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Last Month in Surveillance: A Surveillance Recap

February 24th, 2021

January 2021!  In with the new and out with that old, severely stained and tainted, year that was 2020…  A year that included a deadly pandemic that probably touched most of us, in some degree, should have meant a slow-down in surveillance activity across the board, right?  Well, what I learned last year is that the overall population seemed to act like a large group of children being shook a large index finger and told what they can, and cannot do any longer.  You know, the adolescent groups that will bend almost every rule to the point of breaking, even if just to test the limits?  At any rate, subject activity remained high into the new year, even throughout, what many consider, the hardest of times experienced in their young lives (myself included).  Let’s talk cases with a surveillance recap for January 2021.

Surveillance recap

Surveillance Recap #1:

One case, that took me way up into the Houghton (not Houghton Lake!), MI area, focused on a young claimant with (alleged) injuries to her head.  Focus, dizziness and memory issues developed with some minor body aches that warranted a lifting restriction.  I spent the first half of day one simply trying to locate the claimant.  She fell off the radar (young and an apartment hopper), but an eight hour drive absolutely could NOT yield negative results!  This claimant was nice enough to actually make it to her scheduled follow up appointment, This allowed me to follow her to where she would call home (a totally unassociated residence in the data we had).  The following day included drives made to approximately fifteen locations, visits to scheduled venues and the lifting of a large wheelchair that was loaded into the back of her SUV as she picked up an acquaintance.  Now, aside from the “home run” shot with the aforementioned wheelchair, the client seemed intrigued with the entire day of driving, without issue.  All I can is, I was one follow away from becoming dizzy, myself!

Surveillance Recap #2

: Anything rural can be a pretty challenging surveillance gig.  Many times, a stationary camera is suggested simply to gain intel on any possible routine, or pattern, observed at the home so manned surveillance can be established accordingly, to maximize results.  However, this case out in the middle of God’s country had just the right number of elements to get after it with some boots on the ground.  The case involved a couple that had been in an auto accident, with claims that the wife could no longer drive.  One day of surveillance did prove that she “required” transportation services to a medical appointment, but in the same week we rolled the dice, and… wait for it… said claimant was followed, as she drove a large Chevrolet Silverado, all over the map!  She must have had a really good day (a little pun for all the adjusters and attorneys out there)!

Surveillance Recap #3

: One more “quickie”, this one a re-opened file.  Multiple injuries sustained in an auto accident continues to have this claimant up in the Flint, MI area in the need of some replacement services.  The injuries to this claimant were supposed to keep her from maintaining her normal functionality and lifestyle.  Well, with a little research determining that the claimant still maintains a nursing certificate in providing in-home care, then following her… every… single… day (to include over the weekend) to a home across town for a four-hour time frame every single time, got us to thinking, “who lives there and what is the deal?”  Well, as it turns out, the residents at said home require provided care, themselves.  Weird…

January picked up right where 2020 left off, right where 2019 left off… right where…


Until next month,


Casualty Surveillance in 2020 – Facing COVID-19

March 12th, 2020

What the Coronavirus Means for Casualty Surveillance in 2020

When most people think of the Coronavirus, the immediate thought goes to doctors in hazmat suits and patients in isolation. For those who are at a high risk and are infected by the virus, this is likely an accurate portrayal, but for the vast majority of us, life is fairly normal and some of the modifications to our daily routines even make casualty surveillance in 2020 more effective.

casualty surveillance in 2020 COVID-19

When confirmed cases do come to an area where casualty claims surveillance needs to be conducted, we look to life in Seattle right now as what to expect. Barring a meltdown on the scale of Northern Italy, it looks like the following is more in line with what may occur:  For some, the local school system may close, leaving those with children occupied with kids all day, every day. Some large employers also close and ask employees to telecommute or simply wait it out for two weeks. We also see less activity at most retail stores and entertainment venues. People are clearly avoiding crowded public places. This can seem to point to people doing less, and making surveillance less effective, but if one looks a little deeper, it may actually create more opportunities than obstacles.

Very few people are traveling, so they are much easier to find at home. For casualty surveillance, what can be worse than an empty house? We need activity, and travel and vacations frustrate and delay surveillance efforts. Thanks to COVID-19, travel for most seems to be on hold. Even if one wants to venture out for a vacation by car, many destinations like cruises and hotels are viewed as dangerous. Many work-related conferences and trainings have been cancelled. All of this means, the claimants are that much easier to find and observe.

