Friday, July 26, 2013


(The blue dot above equals 1 million customer's data breached)

Digital Footprints

The other day I heard a talk radio host refer to a guy robbing somebody as “analog crime.” There are bad people after both your hard earned dollars, and your information.  Nobody wants to give in to them, and it seems like we all enjoy the convenience of being online, except when things suddenly go wrong. 

In the world of digital crime, when something does go wrong, it’s likely to show up not in your own backyard, but halfway around the world.  The last time it happened to me, the problem came in the form of a consumer electronics purchase from a Tesco store.  Tesco is a European chain store similar to the USA's Wal-mart. Though the chain does actually own Fresh & Easy, I think the closest Tesco to my house is somewhere in England. 
Today’s crook is sophisticated, and we are currently exposed to more financial risk from digital crime than we are from “analog” crime.  By 2017, there will be 1.3 billion online users filing documents, images  and financial records in cloud storage, so there are plenty of opportunities for people to access data.

Keeping your private stuff private helps.  Whether you’re careful, or not,  it is very possible for your information to be stolen from a source you have absolutely no control over, like Visa/MasterCard, your bank, Apple, T-Mobile, or the Veteran’s Administration.   It’s worth taking a good look at your statements for any erroneous charges.

It’s also worthwhile to conduct your life so you don’t put out too much personal information.  Over the course of the last month or two, news stories on people like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange have increased public awareness of programs like the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program, and wholesale collection of Verizon customer’s pin register data.  Clearly the executive branch has a huge interest in  data archiving on a massive scale, and congress is not going to do anything to close those particular floodgates.   For many of us, personal privacy is not that important.  I’m not a particularly private person, and with a litany of past publications, speaking engagements, and op-ed pieces of one kind or another, short of changing my name and dropping off the grid, I really don’t expect to have much privacy.

If you DO value your online privacy.  Here are a couple of thoughts

1.    Online banking provides less privacy than paper banking.
2.    Encryption is quick, cheap, and easy.  It also makes you look like a suspect if it is found in certain places, but a thumbdrive is probably OK.
3.    Thumbdrives move data between machines more securely than dropbox or email.
4.    Webmail provides less privacy than using an email client like MS Outlook installed directly on your PC.
5.    Cloud storage provides less privacy than your hard drive.
6.    Web photo aps like flickr and instagram make tracking your photos a breeze! For everybody!
7.    Cloud based word processors like GoogleDocs provide less privacy than locally stored word processors like MS Word.
8.    There’s more snooping than the general public realizes.
9.    Anti-spyware programs work against the majority of the threats to your HDD and your phone.
10. Some things, like your retirement fund, really don’t need to be accessible at the click of a mouse.

Figure that God, and at least one three letter acronym, are looking over your shoulder, and you’ll probably be OK. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Our Take On Those "Top 10 Signs He/She Is Cheating" Lists

On Those “Signs Your Spouse Is Cheating” Lists

Back in 1953, Alfred Kinsey found 50% of all married males, and 26% of females had engaged in extramarital sex.  Since then, everybody from Ann Landers to the blogosphere have written lists proclaiming the “signs your spouse is cheating.”  Over the years, we’ve done surveillance and other investigations for a wide variety of clients.  While attorneys, corporate human resource types, and insurance claims examiners all care about the quality of our work product, no client has near the personal involvement of a “domestic” case involving the sixth commandment.

As a field investigator with 10+ years of work in this area, here’s a gut-feeling, seat-of-the-pants, totally unscientific collection of opinions on those lists, from a guy who’s tailed those who’ve been there, done that. 

Let’s start with the obvious. The most simple, straightforward way to find out if your spouse is cheating is to ask them. While you probably don’t want to “pop the question” if you’re about to send a surveillance investigator out after them, many spouses, if given an opportunity to “come clean,” will admit the truth, especially if the adultery involved a relationship, not just an out of town business trip with a couple of orgasms thrown in. It’s rare to find a spouse whose “BS detector” hasn’t gone off once their spouse has become involved in an extramarital relationship.  To be sure, people lie to get sex, lie to avoid getting caught, and lie “just because,” but given the opportunity to come clean, under the right circumstances a decent percentage of marriage partners will admit the truth when asked. When it comes to adultery, a denial may mean maybe, but if they answer “yes” to the adultery question, your infidelity investigation is pretty much done.  The downside of the “come to Jesus meeting” approach is that the next step could be you sleeping alone that night, so if your exit strategy involves the kids going off to college first, you might not want to go this way.

