EP 114: Secret Tricks from a Private Investigator in Divorce – Interview with Larry Kaye, Private Investigator and Author

“The more information you can bring to an investigator – an experienced investigator will know exactly what to ask for… the greater your success.” – Larry Kaye

In this episode, we interview Larry Kaye, a highly experienced private investigator and author of 51 Dirty Tricks Bad Guys Really Hate: Sneaky Tactics used by Police, Private Investigators and Bounty Hunters. Larry is a highly experienced private investigator and has been frequently involved in divorce cases.

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Here are some of the topics Larry covers:

  • How private investigators can be used to discover more than just infidelity
  • What to look for before hiring a private investigator
  • How much a private investigator costs
  • Think you’re being followed? Tricks to protect yourself.

To learn more about Larry Kaye, visit him at www.shadowanyone.com.

This episode contains everything about private investigators you may have been afraid to ask. Definitely a fascinating episode you don’t want to miss!

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Shawn: Today on the show I have Larry Kaye. He is a private investigator and now a trainer of private investigators, and also author of the book 51 Dirty Tricks Bad Guys Really Hate. Larry, welcome to the show.

Larry: Good to be with you, Shawn.

Shawn: Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about your background, why you became a private investigator and how long you’ve been in the industry.

Larry: I grew up wanting to be a police officer and I thought joining the military at eighteen would be a good, safe way to get me from eighteen to twenty-one in kind of a productive way. A couple of nights of shore patrol I discovered that was not the job that I wanted at all. When I got out of the military I fell into doing private security work and a canine patrol actually, which was a uniform job with a marked car and a dog going from business to business and answering alarm responses and just absolutely loved it.

I wanted to get out of the uniform and found myself moving over to loss prevention which is store detectives or shop lifting, that type of thing. That was a great job as well, working at check fraud, credit card fraud, shop lifters. Very quickly I discovered that there is this huge organized retail crime going on that is just bands of people who work together to defraud stores and steal. I began to look at how to do background checks and criminal histories and the investigative side of things. After a few years of that I got my private investigators license with the state and opened my own detective agency for nine years. That was a great thing but you could only spend so much time in the back of a surveillance van before you pretty much have seen everything. I moved from the actual fieldwork to doing training for private investigators.

Shawn: That’s very cool. Where are you based from? Give the listeners a sense of where you are geographically.

Larry: Columbus, Ohio. Right in the middle of the state.

Shawn: Excellent. When you were working as a private investigator, did people hire you for divorce situations?

Larry: Yeah. It was very common actually, to get hired by people calling and looking for help. A lot of time it was pre-divorce, sometimes post-divorce.

Shawn: What were some of the things that they might ask you in pre-divorce, and post divorce situations? What are some of the main tasks that people hire an investigator for?

Larry: Pre-divorce is almost always infidelity related. Looking for a cheating souse and that type of thing. I know you had an excellent interview with Vicky Stark in episode 68 where she talked about sudden wife abandonment. When a private instigator is involved, it’s almost the polar opposite of that.

One of the spouses can see pretty much from a mile off that something is not right. A lot of times it’s the wife, but certainly not exclusively. She’ll hire a private instigator to say “Hey, I think there’s a problem, I think my husband is cheating or not where he’s suppose to be.” A private investigator is one way to figure out where he really is or what he’s really doing.

Shawn: I think that makes sense. What about after divorce? I think everyone is probably familiar with the infidelity or cheating. Why would someone consider hiring an investigator then?

Larry: After divorce, really is one of those areas that falls more into the money category. One of the more common things is to look at modification of spousal support. One case in particular where I worked, the husband was paying four thousand dollars a month in alimony or spousal support. The agreement drawn up by his attorney stipulated that if the wife remarried or cohabitated with a man, he could stop paying the spousal support. He had discovered somewhere along the lines, or suspected, that she was living with a man. In that case he actually, through his attorney, hired me. It only took a few days to establish that she was living with a man. They took that to court and saved the man four thousand dollars a month, pretty much for the rest of his life.

Shawn: That sounds like a very happy client you had in that case. Let’s say that I suspect, or I need an investigator. Is there some sort of information that you need to prepare in advance? How does the hiring process work? I have no idea.

Larry: You’re not alone for sure. A lot of people start calling around to get a feel for it. Certainly hiring the first person you talk to is probably not a great idea. The information, depending on the type of case, if it’s strictly a surveillance or trying to figure out where my spouse is going or what they are up to, things like schedule, time of day that he or she leaves, even down to a more mundane thing like “He leaves a driveway. He usually turns left towards the express way.” Those types of things can really help a surveillance go a lot more smoothly. Make and model of a car, actually, you’d be surprised how many people know this. If you have a suspicion of who he’s meeting or where he’s meeting, that can help surveillance go a lot more successfully.

