for 2 years or so.

Tyster40720 karma

What was the weirdest thing you came across in a case?

ElDochart56 karma

Trees. Through some digging online I found one of my claimants purchased 500 apple trees. They lived in a condominium. I never found out what that was about.

NeedWittyUsername16 karma

Maybe they just really liked apples.

ElDochart29 karma

I suspect it may have been an illegal transaction, but that's really none of my business.

blake1289s19 karma

So I'm getting ready to graduate high school, and I am seriously looking into becoming a PI but I have no idea how. So I have a lot of questions. What do you major in college? How do you find work after college? Can you leave the states and work in a different country with your degree? What is the average pay, and is it an exciting job? Lastly, are there more requirements than a college degree?

ElDochart39 karma

I majored in Criminal Justice in college, graduating Magna Cum with a Bachelors of Science. I got this position about 2 months after graduating, after seeing it on Indeed.com. I simply applied through the site, and got an interview shortly after. The hiring process is lengthy, as they need to do a lot of background checking to make sure your not a crazy person. It took about a month from my first interview to my first day of training.

I am licensed in every state in the North East, so I can work in all of them freely. If I wanted to work in another state, it would just be a matter of filling out the paperwork and paying the fee. Your experience and college degree should count if you decided to leave the country, but I am not familiar with PI laws outside of the US.

Pay tends to be complicated, as there are a lot of non-revenue reimbursements (untaxable) that amount to profit. A typical year will be around 45k after taxes with reimbursements, and then I can expect a sizable tax return, probably around 5K - 7K for other expenses I incur throughout the year (Feds pay 65 cents on the mile for vehicle depreciation, etc).

It is a very exciting job, but it isn't for every one. I'd suggest finding someone to do a ride along or two with before you take a job. 80% of the job is spent sitting in a parked car, waiting for someone to leave their house. You might spend 10 hours staring at a front door, just to get 10 seconds of video when the person comes outside to get the mail. Or even worse, you might spend that time staring at a house and get no activity at all. That being said, when there is activity, it is very exciting, fast paced, and high adrenaline work. In my opinion, all the waiting is worth it, and I thoroughly enjoy the job. You have to be ok with lying to people every day (neighbors can't know that your investigating someone, and they will ask you why you are in the neighborhood), you need to be ok with writing reports, and breaking driving laws. No company will ever say to you "break the law", but your clients will be upset if you lose someone just because you didn't want to run a red light or speed.

No other requirements but that, PI laws vary state to state, but you can get around them usually by getting licensed through a company. Not even a college degree is required to have the license, but most companies require a Bachelors in something vaguely related. Writing skills are important, so make sure you focus a bit on that when applying.

the_Ex_Lurker24 karma

I'm imagining you as being like Mike Earmantraut. Is that accurate at all?

ElDochart20 karma

Not in what I do, but Breaking Bad has had a huge influence over how people see me in the field. There's a certain horrified look that people get when they see a white guy in a new blacked out black honda driving slowly past them multiple times in a poor urban area.

MarblesSixx7 karma


ElDochart19 karma

It's not a secret, and probably accounts for 70% if PIs. The other 30 percent are Nissan Altimas

jonar333 karma

a) Have you ever been cited for breaking driving laws? Other laws? Are cops more lenient when they learn you're on the clock as a PI?

b) If so, are you responsible for the fines or other sentences? How does that legal process work?

ElDochart9 karma

I've only gotten one speeding ticket since I started, and have a pending tint violation. I have a high end radar detector that mostly prevents tickets. The company officially states that it does not approve of breaking laws. That being said someone would be pissed if I lost someone due to my not speeding or running a red light. Due to that official statement though, I am responsible for any fine I incur. It comes down to risk evaluation.

Dayanx2 karma

Never having seen Breaking Bad,Im writing a short story about someone in your line of work, have you read any good fiction that puts a realistic edge to modern PI?

ElDochart12 karma

Unfortunately, no. Realistic pi work doesn't make for great story telling, unless your writing something Neil Gaiman esque that plays on the realism. A lot of staring at houses for hours on end, pissing in bottles, that sorta thing.

freevo17 karma

How does a regular workday look like? Do you have fixed working hours? Do you have to deal with the Police often? How much access do you have to Police cases? How is it like working with the Police?