There is far less of a fear of COVID-19 outdoors. Getting outside for exercise, going to the park, taking a bike ride and the like are great ways to get out of the house and not increase your risk of possible infection.  We expect to see these types of activities actually increase, especially in families with children that may end up being home from school.

We still see friends and family, we still shop, we still work. Toilet paper hoarding aside, people being good stewards to the community and their family are not locked in their homes 24/7. They go over to friends’ houses, they visit with the neighbors, they tend to their obligations.

We’re Americans. Most of us are impatient and somewhat spoiled. We want what we want, and we rarely sit still. As time goes by, we get more impatient and do things. Self-imposed virus quarantine will grow old quickly for the healthy Americans who are not at the highest risk. People will do stuff and venture out.  Life will continue on.

On Wall Street, there is a narrative that home improvement retailers will be great beneficiaries of a protracted COVID-19 virus, because people may skip travel and crowded venues, and instead they will work on their house and the yard. If one wishes to see someone’s true physical capabilities, yard work and improvement projects are gold!

What we don’t do is go into large crowds if possible. The good news about that is we rarely find that surveillance footage of a claimant going to the movies or the casino to be fantastic stuff that disproves an injury when it comes to casualty surveillance in 2020 or any previous year. Crowded locations, although they may be easy to hide in, also make it easier for the claimant to be lost and some opportunities for video to be inhibited by the crowd or the movement of others. Much of the potential activity that we would likely obtain in these venues is of walking and sitting.

Seniors appear to be the one exception. Given how lethal COVID-19 is to the elderly, it is no surprise that most older people in infected areas are laying low. This demographic also has far less obligations than others. Most are retired and don’t have dependents to care for. Their activities outside of the home are often confined to the usual medical appointments and basic shopping. This is a group that was already used to being home most of the time and they also have more patience. We would recommend avoiding surveillance on claimants within this population until the virus has abated.

A final closing thought is that the virus has everyone’s attention and when the malingering or fraudulent claimant is occupied with virus related changes in behavior, he or she is far more likely to let their guard down and actually demonstrate their real capabilities and give you great footage to make better claims decisions.

At Sherlock Investigations, we are recommending one adjustment to the normal process of scheduling casualty surveillance in 2020… at least for the time-being. Add a day. We feel that this is the best way to both optimize the opportunity to obtain footage of your claimant and to hedge against any risk of potential virus-related inactivity.

Sherlock Investigations

Women Private Investigators

March 5th, 2020

Here at Sherlock Investigations, we are incredibly proud of our women private investigators and the care they take to ensure each case they work is helping our clients and utilizing their unique perspective to solve problems.  In celebration of March as Women’s History Month and March 8th as International Women’s Day, we decided to take a look back and see how women started in our field and which investigators inspired our female private investigators to choose this career path.

Sherlock Investigations women private investigators

Widely regarded as the first female detective in the United States of America was Kate Warne of the Pinkerton Detective Agency.  She knew that ladies were often overlooked and could actually gain the trust of other women to learn the information she needed.  Kate Warne was a hardworking woman who was assisting with undercover operations during the Civil War long before women could be police officers, investigators, and many other careers.  Some of the skills she developed continue to be used by the Pinkerton Detective Agency to this day.  That’s a great legacy we can only hope to live up to.

As women private investigators, standing out in a male-dominated field drives us to be the best we can be.  The challenges we overcome help us and our company to be the best in the business.  Let’s take a look to see who inspired some of our female investigators to work in this profession:

Veronica MarsWhile this fictional teenage female detective is a bit comical, there are elements that actually carry over to the professional world.  Jeanine from our surveillance investigative team cites the show as an inspiration for her career in the investigations field because the lead character often plays the overlooked female role to get confessions and blend into a variety of situations.  The television show definitely fit into the “teen drama” category, but it brought a strong female character to the center of an investigation without compromising her integrity or hardly ever forcing her to resort to violent measures to get a case solved.

Olivia PopeIn the television show, Scandal, the character plays a lawyer who digs into people’s backgrounds to “find the dirt” on them.  Brittany from our background and research team admits that the main character’s role as the president’s mistress is dramatized, but the premise is what intrigued her.  Olivia Pope is a strong female who dedicates herself to finding a solution to a problem, which is something Brittany relates to.  Each case is unique and finding that information to help clients is what motivates us as investigators.

Erin BrockovichKaitlyn from our office administrative team cites the movie character, and the person she is based on, as being inspirational to her in both “looking cute and solving crime”.  Erin Brockovich utilized a variety of skills from legal knowledge to research to empathy.  Finding truth and uncovering fraud is at the heart of what we accomplish here at Sherlock Investigations.  Being an investigator does not necessarily mean that you have a full list of credentials, but definitely requires a passion for the seeking the truth.

