I get this question on a regular basis. Let's break down each component and take a closer look.
Before I continue, forget absolutely everything you might have seen on TV or in the movies. It's all (or mostly) BS.
Am I being bugged?
By "being bugged" let's take that to mean someone is listening in to what you and others around you are saying. First up, if that is indeed happening, then the person/s responsible are committing a crime and are prepared to risk at the very minimum a large fine and quite possibly a jail sentence - planting listening devices is treated as a very serious offence by the courts.
How does someone plant a listening device in the first place?
To be able to monitor conversations inside someone else's home, car or workplace, the offender firstly needs access to the home, car or workplace. Installing spyware on someone's phone also means the offender needs physical access to that person's phone.
This is a critically important step. If someone can't get into your home, car, work place or get access to your phone, then you are more than likely not being bugged.
The listening device itself needs power. It can be a self-contained unit with an internal battery. However, batteries mean the device will only work for a certain time before the battery dies and the device stops working. The smaller the listening device, the less power it has and the shorter the operation time. Any bug that transmits is very, very power hungry. The person listening also needs to be reasonably close, unless the device uses a SIM card. If it is a SIM card type of unit, consider how much continuous talk time you would get from your phone.
Yes, there are also listening devices that connect up to permanent power, such as mains power, but they are usually hidden inside household items that are plugged in. That means the offender has replaced that household item with another device (or you have been given a new item) with an inbuilt bug. The first bit (replacement) is tricky as they need to also know exactly what make, model of item you have, then get that item altered and have the bug added. Would someone go to that much trouble? Only you know. Would you be able to tell if someone replaced your bedside alarm clock or another item? Probably.
Other bugs can be connected to mains power say, behind the power plug you have in a wall. But they then also need the microphone to have direct access to the room in which they are placed. Would you notice a small hole in the power plug plate? If you could see it, probably. If you can't see it (let's say it's behind something) then the audio pick-up might not be all that great.
There are many, many other listening device options, but for the main part, these are very high-tech, very expensive items that are mainly only used by governments and large corporations with deep pockets. For the average person out there, they are almost certainly beyond anything you might encounter.
Monitoring the listening device
This is the $64,000 question. Is knowing what you might be saying worth someone listening in "live" or going through hours and hours of recorded material just to hear any possible "juicy" bits of conversation?
Think about this for a moment.
If you are home for say, 8 hours a day, someone needs to listen to 8 hours of, mostly nothing (when there is no worthwhile conversation) just to be able to maybe hear the worthwhile bits. You never see this part in the movies or on TV - you only see the conversations that matter. But, the reality is someone needs to listen to it all to work out what is and isn't important. Again, it's worthwhile for government departments and large corporations, but is it worth doing by an individual? Again, only you would know.
Buying a "bug" is inexpensive these days. Placing it can sometimes be problematic, but monitoring any and all conversations can actually be the major impediment to the "Am I being bugged" question.
Should I get my house/car/workplace/phone de-bugged?
Another BIG question. You've read the above information, but still think you need to have someone "sweep" your home/car/workplace.
There are basically two type of debugging "sweeps" (TSCM - Technical Surveillance CounterMeasures) you can get. They are:
A very basic (reasonably inexpensive) sweep that by no means covers everything you might be exposed to, or a very specialised (expensive) service that is up there with, or on par with, what government departments and large corporations get done.
Let expand on the "inexpensive" and "expensive" part of the above paragraph.
Inexpensive means using someone who has spent hundreds of dollars, maybe even a few thousand dollars on equipment. Let's dismiss for the time being that person's expertise in deciphering the various results they get from that equipment and their capacity to identify and locate any and all bugs that might be there for the time being. They will likely charge you hundreds of dollars to conduct a sweep - it might even be a thousand dollars or more. If it's a cheap ozspy.com.au (or similar) bug that has been planted, they might find it… if it's a bit more sophisticated than that, maybe not.
However, if you want to engage a real professional for your bug sweep, be prepared to pay many thousands of dollars. The equipment used will likely have cost that person $150K or more. Getting it right is very, very expensive.
TIP: Before you spend any money at all, conduct a very thorough physical search of your home/car/workplace for anything that might be unusual. Most importantly, check underneath everything - chairs, tables, lounges, etc. Pay attention to anything that can't usually be seen but has a direct 'connection' to what might be said in that room/location.
Spyware on phones
If you think there might be spyware on your phone, the solution is simple. Save everything on the phone you want to keep, then do a factory reset. That will completely delete the spyware.