ElDochart48 karma

Normal schedule: Wake up sometime between 3:30 - 5:00 AM (depending how far away my case is), starting nice and early, usually between 5:30 and 7, depending the case, then I settle into my surveillance position. Most of my days are 8 hours, but sometimes there are specific requests for odd hours, and of course my start times vary greatly depending the person being investigated. I've had days where I start at 5 AM, and days where I don't get out till 2 AM. 80% of my time working is spent staring at someones front door waiting for them to leave.

I have complete control over my schedule. I get cases in, and I organize them myself and decide when to work them. I generally have a lot of discretion when it comes to how files are worked, but sometimes there are specific instructions from clients. Some want specific hours, or specific days to cover different activities.

I deal with the police pretty often. I check in with them every day, as a professional courtesy, so that they don't have to waste time sending an officer out to check on me when they get suspicious vehicle reports. It works both ways, they can deal with calls on me directly over the phone, and they don't blow my cover by sending 3 cruisers to surround my vehicle. Occasionally the police will show up anyway, especially if I'm working near a school or day care (Day cares are fuckin everywhere btw, I had no idea there were so many of them before I started working this job). When they do come out they are usually professional, I just show them my badge and they go along their way.

Most police cases are public information, so everyone has access to them. You can go online and search court cases by name, see their outcomes, etc. I usually don't do this directly, as its typically done automatically by a database program that we use, but occasionally I'll ask specific officer's that I see to check the system for the person I'm following, to make sure they aren't sitting in a jail cell.

wsfarrell15 karma

A book I read a while back said that PIs on stakeouts are like taxi drivers: they know the location of every public toilet in the city.


ElDochart20 karma

Very true. Police departments are the best, always clean, no need to buy anything. If you're willing to buy something, I prefer subways, dunkin donuts, and burger king. They have private one person bathrooms, which I find more comfortable. If you're a guy and just have to take a piss, a water bottle and a tinted car does just fine.

muffinman92x14 karma

what was the scariest situation you have ever been in, while on the job? Also do you own a yellow trench coat?

ElDochart37 karma

I almost got arrested once, that was pretty scary. Early on in my career, I was working a case early in the morning. I stopped briefly in a high school parking lot to take some video of the claimant's residence. After being there for a couple seconds, 4 police cruisers showed up with lights and sirens, boxed me in, had me get out of the car at gun point, the whole 9 yards. Also, although I was licensed, I had sent my PI badge into the office to be photocopied and laminated, so I didn't have it on me. After a few tense minutes with the police, I was able to get through to our legal department who cleared it all up. Police apologized for the "formalities" and I learned to always let the police know I'm working in the area. And no, no yellow trench coat, little black debadged honda with dark tint though.

Edit- This was shortly after the Newtown shootings, not too far from there, so the police were extra sensitive.

Yaro_S13 karma

Do you browse reddit when you're staking out a house?

ElDochart4 karma

Yes. Reddit is pretty good entertainment that doesnt require too much of my attention. I was on a case while doing this ama.

PurpleKiller13 karma

How useful is social media for your job? Can you get around someone's privacy settings on Facebook/Twitter?

ElDochart21 karma

Social media is extremely helpful and important. It is really amazing how much personal information people put online. I've had cases that would have failed completely had the person not put their new address, pictures of themselves, and even pictures of their vehicles (with license plates) online. Facebook's privacy settings are pretty solid, and there really isn't any legal way around them. If you hide all your pictures, there is no way that I can see them. One thing most people don't realize is how much information other people (who aren't so careful with privacy) post about you. I usually have a list of relatives and neighbors, and a good 50% of the time I can find pictures and info of whoever i'm following through someone elses profile, ie: parents, room mates, children, siblings.

PurpleKiller4 karma

What about using search engines for internet personas? I've managed to discover the complete identities of people online just by running enough google searches using the person's username. Is there a better way to do this?

ElDochart7 karma

Nope, that is basically it. I usually google search for name and location, and that brings up pretty specific results. If the person has a very common name google searches don't work.

chrislck1 karma

If you have license plates, how do you go about digging into a vehicle history? Does your PI licence give you additional rights into government or insurance etc databases?