Nancy DrewThe original kid detective was a childhood favorite for Chrissy from our process service department and Sarah from office administrative team.  While they may not have known it when they applied for their jobs here at Sherlock, the fictional literary detective gave them a sense of wonder and following the steps to find answers to help people.  Our process service department helps businesses, attorneys, and the general public every day.  The range of cases that Nancy Drew helped people with is just as diverse as both Sarah’s and Chrissy’s caseloads. 

Olivia BensonJackie from our pre-employment screening department credits the captain and commanding officer from the television show, Law and Order SVU, as her initial curiosity about the investigations field.  She’s yet another strong female character who is passionate about her field and seeking justice.  So often in this field, investigators lose the emotional investment in each case.  Olivia Benson proves that being tough does not mean being emotionless or apathetic.

The Females in Our Lives – Many of our staff members cite the ladies in their own lives as being their inspiration as investigators.  Samantha C. from our background and research team says some of the most inspiring females she knows are the ones she worked with previously at the Detroit Police Department.  Being surrounded by strong females in leadership roles motivated her to be a great investigator.  On the other hand, Sam S. from our background and research team cites her friend, Brittany, as an inspiration for just narrowing down career options.  After working as a police officer, Sam and her friend narrowed down other fields that could utilize her skill-set and determination.  Ladies supporting ladies is something we can all get behind!

All of our women private investigators at Sherlock are as unique as these characters and provide their own insight to each case they work.  The diverse background, education, and experiences they bring to the table is something that has proven invaluable for our clients and has helped solidify our place as one of the top investigation companies in Michigan.  Thanks for all you do, ladies, and happy Women’s History Month!




Video Evidence of an Auto Accident: What Can We See?

October 4th, 2019

In the insurance industry, we often find ourselves wishing that we could just see what exactly went down when the loss occurred from an auto accident.  Sometimes people are lucky enough to find someone had a dashboard camera recording the whole incident, but those instances are few and far between.  To be more realistic, it may be better to take a look at the businesses or homes surrounding the scene of the loss or see if any department of transportation cameras monitor the area.

The process of obtaining these videos that may have captured an auto accident can be a bit tricky and time-consuming, which is why private investigators are often hired in Video Evidence of an Auto Accidentthese instances.  When it comes to locating businesses or home in the area of the loss that may have videos, the first step would be to see who has cameras on the outside of their buildings.  As in the image above, the view and angle of the camera is key.  Many small businesses will have cameras angled just in front of their front doors, but others may have them angled at their parking lots which may give view to the streets nearby.  Private residences may have outward facing cameras in the forms of doorbell cameras or security systems.  Canvassing these businesses or homes, and speaking with the managers or owners to see if they will share the footage they have from that date is the best route to obtaining these videos.  Some businesses may require a formal request from an insurance company, just to track the interaction with their corporate offices.  To obtain videos from street cameras placed by the government or department of transportation, formal requests should be made through a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request.  Legally, any resident can have access to these videos unless a police investigation is underway or if it may violate a person’s privacy.

Another side to this investigation is the “what if” questions.  What if the businesses don’t have video or refuse to share it?  What if it’s too late and they’ve already copied over the tapes?  What if our request was denied?  What if you can’t verify who was in the cars?  Most of the private sources for security camera footages, such as businesses or homes, will retain their video for 30-60 days depending on their equipment and storage space.  Many small home security systems will begin overwriting footage after a few days.  Bank ATMs may retain footage up to 90 days, as set by standards in their industry.  Public access cameras on the other hand can often extend beyond all of that, and it is up the local government to determine how long they save video for.  So, as you can see, if you want to get copies of auto accident footage, it’s better to act quickly.

Another aspect to consider is the quality and range of the video.  A video from a home’s doorbell can be some high quality footage but the range of the video may only be a hundred feet or so.  Parking lot cameras or highway cameras may be lower quality, but you may be able to see more ground coverage.  Keeping that in mind, having footage of the auto accident is better than having none at all, so you can get a clearer image of what went down at the scene.  It is noteworthy that not all cameras in an area may be recording.  In the state of Michigan, freeway cameras are set up only to monitor traffic and road conditions.  Traffic light cameras are often used to just to capture still images of people driving through that red light.  Cameras set off by sensors will often only record if something happens within a certain number of feet from the location.  Keeping all of that in mind is important when requesting footage.