There have been plenty of lists of “signs he’s cheating,” and “signs she’s cheating.”  While “becoming more conscious of their appearance” could mean either a trendy pair of slacks or a push-up bra, a good chunk of the the underlying behavior is gender neutral.  Men and women do behave differently in extramarital affairs, and how they deal with them, but there are probably more common denominators than differences.  While  women and men both cheat, in about 2/3 of divorce proceedings, the wife is the “petitioner,” and the husband is the “respondent,” so I’ll use the male pronoun for most of my top ten list. 

So here’s our field tested (vicariously) read on the common “top ten lists”

10.       They don’t touch you as much, they’re gone longer, and they’re angry and critical: 

            If you’re still providing for your family’s needs, but she’s suddenly significantly more resentful and on edge, you may be facing a situation where she’s involved with someone else. If he changes his patterns and avoids communication with you, that caring is likely going somewhere else.

9.         They go outside or retreat to the other room to make private phone calls:

            Especially if he’s receiving calls in the evening, and excusing himself to return the call after you’ve heard his phone vibrate.  Especially if she’s withdrawing to somewhere she can make outgoing calls undisturbed.

8.         They’ve locked down access to their desktop, laptop, or smartphone.

            Keeping a spouse out of one’s digital data is standard operating procedure for marriage cheats.  If they’ve always been in lockdown mode, this may not mean anything, but if they used to have everything in plain sight, and now you’re seeing a screen saver while they’re in the John, you’ve got a problem. One browser hit to the "life is short, have an affair" site [1] may not be proof of ejaculation, but it’s proof of intent, and they know it.   

7.         They have hidden email or social media accounts.

            If they’ve locked down their digital data, this is still an area a professional investigator may be able to uncover. While it’s not horrible by itself, it’s a good indicator combined with item #8.

6.         They delete text messages, chat history, and browser history on their smartphone and  social networking accounts.

            Especially if it’s done selectively. If messages to Jennifer go back to when he bought the phone, but messages to Jill from last week went poof, you’ve got a problem.

5.         They spend tons of time with a colleague, co-worker, or friend of the opposite sex.

            While a sex-fueled fling may originate via an online dating site, the relationship’s more likely to come from that temptation he’s known all along. 

4.         You notice a different scent on them.  Men. We’re idiots. We’ll press our cheek up against a woman wearing Chanel #5,  and we honestly don’t realize you’ll figure it out.

3.         They have a “burn phone” in addition to the normal cellular phone they carry. 

            Very bad sign.  Period. The charger is probably easier to find than the second phone, but the message and call logs will be a smoking gun if you somehow manage to find it.

2.         They’ve becomes more conscious of their appearance and fitness. 

            Actually, this is probably one of the stronger indicators.  If he’s got more muscle and less weight, a new hairstyle, and trendy clothes, it could be a mistress, age-consciousness, or simply gearing up to be single again.  If she’s been losing weight and toning up while stuck in a sexless marriage, there a really powerful dynamic building up there too, that’s looking for a release.

1.         They don’t come home at night.

            Seriously. Most of us in the PI business have come across a client whose marriage life is at this point, but they’re still grasping on to the hope of some plausible explanation.  If this is you, don’t be embarrassed, you’re trying to keep hope alive in a bad situation, and that’s an understandable reaction.

[1]Canada based, with over 20 million subscribers, is the largest website specifically dedicated to extramarital dating.  Considering there are less than 174 million married adults in the U.S. & Canada, this is a truly astounding number.  Even if you assume 3 million subscribers are either singles wanting to date married men & women, or English speakers living overseas, that’s still one marriage partner in ten.    



Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An Increasingly Sophisticated World?