ElDochart1 karma

We have the ability, as PIs, to run plates like the police do. It gives us the registrants, and the address of the registrant.

obxfisher12 karma

Do people ever hire private detective detectives? Like could you ever be hired to investigate another detective? I can just see a case where a wife hires a detective to watch her husband. Husband kinda feels like he's being watched, so he hires a detective to try to find you. Or he knows he is being followed and wants you to find out who is following him.

ElDochart33 karma

As confusing as it is, it does happen. Lawyers sometimes hire PIs to investigate PIs that are working against their client. They do this to try to find unethical practices that would get the case thrown.

spaghettibeans12 karma

Who is your Daddy and what does he do?

ElDochart15 karma

He's a plastics chemical engineer, or was before he retired.

oddbrandon11 karma

This thread makes me realize how easy it is to be a "private investigator" and how little privacy we actually have.

ElDochart16 karma

It is very easy. As long as you don't have a criminal background, you can probably get a license. Once you have a license you can buy a database search that provides you with every bit of information on anyone. Vehicles, addresses, phone numbers, relatives, nieghbors, social security numbers, birthdays, AKA's, even the square footage number of bedrooms and value of their house. It is all public information.

oddbrandon4 karma

How does one acquire this license?

ElDochart13 karma

just google your state's laws, they'll probably have everything you need on the site. Fill out paperwork, pay the fee, thats all.

princesskittycutes-3 karma

As long as you don't have a criminal background, it is okay to run red lights and speed.

ElDochart4 karma

Like I said in another thread, no company would ever require you to break the law, but your clients won't be happy if you lose someone because they were driving faster than the speed limit. It's all a calculation. I won't endanger myself or anyone else in order to follow someone. If I'm at a red light, and there are no cars coming in either direction, I will risk getting a fine in order to not lose my claimant.

DaCrazyKoala11 karma

What do you tell the neighbors of people your investigating when they ask you why you are in their neighborhood?

What do you call the person your investigating? Like perp or whatever.

How much do you pay in tickets/fines a year? Speeding or otherwise.

What is the Database program that you use for research called?

How are your cases assigned?

ElDochart18 karma

I usually tell people that I am doing a vehicle repossession. That's sort of the go to thing with PI's. If anyone ever tells you that, they are probably lying to you. If I intend on being outside my vehicle during the investigation, I'll tell people that I'm doing environmental surveying. I spent 2 years studying Conservation Law before I transferred to a CJ program, so I know enough about it to satisfy neighbors.

In the insurance field, they are called claimants, as they are the person making the claim. If they aren't the person making the claim, or if it's a different type of fraud, they are called subjects.

I'm pretty good at not getting caught, and getting out of tickets when I do. I have a high quality radar detector that prevents most traffic violations. I've received 1 speeding ticket this year, which I got out of by being polite to the officer (so that he did not remember me) pleading not guilty, rescheduling the court date 3 times, which caused the judge to assume there was an error in the system that caused the delayed appearance and throughout the case and apologized for the inconvenience. I have a pending window tint violation, which will be reduced to a warning once I get it reduced to 35% tint instead of the 20% it is now.

The database is through Lexis Nexis.

The cases are emailed to me from the office. I work from home / out of my car, and have only been to the office 3 times in my time working here.

DaCrazyKoala8 karma

Do you have a trunk full of props for your cover stories?

For the environmental surveying cover, do you just whip out a Theodolite or say your testing the water or whatever?

ElDochart32 karma

The back of my car is pretty full of things. I have a change of clothes, a couple different jackets and sweat shirts, a blanket, a folding camp chair, a bathing suit, suit and tie, and a fishing pole. The best is when I'm pretending that I'm fishing, and an EPO shows up to check my fishing license. I then get to explain to him that I'm not licensed, and not actually fishing, showing him that it's just a floater with no hook.

leadnpotatoes10 karma

At that point why not just get the fishing license?

ElDochart13 karma

I wouldn't use it. I shell fish though.

AdonisChrist3 karma

threw out the case*

Took me a few tries to figure out what was going on.

So were you trying to "trick the system" when you rescheduled 3 times or were you rescheduling for normal reasons and got lucky?

ElDochart12 karma

A mix, if you keep rescheduling there is a good chance it will fall on a date that the police officer can't attend, and then it gets thrown out anyway. The first date you get from the court works with the officers schedule.