Shawn: I think that makes a lot of sense. So just kind of basic information or clues to help the investigator out to the extent that’s possible.

Larry: Yeah. That’s for sure. There’s some people that may be on a missing persons or what we would call a skip tracing type case where occasionally we’d come across a client who thinks this is wildly expensive. I’m just going to give him the name and let him go find this person. Really the more information you can bring to an investigator –an experienced investigator will know exactly what to ask for –the more information you can bring, the greater your success.

Shawn: One of the things that’s nearly impossible form the outside is trying to figure out how to know if the investigator you’re hiring is good. I see and my clients see, and sometimes are the object of investigations. There are certainly, as in every profession, some good ones and some bad ones. How do you avoid the bad and know you’re working with a good investigator?

Larry: This is such an excellent question. The bare minimum bar that any investigator should have is a license. In the United States almost always at the state level. They should have a license with the state to run a private investigation agency or be a private investigator. Beyond that, you really want to look at the experience of the investigator. There are just a wide variety of things investigators do. Some of us are better at one thing than the other. So if you’re really looking to hire someone as an investigator, ask them about their experience there. If they’re just normally doing skip tracing or something that a lot of times involves computer work, it may not be the best qualified person to get behind the wheel and follow someone. Also, you can ask if they’re going to take the case themselves or if they’re going to pawn it off to a junior investigator, and find out a little bit about their experience as well.

One other red flag might be price, like so many things in this world you kind of do get what you pay for. If you have somebody who is just at the rock bottom price and you’re pinching pennies because you’re obviously not in a good spot in your life right now, going too cheap can be a real problem.

Shawn: That makes sense. Do I just type in private investigator in google and I hope I find one that comes up? How do you find someone?

Larry: I think that’s where a lot of people start. They type in private investigator in their city and state. Some people will stumble upon a private investigator looking for resources. “How can I tell if my wife is cheating?”, and that type of thing. An investigator might have some information pop up and say, well this guy, or this girl, seems to know what they are doing, they know what they’re talking about. In addition to kind of the smell test you ask yourself if this website looks legitimate or if it’s one of those free ones that the internet service provider put up? Is this taking the time and professionalism that actually paid for a website? Look at things like, are they offering any resources for help. Also many are members of a state association. That’s not a real deal breaker for me because it can be real pricey to join a state association. If they are a member that means that they are complying with certain obligations that the members do. There are especially ethical considerations.

Shawn: Speaking of ethical considerations. I think there might be some misconceptions about what’s legal and what’s not. Often times, particularly in divorce you can kind of end up with a range of… is phone tapping legal? Or is following someone legal? What are the main legal and unethical boundaries, or even digging through someone’s trash? As I think about it, what are some of the things that an investigator can or can’t do? The big items.

Larry: Sure. I think you’ve touched up on some of them there. Phone tapping is one of those things that’s clearly off limits at all times and all ways. A lot of times especially if you’re talking about a pre-divorce investigation, it’s not uncommon for the person to go to an attorney who has an investigator or recommends an investigator. The attorney can explain the legal things; of course I’m not an attorney. Generally, for example, going through someone’s trash, if it’s out at the curb it’s for the most part in the United States considered abandoned property. Anybody can get access to that. You have no reasonable expectation of privacy once you put it out there. Following people, generally speaking, again you’re in the public and plain view. There certainly are limits to certain things and the ethical limits are the type of thing that I personally take very seriously. That’s something you want to look at with an investigator because there are things that are legal but maybe not ethical for ones personal belief system or another. Even things that are legal and ethical, an attorney in particular, or a particular client may say “I don’t want to use this source at all.”, “I don’t want to use this method at all.” It can make the client, you show up with some information in court that was gathered by going to the trash, it can reflect poorly on the client in some attorney’s use.

Shawn: I guess that makes sense. Just one method in particular as you were talking that came to my head, a lot of times you see on TV an investigator type character pretending to be someone else. Is that something you can –to get information –be it from a bank account or hotel room, or whatever else it might be, where does that fall in the legal or ethical spectrum?

Larry: It falls all the way up and down there. What it’s technically called is pretexting. That’s pretending to be someone else to gain information. It can be an extraordinary way to gain information. It’s also kind of a specialty. There are some investigators that are good at that and there are some that are not good at that. Legally it depends on where or how you use that information. In the U.S. it’s always illegal to pretext for bank information, for example, it used to be that you could call the bank posing as someone you’re not and find out all kinds of information. Now that’s clearly quite illegal. As is posing with law enforcement and other things, I personally would never pose as a doctor. I don’t want to be accused as practicing medicine. I’ve never posed as clergy, but its very common and I have no problems posing as a survey taker going door to door or some other types of things like that. Gathering information by using pretext can be legal and it can be done ethically.