I was going to start out this article with the phrase “As we live in an increasingly sophisticated world,” but suddenly found myself stopping in mid-sentence.  Technology changes the way society functions, and often changes the balance of power. Technology changes the way we live our lives, the way we do business, the way we fight wars, the way we govern, and certainly the way I do my job, but I’m not at all sure it makes us more sophisticated.  As a licensed private investigator, I deal a lot with both privacy issues and technology.

Public and private sector entities we depend on for information are in a constant state of flux.  Government authorities around the world are building super-tools to track perceived threats against them.  Data mining and cyber-warfare tools are being built faster than courts and politicians can figure out the difference between email and texting.  Online merchandisers are building super-tools to increase sales opportunities, and those who attack authority are developing their own technological tools to wield in the struggle to hold the digital high ground, a fascinating balance of power.   

Today, government entities are wielding surveillance tools that are so powerful they have no historical precedent.  At the same time, adversaries of governments have become more nimble and adaptable too.  Which brings us to today’s window on the world of technology. 

In tech battles, the advantage often goes to the attacker.  When malevolent actors in places like Afghanistan attack authority, creative melding of technologies turns the advantage to the attacker.  Like recombining old cellphones and unexploded munitions and turning them into tank-killing IED’s, cheap and easy technology can serve to help us annihilate each other. Once in a long while, however, someone comes up with an inspirational marriage of technology that helps us to not destroy one another.  Today’s find was one of those unlikely marriages.

Civil Rights Defenders, a Swedish NGO, ( has introduced the Natalia Project, a marriage of existing technology that actually makes it harder for evil people to get away with violence.  In high risk parts of the world, human rights advocates are taken in the middle of the night when no one is around.   Civil Rights Defenders took the social networking of a twitter feed or Facebook page, and the geolocation technology of a GPS offender tracking system, and melded them together.  The resulting technology is an alarm device for human rights defenders.  Activists, journalists, and others at risk of abduction, murder, or being taken as a political prisoner latch the device, a clunky orange bracelet, around their wrist.  When a human rights defender realizes he or she is being attacked, they activate the unit by pushing a button.  Like a silent alarm from a bank to the police, once cut open or triggered, the wristband sends out a signal.  That signal will hopefully hit a cellular or wireless network, sending an SMS text message back to Sweden and sounding the alarm to network members in the area, along with the wearer’s GPS coordinates.

The idea is that through notification and mass media, midnight assaults against human rights defenders become increasingly risky to the aggressors, especially if someone with a video camera can get to the incident quickly.

Initial distribution of the device began in Stockholm on April 5.   The devices are not for sale to the public.  They’re looking at having the devices on 55 at-risk civil rights defenders by the end of the year, many of whom are in former Warsaw Pact or Soviet states.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I had breakfast with a new friend today.  Well, actually a whole lot of us had breakfast… with an employment law expert Karen L. Gabler of Camarillo based, Light Gabler LLP.  Unfortunately, at least for the rank and file, the presentation was titled “We’re Just Not That Into You… Effective Handling of Employee Terminations.”  

In today’s labor climate, effective handling of employee terminations is a topic that really draws a crowd.  The place was packed.  There were barely enough chairs, even though it was a 7:30 am start. 

As a professional investigator who’s been in the business for over ten years, I’ve worked plenty of major cases, and I’ve been on the witness stand for both direct testimony and cross examination by some darn good attorneys.  There are very few of them I’m afraid of.

Karen Gabler’s an attorney who’s just about the last person I’d ever want to go up against in a court of law.  Not only does she know her stuff, she's the kind of attorney who knows how to pull the chair out from under your argument and leave you stunned, sitting there on the ground in front of the jury with a smile on your face, wondering what just happened to you.  Then, with a smile on her own face, she zings your argument a second time with an only slightly sarcastic remark, precisely timed to make the moment stick in the minds of the jury.

Karen took us through a morning that was less PowerPoint, and more interactive, focused discussion.  Our own company does pre-employment screening, employee background investigations, and threat management cases, and it’s easy to see how things an employer missed on the front end of a worker’s hire can come back to bite them later.   Karen brought lots of good information to the table, and I’ll definitely plan on going to more Light Gabler LLP presentations.

Not sure what it portends for society and the California economy, but Karen sure seemed to have hit on a hot topic with “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Employee.”