Edit: if you pissed the officer of, there is a good chance he'll figure out a way to attend anyway just to make a point.

nagilfarswake3 karma

What radar detector do you have? I'm guessing Valentine 1 or an Escort passport 9500 ix.

ElDochart11 karma

It's the escort passport 9500 ci, it's like the xi in specs, but it's dashboard installed with a sensor on the front of the car, down by the license plate. It helps detect lasers better, as they focus so well.

Frobe7710 karma


ElDochart23 karma

It isn't uncommon, especially with people who make a career out of committing fraud. They are the ones who know what to look for, keep daily routines specifically to watch for people following them, and are always looking over their shoulder. I even had a claimant who took a walk twice a day to canvas the neighborhood for investigators. He would just walk up and down every street looking in all the parked cars. Most people are oblivious though, and don't realize that their insurance company would actually have them followed.

Beer4me10 karma

Do you ever get a rush for busting someone engaging in fraud? I imagine it kind of feels good busting someone who has been lying about his injuries.

ElDochart37 karma

It's always satisfying to really catch someone doing something blatantly fraudulent. I've had a paraplegic arrive home from a doctor's appointment, after taking a wheelchair van. The van dropped him off and drove away. He then stood up, folded up his chair, and carried it inside.

The biggest rush is in the chase. When someone drives from view and your doing anything to catch up with them. Passing on double lined roads, running red lights, driving 90 mph on rural roads. It's a big adrenaline rush.

Beer4me8 karma

Do you ever find out the outcome of the case? Meaning, the guy you busted for fraud ended up in jail or had to pay back thousands of dollars in compensation.

ElDochart12 karma

Rarely. Sometimes a client will e-mail us if there was a really good outcome based on our work, but mostly we have no idea.

michalube9 karma

What are some ways people have successfully evaded you?

ElDochart15 karma

If they know they are being followed, all they have to do is wave at me, or give some sign that they know they are being followed. At that point I am required by law to break off. If I continue to follow them after they know they are being followed it becomes harassment.

If I lose someone just during a typical surveillance, it is usually due to them driving through a downtown area. I tend to run red lights and speed to keep on someone, but I won't put myself in danger in order to not lose someone.

FrankWolf869 karma

So when they do make you out and you break off, do you get reprimanded by the company you work for? Are there penalties or something? Has it happened to you?

ElDochart12 karma

No penalties, and it isn't uncommon. We get a lot of people who make a career out of committing fraud, and know how to find us. The only penalty is that I lose the potential work I would've had.

JackStalk9 karma

Do you think someone could figure out exactly who you are, based only on your answers in this thread?

ElDochart8 karma

I don't think so, not unless you knew of every investigator in the north east, and every car they drive. I know 2 besides myself that drive a black honda CRZ, and I don't know everyone.

Epicghostrider8 karma

Do you like blueberries?

ElDochart9 karma

I love blueberries.

Epicghostrider6 karma

I don't. I hate blueberries.

ElDochart22 karma

Well fuck you then

Gravy-Leg__8 karma

Do you carry a weapon during work hours?

ElDochart16 karma

The company I work for doesn't allow the Investigator's to carry weapons. I know of Investigators with other companies who do though, especially if they tend to work in the inner cities a lot.

IWouldFightShatner8 karma

How long does a typical case last?

Have you even had a client that finally said, 'Let's give up on this and cut our losses - either the target is genuinely hurt or is a master of deception' ?

What is your fee structure?

ElDochart23 karma

Most cases are 2-3 days, 8 hour shifts. I've had cases that are reassigned on and off for a year, and cases that are just a one day 4 hour surveillance to cover a medical appointment. The largest case I've had was 8 days of 8 hour surveillances, worked consecutively. I hid in a bush across the street from the persons house for that one. It was an itchy 8 days.

I don't deal with any of the financing or marketing, I just get cases in and work them. I know that they are not cheap though, I would estimate somewhere between 600 and 1000 dollars a day depending.

leadnpotatoes11 karma

I hid in a bush across the street from the persons house for that one.

You have the coolest job ever.

ElDochart17 karma

Itchy is the word is use, but yes it is fun.

Slamma_jamma18 karma

A friend once gave me a vague description of what a girl looked like not a name or anything and I found her on Facebook and not long ago I found another girl only knowing her first name and the city she lived in. I know it's not a question but I wanted to brag about what I did to a real PI even though I'm sure that's not nearly as impressive as anything you do. A few of my friends actually call me detective because I am pretty good at finding people like that but it's just a joking thing.