You may find yourself wondering why anyone would hire a private investigator in this situation?  Isn’t all of this footage public record or data that can be requested?  Yes, public security camera footage can be requested and contacting businesses or homeowners for their footage is just something you can ask for.  As professional investigators, we handle matters like this everyday because we know who we should be requesting footage from, and the time sensitivity involved.  Going in person to request footage tends to make the process a little smoother and we can work with staff at the businesses to pinpoint what we need and what it will ultimately be used for.  Adjusters and attorneys in the insurance industry hardly have the time to go out canvassing the streets to get auto accident footage from security cameras, so that is where investigators come in.  We can save time and get all of the details squared away, so you can go back on the defense to prevent fraudulent claims from cheating legitimate claims for the money they need.






An Inside Look into Fraud Prevention: Two Different Extremes

August 7th, 2019

fraud preventionHere at Sherlock Investigations, we take claims investigations very seriously. As one might imagine, fraud investigators have the pleasure of seeing both the good and the bad
in the insurance industry. In some cases, claims we investigate don’t even have a fraudulent component. Injuries, financial losses, or even vehicle replacements in auto-liability cases are all viable and reasonable needs to file a claim with your insurance provider. However, in many cases, we see fraudulent claims that often times have no basis at all for needing additional compensation from an insurance company. In this blog, I’d like to cover two recent cases that we, as research investigators, see situations similar to on a regular basis. To give a better idea of how these investigations work in our field, I’ll cover the extremes: a claim that was obviously fraudulent and a claim that was obviously deserving of being validated.

Situation #1 – A fraudulent disability claim in the making

As a member of the research team, I often see cases before they are deemed valid enough or before enough information is gathered to begin surveillance on a subject. In many cases, our clients don’t really know what is going on with a particular claimant, so they hire us to complete a background investigation and activities check just to see how or what the particular individual is doing with their life following the loss in question.

In this case, a big city public transportation operator (bus driver) filed a claim after being involved in an accident while on duty. We received the information detailing that the claimant in this situation couldn’t “preform the abilities of her job” to the same level as before the loss: assisting passengers on and off the bus, carrying items on and off, turning the bus wheel to steer, etc. To start out, we always conduct background investigations first where criminal and civil records are checked, along with any bankruptcies/liens/judgements that the subject may have files in the past. We additionally file FOIA requests with jurisdictions in which the subject lives to gather pertinent information related to law enforcement contacts, or even to discover if the individual has been involved in any more recent motor vehicle accidents. Following this, we conduct a through social media investigation, followed by discreet activities inquiries to discover evidence about a subject’s current levels of activity. Right off the bat, we located several dismissed motor vehicle claims against different insurance companies in the subject’s civil records, along with a spotty financial history when it came to filing bankruptcies and other small claims judgements where or subject was the defendant. When we began our social media search, the situation behind this investigation became even more clear. Our subject was what one would call the “party type:” throwing weekly “themed dance parties” at private clubs in her hometown, where she appeared in multiple videos dancing, running around, and jumping on and off of tables in the early hours of the morning. In addition, posts were collected where the subject mentioned how much she “loved her job” and was more deserving of a raise than any of her other co-workers. After discreetly speaking with a friend who informed us that she didn’t believe the subject to be suffering from any injuries after the loss, we closed the case and returned our file to our client.

Cases will often be re-opened by our clients in the pursuit of more specific information as it relates to a claim; in this case, our clients wanted to subpoena the subject’s workplace for video of her operating the bus, just to observe her while she was at work. Records like these are not public, and in some cases, need a court order to be released. We reached out to the employer to see if we could send a FOIA request for this information, where we were told that we would need the subject’s bus number to find the correct video. Unfortunately, we knew that our subject was on a regular route, however, we were informed that workers weren’t regularly assigned to specific buses, so locating her records would be a lengthy process.

Situation #2 – little-to-no information turns into a valid claim

In when conducting these investigations, little to no information about a person or a claim may seem like a problem or an indicator of fraud—this is often not the case. Sometimes a file is opened with us to see what is going on with a subject in anticipation of a claim, and sometimes a claim is filed with information so puzzling that it makes more sense for us to figure it out.

