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  • Writer's pictureRick Raymond, P.I.

How Do Private Investigators Conduct Surveillance?

Professional private investigators conduct surveillance every day. It is one of the most common services requested and yet TV shows and movies often get it wrong when depicting it. When a client requests surveillance the true professional investigator will go through a series of steps before he or she even accepts the case:

Step 1: Is the client's purpose legal, moral and ethical? - As you can imagine, a busy private detective agency gets an interesting host of characters walking in it's doors on a daily basis. Most of these folks just need help. Some of these "clients" have ulterior motives and are seeking the services of an investigator to help them stalk someone or otherwise carry out activities that a professional P.I. would find to be unethical or illegal. For this reason, a good investigator has to vet the client and assess whether there is a lawful purpose for conducting surveillance. This isn't always easy because some of the "clients" are really good at being deceptive and / or playing the victim. Surveillance is an invasive activity for the target being watched. Investigators have access to personal information including vehicle records, driver license information, relatives and associates, addresses, emails, phone numbers and myriad other personal data on the subject of the investigation. It is critical that the client be subjected to a fair amount of scrutiny to make sure they have a legal need for the requested surveillance and that it is ethical to do so. We often conduct a min background check on our client to make sure they have no history of domestic violence or stalking behavior. We also consider the likelihood that our objective is actually attainable. Does the client have a realistic objective and can we, as professional investigators, actually resolve this matter successfully for our client? Out of every ten people who come to us for P.I. services, we might only accept 60% of the cases.

Step 2: Obtaining information from the client - This step is pretty straightforward; however, if it is not done properly, the entire case can fall apart. At this phase, a professional investigator will obtain any and all information about the target that might prove useful. Where do they live, where do they work, what type of car do they drive, what do they look like, what route do they travel, what is there favorite hangout? These questions seem tedious to clients, but if this step is done well, it will ensure success on the case. Sometimes a little tidbit of information can make the difference in success or failure on surveillance. If you are planning on consulting with a private investigator you must understand that being open and completely honest is vital. Professional investigators have a strict requirement to maintain confidentiality, so you can rest assured, the information is kept between you and the investigator.

Step 3: Planning a Surveillance Schedule - This step is a difficult one for most private investigators. Clients usually approach this one of two ways. Either, they tell the investigator to figure it out on their own, or, they micromanage the hours and days worked to the point that very little useful evidence is obtained. It is really important to work together as a team to determine what days and hours surveillance should be conducted. It will also save a client money in the long run.

Step 4: Behind the Tint - In this step, all the details have been ironed out. The schedule has been agreed upon. The client has paid the investigator's retainer fee and all pre-surveillance research has been conducted. Now, it is time to get out there and see what the target is up to. It doesn't really matter if the case is for marital infidelity, employment verification or a potentially fraudulent insurance claim. A good, experienced private investigator will approach nearly every surveillance case the same. Private investigators most often work from a vehicle. That vehicle looks normal on the outside, but, inside it has been modified for surveillance. In our surveillance vehicles we have computer mounts, subdued lighting (red, like an airplane cockpit), window shades and blackout curtains. In Florida, when we conduct surveillance it is most often HOT outside and so we also utilize portable AC units which are modified coolers full of ice with a large fan attached to the top. The fan forces air down over the ice and then the air comes out of vents which can cool the vehicle down to around 68 - 70 degrees for 6 to 8 hours at a time. This is important because the investigator can't always have the vehicle engine running. Of course, the vehicle windows have dark tint as well. This is rather normal in Florida as most vehicles have window tint due to the brutal heat and sun. The investigator will then select a suitable surveillance position and wait for the target to move. Once the target departs, the investigator follows them to determine where they go and who they associate with.

Florida surveillance investigator

For an insurance fraud case, our objective may be to get video of the person lifting heavy objects or bending over with a "bad back". In an adultery matter, we may just follow them to make sure they don't meet up with a paramour for a romantic dinner. Sometimes, while following a person, we might lose them in traffic. Private investigators can't run red lights or break any laws while following a target so this happens from time to time. When a person is an aggressive driver who speeds often, we might use two investigators to maximize our chances of staying with them in traffic. Sometimes we use GPS Trackers on the vehicle (if the client owns the vehicle and approves) to allow us to "hang back" a bit farther from the target without being detected.

In the end, we always remember that our client had questions they wanted answers to. Our goal is always to answer our clients’ questions and to do so in a legal, ethical and discreet manner. If we can assist you with any "questions" you may have, please call us at (386) 310-4812 or visit us online at

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