ElDochart14 karma

Very nice, what we do isn't far from just that. Facebook just got rid of the hidden profile setting too, makes my job a bit easier.

eburn398 karma

What were some of the more interesting cases that you had to go undercover for?

ElDochart15 karma

The best ones are when they are active at night. I've been to bars, death metal concerts, football games, races, and more. Those are a lot more fun than just sitting in a parked car.

horsenbuggy8 karma

So if they go to some event where you need a ticket to get in, do you buy a ticket to follow them in? Or do you just wait in the parking lot? I'm thinking that at something like a football game (unless it's just high school), you wouldn't be able to get seats next to them. So if you could buy a ticket, you'd have to hover around their area but then the attendants might get annoyed with you never taking a seat. And then it may be a case where they go to an event that is sold out. What happens then? Do you have a press pass to fake your way in?

ElDochart8 karma

If I'm able to get a ticket I go in. I've never had to do a big event, just stuff like high school football, concerts at bars that have cover fees, stuff like that.

DaCrazyKoala4 karma

Do you get reimbursed for those types of expenses?

ElDochart11 karma

The company I work for reimburses pretty well for milage, and I drive a very fuel efficient car. In the end I make about 25 cents per mile in profit after gas, which I put towards paying my car payments. On top of that I'll get an additional 30 cents per mile as a tax return for depreciation expense.

splitmlik7 karma

Any idea how phone taps are done? What kind of equipment is used to listen in?

ElDochart17 karma

It use to be an actual electronic device that would physically hook up to a phone line. Now, it's all digital. If the police suspect you of doing something that "threatens national security" (which is rather vague in it's legal definition) they can listen to any of your calls, or even turn on your phone's microphone remotely and use it to listen in on your regular conversations, look through your phones camera, and locate it on a gps just by bringing the warrant to your carrier. Pretty crazy stuff. I don't do any of that, as it's illegal outside of law enforcement.

wisaaka7 karma

I once had a PI, ask to park in my driveway for several hours. I assumed this was to stake out from a reasonable distance. If my assumption is correct, how often do you need to enlist random people to make your job easier?

ElDochart16 karma

When on surveillance, one law I really do have to abide by is parking laws. If I'm parked illegally, it gives the police the ability to tell me to leave the area. If I am parked legally, I can stay there for as long as I want, regardless of what neighbors or police tell me. I'm guessing you live on a road that is either a single yellow line, or a double yellow with no shoulder. In this case, we will usually set up out of view, monitoring the most likely route of departure. If there is no good bet on which way the person will go, or if the area is too busy to watch for the claimant's vehicle driving by, then I will ask a neighbor if I can sit on their property. It makes my job easier if I can be in view of the residence, but it is a risk because neighbors tend to talk to each other.

PremiumR7 karma

What little tricks do you employ to be able to monitor/stare at someone's door for a long time...what goes on in your mind?

ElDochart25 karma

Reddit, and audio book mostly. I like audio books because I can maintain eye contact with the residence and be entertained. I'm on surveillance right now, but I have a good enough view where I don't have to keep my eyes peeled to see them leave.

CarlaWasThePromQueen7 karma

Did you originally want to be a police officer or a lawyer, since you majored in Criminal Justice? In some states, I know you can't apply to be a police officer if you've worked as a private investigator within 2-3 years of applying for the police job.

ElDochart10 karma

I was applying for both, I just got this one first. I think I prefer it to police work, there are less rules in a the ends justify the means sorta way.

darthgarlic7 karma

What are the tools of the trade. Physical and not.

ElDochart17 karma

Well, my video camera is the most important tool I have. It has an incredible zoom, and fairly good anti-shake software. Beyond that, I have a covert camera that looks like a button, my work laptop (which is old, running XP, and generally useless except for writing reports), my macbook pro, my cellphone (which makes for a fantastic quick covert camera), and my car (which I bought specifically for the job). Beyond physical things, being adept at lying to people and acting a part is probably the most important and useful thing.

kevindurENT8 karma

my car (which I bought specifically for the job)

You may have answered this already, but what about your car is important for your line of work? What is "specific" about it?