In this case, we knew that the subject was a late 20s or early 30s white male, veteran & engineer that was involved in a motor vehicle accident on an interstate. The police report detailed “incapacitating injuries” and that the subject was transported from the scene. Records searches and a thorough background investigation was conducted, where our subject was relatively clean in terms of criminal records, civil suits, bankruptcies, liens, and other judgements. Other than a few traffic tickets and a prior divorce, our subject seemed to be your regular, hard-working individual. When we completed our social media searches, we learned what actually happened with this situation: the subject received traumatic injuries to one leg and his abdomen, resulting in an amputation above the knee and had over 10 surgeries to repair damage to the stomach and intestines. After being put into a medically induced coma to heal, the subject’s future was uncertain. Several GoFundMe campaigns were located that detailed these facts of the loss, along with facts about the subject’s wife who was pregnant with their first child at the time of the incident. While social media references detailed that the claimant was healing at a slow pace, many of his friends speculated that he may never leave the hospital again.

A close associate indicated that he was actually at the hospital with the subject for a couple weeks following the accident. No one was sure if the subject would be released in the near future and to what extent he would be able to return to his normal, daily life. A report was created with this information and then passed along to our client.

6-8 months following the loss, we were asked to re-open the file to check on the subject’s situation. Social media references were updated with activity being posted again from the subject’s personal accounts, detailing that he had healed and was working on new business ventures following his accident. Photos depicted the subject using a wheelchair, along with business cards detailing that he has started his very own landscaping business for both residential and commercial customers. Discreet contact was made with a neighbor around the source’s home, where we learned that our subject was doing much better following the accident and appeared to be in good spirits. Our source confirmed that he was active in his lawn mowing business and otherwise was going about his life to the best of his ability—with some major changes made in his life after the fact.

Day in and day out, we see varying cases like these. It keeps us on our toes; not knowing what to expect and going into an investigation with an open mind is something that may seem difficult to do but is actually a necessity in our business. When it comes to reporting the facts of a situation, we never assume anything to be true or to be false—if a claim moves forward to litigation and unvalidated information is used, it can make or break the case for our clients. These are just a few rules we live by when doing research, and as always, our end goal is to make the best of any situation that comes across our desks.

A Surveillance Master’s Guide to Selecting the Proper Vehicle

July 2nd, 2019

surveillance vehicles

Just as important a decision of what camera to use as an investigator, is the choice on what vehicle to use for your surveillance. Besides a red Ferrari, which could probably be debated, just about any vehicle could be used as a surveillance vehicle. We could have a debate about whether a Dodge Grand Caravan or a yellow Ford Mustang, but in reality, both could have their place. The location and situation are the biggest determination on what makes a good surveillance vehicle, but the goal here is to help break down some key components into selecting the right tool for the job.

A wise investigator once coined the phrase “anonymity through conformity.” As he put it “if everyone was driving a pink taco truck, then a pink taco truck would be the perfect surveillance vehicle.” Obviously, most people don’t drive pink taco trucks, but the sentiment still works. Coupe or sedan, truck or SUV, the vehicle choice needs to match the area you are working. Some vehicles blend better just because they are so non-descript and look like any other vehicle on the road, and some blend better because of just how many of that model of vehicle are ACTUALLY being driven.

After selecting the correct vehicle for your surveillance job, its important to focus on the little things that make a big difference in you being able to accomplish your task of staying on surveillance for an extended period of time. We all know that every assignment is different, and the time you are on site in your vehicle may only be a few minutes to a full day and beyond. The small little details about your vehicle are going to be the difference in just how long you can stay undetected over the course of the day, or multiple days if you are working the assignment again. Vanity license plate, bumper stickers, damage to the vehicle or the windshield, or aftermarket badges or wheels. All of these are little details that might not mean much at the start, but the longer you give someone the chance to see them, the more likely they are to notice or remember you. For example, a Chevrolet Trailblazer could be an ideal vehicle to use for surveillance, however, is you select the ‘SS’ model with the red badges and black rims, it becomes one of the most easily picked out vehicles on the road.

A sometimes-overlooked aspect of the vehicle though, is the vantage points the vehicle provides you when you are trying to film what is going on around you. With as many Dodge Challengers as there are on the road in some areas these days, the argument could be made that one of those could make a good vehicle selection. They have plenty of power to be able to follow almost anything on the road and depending on your color choice may blend in perfectly in an area. However, the inside is reasonably cramped and with the small windows and limited lines of sight that are common in muscle/sports cars, keeping yourself in position to continue to documenting activity could be a struggle. Going with a smaller SUV or even a minivan not only gives you more open space in the front and large windows to film through, it also gives you the possibility of utilizing the rear compartments of the vehicle thus giving you more concealment and the image that there is no one in the vehicle. The extra storage space for equipment, food, and water to survive the day is an added benefit.