Shawn: Got it. I think that makes sense. If someone wants to hire a good investigator –you mentioned earlier, you get what you pay for –is there any range of cost that someone might expect? Let’s just say if they wanted to find out if their spouse was having an affair or something like that?

Larry: This is one of the funniest things as an investigator. The call you will get every now and then is the guy who will call up and say, “I want you to follow my girlfriend all next week. How much does that cost?” You start to do the math and say, “Well that’s about sixty-five dollars an hour so we’re talking about eleven thousand dollars.” They’ll say “How much just for twenty minutes on Thursday?”

You should be for surveillance looking at maybe sixty-five dollars an hour range, or a little bit more at eighty-five an hour depending on the investigators experience that would not be a deal breaker. Again, if you have someone offering thirty-five dollar surveillance I would be very suspicious of that. Where you can kind of watch your money a little bit and kind of weed through the investigators you are considering hiring are things like, do they have a minimum? A three hour minimum is completely reasonable. If you need them for a four hour surveillance and they tell you there’s a seven hundred dollar non refundable retainer, that strikes me as being a little bit too much. For surveillance I would look around at sixty-five dollars an hour, maybe a little bit more.

Shawn: I think that’s very helpful for people to keep in mind. That’s one area of opacity for almost every profession and I appreciate a pretty straight forward answer that people should think about and can budget for. I want to switch gears a little bit. Often times, and I see the reports when I work with people, some of my clients are the objects of investigations. The first thing I want to ask in that regard is, is there any way to tell? For an average person that you might be the object being surveyed? The object of a private investigators attention.

Larry: Well if the investigator knows what he or she is doing, very little chance. If they a thirty-five dollar an hour investigator, you’re probably going to know it though. A lot of investigations and even just the chronology and sequence that we do an investigation, is designed –when you’re working with a professional –so that there is no footprint. In other words, if I’m investigating something, I might do the background checks, I might do the skip tracing, tracking down people, witness, and all that type of work, and even surveillance, before I start to do interviews with people. By the time someone calls you up and says “Hey there was a guy at my door and he was asking me a bunch of questions about you and your husband,” at that point in time, all the other work is done. However, one place you might get a clue that something is going on, would be that physical surveillance, that someone is actually following you. Again, it’s pretty much a straight forward thing which is exactly what you might imagine. You’re looking for the same vehicle following you, making the same turns as you. Shawn, for you and some of your listeners, a dirty inside secret, many private instigators are one man and two man operations. That means they usually only have access to one or two vehicle per surveillance. Even when you have access to two or more vehicles, you kind of have your preference for the van you like or the car you like. You will see over multiple days if you’re paying attention and you know what you’re looking for, maybe that same vehicle will show up. It’s very uncommon because of the cost, or resources, to have multiple instigators following you using some of these legitimate and real techniques when you have a three man group, just an A, B, C technique. Most people are paying a sixty-five dollar an hour range and that’s going to get you one investigator. So keeping an eye on your rear view mirror and seeing that same vehicle show up over and over again might be a clue for you.

Shawn: I think that’s great. If someone might suspect that their spouse is hiring an investigator or might hire an investigator, is there something you might do as an individual, maybe to make things more difficult for a potential investigator to find information on you as a preventative measure?

Larry: Yeah. You can certainly drive yourself crazy if you think you’re being followed and you’re not. If you think you’re being followed, you can almost always talk yourself into thinking you saw that car before. If you want to do what we call counter surveillance, things like driving down to the end of a cul-de-sac and coming back out again, instead of driving home, drive around the block or go into a supermarket and park for a few moments and then pull away. Anybody who is doing those same moves, it’s very awkward. If you find a car follows you down to the end of that cul-de-sac and then comes out with you, that’s certainly something to be concerned about.

Shawn: I think that makes sense. So basic counter surveillance techniques. So if you do something that’s a little bit odd yourself and someone follows that same odd path, that’s a pretty good indication that maybe that person isn’t there for the best of purposes.

Larry: Absolutely. I’ll tell you what. It’s also completely appropriate and probably important that you do call the police if you’re being followed. Even if you kind of roll your eyes and say “Oh, nice try Magnum PI.” Still, the odds are probably that this is kind of an amateur person, or maybe not an investigator. So if you do see you’re being followed it’s completely appropriate to call the police.

Shawn: That’s great. That’s helpful information. Larry, if people want to learn more about you, what’s the best place for people to find you?

Larry: I have a blog and videos that I post every week over at shadowanyone.com. There’s probably more free information there than any human being could go through in quite a bit of time.

Shawn: That’s excellent. So we will send people to the website. Shadowanyone.com. Larry, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Larry: It’s a pleasure, Shawn.

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