ElDochart21 karma

I drive a Honda CRZ. It is small, blends in well enough, gets 50 mpg in Eco Mode, and can still do 0-60 in 7 seconds with a few modifications in sport mode. (Not an amazing number speed wise, but it's plenty fast enough to get the job done). The windshields on Hondas are tilted at an exaggerated angle, which causes a higher glare for oncoming traffic, and in turn keeps people from seeing you in the vehicle. On top of that, I invested 300 dollars for Clazzio seat covers, which are custom fit leather covers, that look stock, and have tempurpedic padding.

In the end it is a small, discreet, fast car that gets good gas mileage, is more comfortable than my wife's BMW, and handles like a go cart.

DarkeKnight7 karma

Have you read J.K. Rowling's The Cuckoo's Calling? How is it from an investigator's point of view?

ElDochart12 karma

Haven't read it, but people keep saying I should. Most books and movies about PI's are inaccurate. The job in reality wouldn't make a very good movie, and isn't particularly romantic. Sitting all sweaty in a car with the windows closed on a hot day for 8 hours doesn't make good watching.

PoshSpiceBurger7 karma

whats been one of your funniest discoveries whilst being a PI?

ElDochart16 karma

Things typically aren't too funny. The strangest moment probably was sitting at a bar for 2 hours videoing someone making out with a very drunk woman who was not his wife. I don't do infidelity investigations at all though, so it wasn't very helpful.

zissou996 karma

What is the pay like?

ElDochart11 karma

Complicated at best. Lots of nontaxable income, and and reimbursements. Over all, two years in, I can count on around 45K after taxes a year.

diztorted6 karma


ElDochart11 karma

I've only had a couple cases where I was investigating a cop, but only when they are off the job on workers comp. I imagine it would be very difficult to follow an officer while he was working. There aren't any additional legal boundaries as far as I know, just the difficulty of following someone who is well connected with the police department.

blarghusmaximus6 karma

I take my PI exam on wednesday.

What kind of things should I know? I have several years of Loss prev experience so im used to staring at someone for 8 hours... But ivd never done it from a car. Or in a car baking in the florida sun. So how do you manage the heat?

You said you love your camera... What kind of camera should i get? Same one? Would you change if you had a chance?

Any other tips you can think of, id love to hear them.

ElDochart4 karma

Good luck on the exam! you get use to the heat, luckily I don't work in the south, it's usually not that bad. The jobs not worth hurting yourself over, it it really is just too hot out, I'll take a less aggressive position and keep my car idling and have the AC on.

I've said this elsewhere, buried in the thread somewhere. I use the Sony Handicam. I would buy it again, it does a good job, and video documentation is way better than pictures for the most part. A good zoom is the most important. A bendy, attach to anything tripod is so super helpful.

NewYorkerinGeorgia5 karma

When you started, did your employer discuss your physical appearance? I'm imagining they would want you to blend in, no Mohawks or nose chains, but any less obvious direction that might be surprising?

ElDochart5 karma

I'm pretty normal looking, so it didn't really come up. They mentioned to try not to stand out. I have a full beard that I let grow in then trim up nice periodically to modify my appearance.

NeoSpartacus5 karma

How useful would a quadcopter with a gopro be to you?

ElDochart8 karma

Legally tricky. The copter might be slightly noticeable for one thing, which is a downside. Privacy laws prevent us from videoing people anywhere that they have a "reasonable expectation or privacy". This means that If I can cleary see you through your window doing something that would be evidence, it would be illegal for me to video it, because inside your house you have that expectation of privacy. The only thing I could see the quadcopter really being useful for is for seeing over bushes and fences. If the fence can't be seen through from the road, then it is considered part of the houses "collar" which has that expectation of privacy.

hardypart5 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA. How can I become a private investigator and what qualifies me for becoming one?

ElDochart6 karma

If you haven't been to college yet, I'd suggest going for a bachelors in Criminal Justice, or something related. There typically aren't any educational requirements to get licensed, but if you want to work with a larger company, they will most will require a degree. I found my position through Indeed.com, and see positions often on there, monster, and craigslist.

Toyou4yu5 karma

What have you done besides Workers Compensation and other Insurance claims?

ElDochart3 karma

The only other type of claim that I work is personal liability. Someone trips and falls at your house, you don't have home owners insurance, and don't want to pay out of pocket for their injuries.