At the end of the day, the surveillance vehicle you select needs to be one that fits you. You are going to be spending anywhere from 4 to 6, maybe even 8 or more hours than that at a time, sitting in the driver’s seat waiting on something to happen. If you cannot do that in the vehicle you select, it does not matter whether it meets all the prior criteria’s as have been talking about. Choose a vehicle that works for you in the area you need to be in, while remaining as anonymous as possible, and is comfortable enough to sit in all day. Oh – and having some tint on your windows is probably a sound strategy as well.

From the Investigator: The Seasonal Affect – Keith

June 20th, 2019

The Seasonal Affect

Investigator Keith Stotts has been the man with the plan for many, many years at this company! He began his journey with Sherlock Investigations in September of 2012. In his time with us, he has been through five different surveillance vehicles, all of which have served their purpose well – he is currently searching for a new addition to his current Chevrolet and Dodge collection.  Keith has two German Shepherds at home, which he adores!  People often tell him that he should take them out on cases, but for obvious reasons he won’t let that happen. This series aims to address the different work conditions that investigators run into throughout the year. Every day is different out in the field, and we all handle it in our own way! Let’s get to know how our third interviewee, Keith, conquers the four seasons!


Michigan surveillance is full of challenges. How do the climate and state conditions prepare an investigator for work adversity?

Working in Michigan can be challenging. Being that we are a state that offers all four seasons, more so than some other states that I’ve lived in, I try to anticipate each day’s events. Each of these seasons offers pros and cons. Winter for instance is typically darker than the other months and allows you to blend in more. Also, with no foliage on the bushes and smaller trees this allows you to sit on streets with a vantage through properties. Springtime has a lot of unpredictable rain, making surveillance difficult at best. No one wants to be outside in the rain, and if they are, obtaining quality video is not exactly easy through the drops on a windshield.


What is your favorite season to do surveillance in?

Fall and winter are probably my favorite times of the year to work in the field. Fall, because the temperatures have dropped to a more reasonable level, and there’s a very high chance for quality activity and video. Wintertime for the reasons stated above. Both of these seasons offer the investigator opportunities to obtain quality video proof as there are high possibilities that our subject is going to be outside either raking leaves or clearing snow.


How does your routine change with the seasons?

Changing from winter to spring can be tough. Like winter, you must make sure that your vehicle stays clean. We all know how the salt looks on a car in the winter, and makes you stand out. The same can be said with the rain of springtime. Video footage through a dirty windshield or window never turns out a professional looking product. The days in the springtime can go from cold in the morning, to blazing in the afternoon so it’s a good idea to make sure that you have the necessary clothing and vehicle shade.


Are there any cases that you know would have only been possible to accomplish in fair weather?

Cases where we know or have good intelligence that the subject is going to be performing yard work/landscaping in the springtime can be a big win. With that being said, it all depends on the weather. We really must keep an eye on upcoming weather i.e. rain, flooding. It’s difficult, at best, to predict what Mother Nature is going to throw our way, but with advances in radar technology we can come close most of the time.


How do you prepare mentally and physically for the vast changes in schedule that come with surveillance?

The changes in the seasons have a big effect on how our finished product comes out. During the colder months the days are shorter offering a limited window for obtaining quality footage. Also, during the winter there is a very real chance that some streets may be blocked or impassable due to snowfall. Some urban areas do not clear snow as regularly as other neighborhoods. Mapping out travel routes beforehand is always a good idea. During the warmer months our case rate increases, meaning there are days when an investigator can work multiple cases in a single day. These can be exhausting and making sure that you have all the items needed i.e. water, change of clothes, etc. is imperative.

From the Investigator: The Seasonal Affect – Natasha

June 13th, 2019

The Seasonal Affect

Investigator Natasha Popovska has had no trouble adjusting to the crazy ups and downs in surveillance. Natasha has an avid love for people watching, which is why she absolutely loves this job. Natasha also has a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Madonna University. While at Madonna, she was the poster girl for the college’s flyers! After applying for her surveillance position on a whim, she was surprised to get a call from Sherlock, who had recognized the great talent she could bring to our company. This series aims to address the different work conditions that investigators run into throughout the year. Every day is different out in the field, and we all handle it in our own way! Let’s get to know how our second interviewee, Natasha, navigates the Great Lakes state!


Michigan surveillance is full of challenges. How do the climate and state conditions prepare an investigator for work adversity?