Naggers1234 karma

How often do you get infidelity cases?

ElDochart5 karma

Never, I work mostly insurance cases, and sometimes personal liability.

zakl21124 karma

Any uncomfortable hiding spots you had to be in for extended periods? I'm picturing you in some bushes with sharp thorns, a sloppy joe's in one hand, binoculars in the other for some reason.

ElDochart7 karma

Only had to be in a bush once. Most of the time I'm in my leather, tempurpedic padded car seats, very comfortable. If I have to be outside, I have a folding camp chair in my car. This one occasion I was on private property, so I really had to be careful. I sat in a bush on a ridge across the street from my claimants house for 8 consecutive 8 hour days.

szg00334 karma

Can you discuss your client demographics?

ElDochart10 karma

Not in any helpful detail. Do you mean clients or claimants? My clients tend to be larger insurance companies, businesses that are large enough to have their own internal insurance funds, and law offices.

Claimant's tend to be split into a few different demographics. Sleezy middle aged men, punk ass kids who think the system is less observant than it really is, and single mothers who are looking for a way to get out of work to take care of their kids but still have an income. It varies greatly though.

Uncle_Creepy1234 karma

What is your educational and work background that led to this position?

ElDochart7 karma

I have a Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice, and worked mostly in cafe's and warehouses through college. I got the job as a fresh graduate. Companies like fresh graduates almost as much as someone with a lot of experience, due to their trainability.

SgtFinnish3 karma

If you were followed by a PI would you figure it out?

If yes, what would you do?

ElDochart8 karma

I'm pretty cautious about it. I've never had it, but I've known people to be followed on the job before. It's usually a lawyer trying to find us doing something that would get the evidence thrown out. If I ever saw one, I would wave at them and smile. They would then break off. If they didn't I'd report harassment to the police, and then they would really have to break off.

theviper573 karma

Is the pay of a private investigator good?

ElDochart3 karma

decent enough, I've posted this a few times, but I usually can count on 45K a year after taxes, with 2 years experience.

Phobicity3 karma

How old were you when you first started being a PI?

Where there any other fields that would of interested you?

Are there any books, movies or shows that you feel accurately depicts the job of PI?

ElDochart6 karma

I was 23 when started with the company, and I've been with them for 2 years. When I started college, I originally was going for Conservation Law, with the intent of working for the EPA, or something similar. 2 years in, I decided it wasn't for me, and did Criminal Justice. Up until the day I got the job, I would've taken a position as a police officer if one came along first.

sexyjesus3 karma

Do you enjoy what you do?

How often do you work cases? You posted that you get up between 3:30 and 5am. Is this 5 days a week?

ElDochart8 karma

I enjoy what I do very much, it is a fun job if you can handle the hours of doing absolutely nothing. I particularly enjoy not having to go into an office, not having a dress code at all, and only talking to my boss a couple times a week at most.

The first day of a new case will almost always start at 6 AM, to see if the person is working. After that I try to start at least an hour before the person typically goes active. That usually amounts to starting around 6-7 AM. Sometimes I'll get someone who doesn't wake up till noon, and I'll adjust the schedule accordingly.

I don't have a stable schedule, and my days off are never the same. I can get 40 hours of work in pretty easily in 4 days if I want a long weekend, or sometimes I wont have a day off for weeks if things get too busy.

ProtonDeathRay3 karma

How do you conceal yourself in your car when you are taping? Surely you don't point a camera through your window....or do you?

ElDochart10 karma

I have a dark tint on my car, and I try not to wear bright clothing. As long as I'm not sitting in direct sunlight, you wouldn't be able to see into the car even if you were standing right next to me. So yes, I just point the camera through the window.

KAE18472 karma

What qualified you for the job?

ElDochart2 karma

Just a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice. I got the job fresh out of college.

AdonisChrist1 karma

What are your rates?

ElDochart2 karma

I actually don't know, we're big enough to have accounting and marketing take care of all that. Id estimate around 500 a day.

wrathborne1 karma

Just one more question...You a Colombo fan?:P

ElDochart1 karma

Haven't seen it, I don't watch much TV

usmarine131 karma

I've always wondered, how do you get hired? just an ad in the newspaper or what?