The very first thing I do when I wake up is check the weather, even before I roll out of bed. Being prepared in any sort of weather condition is one of the keys to making sure that you can be the best investigator you can be. You don’t want to stand out so that you’re easily recognizable. For example, I am constantly hot and even in the winter I just wear a sweater without a winter coat, but when I have cases during the winter I always make sure to have a hat, scarf, gloves, and coat to make myself “fit in” because you never know where the day may take you, which is another reason why I love my job.


What is your favorite season to do surveillance in?

My favorite season for surveillance is in the fall. It’s perfect because it’s not so cold that you feel like you’re nose is going to fall off and you don’t get too hot to the point where you absolutely have to have the air conditioner on, (the less gas you waste, the better). Also, in my opinion, people are more likely to be out and about because it’s not freezing or scorching hot, which allows for good activity for the day and makes our clients very happy; the chance of possibly having to follow someone into the cider mill makes me a happy camper as well.


How does your routine change with the seasons?

My absolute favorite thing about working in the spring/summer is the sun. I bought a sun blocker for your front windshield and I have my windows tinted so when I put the sun blocker in my front window, no one can see that I am sitting in my vehicle. It may sound creepy, but it allows for me to avoid the extra attention of someone who just sits in their vehicle for hours at a time without any interaction; the less attention an investigator can draw to themselves the better so that the person we are doing surveillance on does not start to become suspicious. The last thing any investigator wants is to burn a case.


Are there any cases that you know would have only been possible to accomplish in fair weather?

Living in Michigan where there is never a steady weather pattern and always makes for an interesting day of work. The days when surveillance is affected the most, in my opinion, is when it’s either too hot or too cold/snowing outside. No one wants to do yard work when it’s 90+ degrees outside, so some days you’re sitting in your car waiting for someone to cut the grass or plant flowers with absolutely no activity and then you’ll have people outside shoveling snow when you would think that they would be inside due to the extremely cold weather. I don’t think you can ever be 100% certain as to what will happen, so you have to be prepared for anything that gets thrown your way.  


How do you prepare mentally and physically for the vast changes in schedule that come with surveillance?

I prepare everything I am going to need for the workday the night before. I check the weather for the next day both before I go to sleep and again in the morning, so I am prepared for whatever nature throws my way. Making sure I get plenty of sleep the night before and coffee before I start work is the major key for me. I always have extra clothes and shoes on hand just in case my case takes a turn; the last thing you want is to be wearing oversized sweats and a baggy hoodie and then having to walk into a very prestigious restaurant. In the summer I carry flip flops, and make sure to have TONS of water on hand, even though you must drink in moderation. During the winter I carry a shovel in my trunk just in case I end up getting snowed in (makes me miss my four-wheel drive so much). Even though it’s only been a year since I have worked in this profession, I am still learning new things every day. All the investigators are great when it comes to seeking answers to questions or advice in general. The investigators in the office help a lot as well; by adding in notes we may find helpful or telling us facts we may need to know about a case before we get there, it allows for the field investigator to be better mentally and physically prepared for what the day has in store.

From the Investigator: The Seasonal Affect – Samantha

June 6th, 2019

The Seasonal Affect

Investigator Samantha Castillo has been through all of the surveillance conditions that Michigan has to offer. The season that she has the most fun with outside of work is Fall; Halloween and cider mills are her thing!  Apart from being in love with being a new Auntie and a dog mom, Samantha also enjoys live music on the regular at all of the local Detroit theatres. This series aims to address the different work conditions that investigators run into throughout the year. Every day is different out in the field, and we all handle it in our own way! Let’s get to know how our first interviewee, Samantha, tackles this Michigan terrain!

Michigan surveillance is full of challenges. How do the climate and state conditions prepare an investigator for work adversity?

One of the things that remind me of how differential our work conditions are is the fact that every day I have to check the internet for what the weather conditions were while I was in the field. We can go a whole week with different conditions every day, or multiple conditions in one day! I never assume that the weather will remain constant and predictable. That being said, small things like the amount of gas you have in your tank, keeping up on oil changes, having healthy tires, etc. are even more important when you live and work in Michigan. There are some road conditions that can greatly impact surveillance, such as potholes and flooding. These conditions require knowledge of the local terrain, as many locals will avoid high risk areas and mobile surveillance is impacted by this. With all of these odds against us, we are forced to take extreme care because of the risks and also due to the price of insuring our surveillance vehicles.

What is your favorite season to do surveillance in?