ElDochart1 karma

After getting my Bachelors in Criminal Justice, I applied for the job through Indeed.com, got an interview, etc. Pretty normal hiring process i'd say. If you search indeed, monster, or craigslist for Investigator, you'll probably find something in your area.

Colonel_Mustang1 karma

What kind of skills and qualifications does one need to become a private investigator?

And do you stand up or sit down to wipe when you're finished on the toilet?

ElDochart1 karma

To get licensed in the state, you usually don't need anything. To get a job with a company, they usually want a relevant bachelors degree, and good writing skills. I'd recommend being an extremely patient person also.

theg33k1 karma

My brother-in-law is a state trooper with an on-the-job back injury and was on vacation here in Florida visiting family. His injury is legit, multiple surgeries, etc. but some PI still followed him all the way here and took pictures of him playing with his kids and picking them up in the ocean. My BIL lives about 1k miles away. Was the PI most likely hired in his home state or did they hire a "remote" person? What's the farthest you've traveled or heard of someone traveling for a case?

ElDochart1 karma

It depends. With a larger company like mine, assuming he took a plane, I would follow him into the airport, find out what plane he boarded, and call the florida office to have an investigator pick up the case at the airport. I've done it before with people flying into the area. 200 miles is my record, I know someone who followed the claimant from NYC to northern NH though for a camping trip.

theg33k1 karma

They drove, I can't imagine taking your own semi-unplanned vacation for something like that. Wild times.

ElDochart1 karma

If they drove, the same investigator probably followed them the whole way. Most investigators would just break off, as the insurance company might not see all the gas reimbursements and hotel expenses as worth it for the case. They mustve wanted to find something badly.


Have you ever investigated a Taco Bell?

ElDochart1 karma

No. I like to get lunch at them though.

poliscinerd1 karma

Do you know of many women who are PIs? I know it's kind of a cliche to be an average Joe kind of guy, so I was just wondering if there's a reason for that, like maybe women attract more attention or something, or if there are lots of lady PIs we just don't know about :)


ElDochart2 karma

I know 2 women PIs, I'm sure there are more with my company that I haven't met yet. Most of us are men, but that goes for most CJ professions. Both women are ex police, and know how to handle themselves. I imagine the job might not sound good to many women for security reasons. Sitting in a parked car by yourself in the middle of a city or elsewhere, they might feel vulnerable.

MyPusyTasteLikePepsi1 karma

You don't drive a blacked out Honda, do you?

ElDochart1 karma

It's a little bit cliche, but it gets the job done.

MrGross11301 karma

Aside from information like bank account and social security, what should I take care to protect? I ask because I don't feel the need to be super private. I am not an attention whore, just don't get freaked out if random strangers know my first name.

ElDochart1 karma

The only way to protect your privacy is to not maintain any online presence. Not to have a single profile on any social networking sites, and to not comment on any forums that require an email address. On top of that, never make a screen name the same as an e-mail. If I see that their facebook page is named "www.facebook.com/mrgross1130" there is a good chance that their email is something like [email protected]. It works in opposite too. If I get an email that is [email protected], I immediately just search for mrgross1130 to see if they used it as a screen name on any forums or other sites.

Even if you take all those precautions you probably have some dumb ass relative or friend who posted a picture of you on facebook and doesn't have a protected profile.

nation151 karma

Do you use LexisNexis?

ElDochart1 karma

I do. It's a fantastic program.

robasaurousrex1 karma

What's the smallest piece of evidence you've built a case off of?

ElDochart2 karma

An address someone posted on Facebook. If they didn't post "just moved to (insert exact address), lovin it here!" to their Facebook page, I would never had found them.

YoTheRobots1 karma

What makes you good at your job? How did you learned it? Who and how has helped you to become PI when you started?

And of course thanks for AmA, it's very informative.

ElDochart3 karma

I am an extremely patient person. I can sit here looking out my car window for 8 hours without feeling fidgety. That's most of it. Besides that, I like to think I drive well, I can weave through traffic better than a pissed off teenager in his daddy's sports car. I am good at lying, and a can get people to trust me rather well, especially women. (No pun here, men I talk to tend to be more suspicious and calculating of me, the women I speak to are more likely to accept my kind smile and assurance when I invite them to confirm my presence with the police). It's all something that comes with practice.