My personal favorite parts of the year are the late-Fall and early-Spring. They are my favorite because of the temperature and overhead conditions. I really enjoy days where I do not have to heat or cool my vehicle, saving on gas. There are a lot of cloudy days during these times too, which does not allow the inside of my vehicle to superheat and taking video is much clearer without the blare of sun rays. These times of the year are also leading into and coming out of periods where people are not outside as much, making neighborhood suspicion less likely. Also, there is not a crazy amount of snow during these times! Snow is awful in Michigan because it slows our commute times and makes mobile surveillance more dangerous. Also, I’m just not a fan of super-hot days, they make me thirsty and as you can imagine finding a place to use the restroom is not easy sometimes when you are a female!

How does your routine change with the seasons?

There are several things that I make sure to hit on when the seasons are changing. In the Winter, I have to make sure I am washing my vehicle often due to the mud and salt residue blocking my view. I always keep a full tank of gas in cold weather. In Spring, the warm weather props that I use such as sandals, shorts, and sunglasses are always within reach. In the Summer, I am making sure to get almost monthly oil changes and keeping spare water bottles just in case I find myself overheating. In the Fall, I am getting new tires and preparing my Chevrolet SUV for Winter. I do not change vehicles in between the seasons; my small SUV fits in year-round in most scenarios. My greatest changes come with how I setup for surveillance. In colder weather I find that I can park closer to my subject’s residence, and when it is warm I have to stay back a generous distance. You also have to be cognizant of the schedules of school children between early fall and early summer. Where there are children, there are alert adults!

Are there any cases that you know would have only been possible to accomplish in fair weather?

This being Michigan, there are many people that have a summer routine that they follow religiously. One of the great things about that is that we can pinpoint what that routine is from social media, surveillance or drop cam. A common scenario that we run into is that of the “second home camper”. We will follow a subject to their preferred campground from their main residence and this “home away from home” is a place that they think they are safe from observance. While they are at these places they can be observed swimming, fishing, going on nature walks, pitching tents, chopping wood, building fires, etc. These situations are a gold mine!

How do you prepare mentally and physically for the vast changes in schedule that come with surveillance?

I find that one of the best ways to deal with the mental and physical strain is to get enough sleep. Yes, our hours can be vastly different day to day, but if you set a hard rule for the amount of sleep you have to get, it helps. The surveillance lifestyle can sneak up on you if you don’t stay aware of yourself. For example, poor dietary habits can evolve and before you know it and you can find yourself feeling sluggish and not letting your brain get the nourishment that it needs. Your responsiveness in the field is what can make or break a case. Not letting yourself get burned out is on you, and working for a company that understands that is key!


Social Media Authentication Myths

May 30th, 2019

Metadata capture versus the authentication of social media

Could you explain this to the judge in your case?

Social Media Authentication Myths


There is no more simplistic way to put this into words, so here it goes; just because you can capture the hash values of a social media post does not mean you have identified where or when an image was taken.  Period, end of story.  I have sat through presentations on this topic where the use of hash value collection software was used synonymously with geolocation and metadata collection in a way that the audience believed that such tools would prove when and where an image was taken once extracted from a social media platform.

Posts and images found on Facebook, Instagram, VSCO, SnapChat and for argument sake Twitter do not contain metadata related to the time, date, device or location of the images found on an individual’s profile.  There is no way through metadata to prove when an image was taken once it is posted to most social media platforms.  For this we must get more creative…

The values contained in the MD5 of SHA hashes that can be pulled from a social media post merely verifies when and where an image or post was captured by the person collecting it, namely the investigator.  Tools to extract this data have been around for many years, and a good number of law firms use platforms with integrations that include the ability to do this in-house.  As investigators, we too have a toolbox full of ways to capture the hash values from our internet profile investigations.  Having such abilities is valuable, and may, one day, become mandatory due to a newish federal court rule (902) regarding the self-authentication of digital evidence.  At this moment, local circuit and district courts have yet to adopt this rule and even more importantly are simply unaware of the position of the federal district court update.  For now, given the current landscape and the process a court rule must go through in order to be adopted at the local level, we are better served combining this “new” collection process with a tried and true method, which ultimately includes a affidavit from the investigator, testifying to the collection methods and practices used in the investigation.


If you or a colleague are interested in obtaining a template of the affidavits we have successfully submitted to the courts or a copy of what the Federal Court Rule 902 investigation report looks like, please let us know and we will happy to send you samples.  Furthermore, if your team is interested in training opportunities on the techniques used to collect social media and beyond the surface web internet evidence, we would be happy to provide such training and consultation.