Need to just see whether there is spyware on your phone, take it to a forensic data specialist. It will cost a few hundred dollars for that to be checked - simply Google "forensic data specialist" (without the quotes).
The following comment was posted by RobK on the "Becoming a PI" blog post. As questions about techniques are a whole separate issue, I've chosen to start up a new post covering any questions you might have regarding any technical or procedural surveillance issues.
How many cars should a PI have "ideally"? I have only one car which looks quite conspicuous and in a very good condition. It was new when I had bought it in less than six years ago and think of either buying something different instead OR keeping and buying a second hand one which can be 'blended nicely' (I think it is important to choose the right one based what I have gathered from the US Websites) Any type(s) (Make & Model) you might suggest? Some say a big VAN would be ideal. I personally would be interested in both factual & surveillance but more so, factual side of it. What types would the most successful PIs usually use in Australia? I couldn't find any website suggesting to the Australian PIs about the ideal cars they should use. They all are from the USA!
I'm receiving more and more very short, very poorly written emails with shocking grammar and dubious spelling that are, judging by the use of phone text abbreviations (TKS, BTW, RU, etc.) and other indicators, written hastily on and sent from, a mobile phone.
What I have difficulty comprehending is that some of these emails relate to what are very important personal situations. For example, a young adult looking to get in contact with a biological parent, or vice versa. I would have thought wanting to find a family member was a pretty big deal and worth at least a bit of effort.
A private investigator's sole roll is to provide information, but before we can do that, we need accurate information with which to work. Is the person's given name really "saw" or did predictive text take over? The more (accurate) information you provide us, the better the results we can provide you. This is repeated under just about every service type on this website, but it seems an awful lot of people just can't be bothered.
Well, if you can't be bothered, why should I?
Oh, and by the way, if cost is a factor to you, keep in mind that the more time I have to spend on a matter (seeking clarification, asking for more information, etc.) the greater your costs.
Sydney Morning Herald
The full Monte: this cheat wants to be mayor
April 22, 2012
Almost 25 years after this PI started ripping off clients, he's still at it. Now he wants Clover Moore's job, writes Kate McClymont.
After 45 years in the business Frank Monte, who immodestly calls himself ''the world's greatest detective'', is still doing what he does best: lying, cheating and ripping people off.
Announcing this week that ''The world famous and Australia's most respected private investigator'' would be running for Sydney's lord mayor, media inquiries were directed to his press officer, Andrew Thompson. ''Mr Thompson'', whose voice bore an uncanny resemblance to Monte's, told The Sun-Herald to wait a moment while he put the call through to the boss.
Funnily enough, Mr Thomson's 1300 number is also that of the Association of Master Investigators of Australasia, a bogus business, the only members of which are two investigation companies Parker Taylor and Morgan Turner - both fronts which Monte allegedly uses to rip people off. He has so many aliases, even Monte gets confused.
I frequently get inquiries from people looking for help on locating a missing child. Often the missing person is over 16 years of age, so they are deemed to be an adult in the eyes of the law. In most cases police can't assist at all so a private investigator is contacted.
If the missing person refuses contact with their family / friends, it can be an extremely emotional and difficult situation.
I was recently contacted by the sister of a missing person, who was an "adult" male. He had been missing for over 5 weeks, refused all contact (in fact he had changed his mobile number) and his sister and mother were very concerned about his welfare.
Here are my thoughts on this type of situation.
When it comes to determining whether your partner is being unfaithful, PC and phone spyware can often be an invaluable tool. It will not always provide rock-solid and indisputable evidence of infidelity, regardless of how damning it might initially appear. For example, email or chat logs that go into explicit sexual content can be, and often are, explained away as just pure fantasy. "It was all just pretend stuff. It was just a fantasy thing. Nothing ever happened in real life. Honest." The main use of spyware in establishing whether infidelity is occurring is to help identify the other person and past or future events (times and locations) so that surveillance can be better targeted and video obtained to show how both people interact when together. Holding hands and kissing, then walking off into a motel is a whole lot harder to explain away than a few salacious emails.
Okay, so spyware can be helpful when you need to determine whether your partner is cheating. But, there's another take on the use of spyware that seems to be becoming more prevalent these days.
Over the past few months, I've been contacted by a number of people looking to use spyware to help them determine whether their partner is becoming suspicious of their infidelity.
I get on average two or three calls a week from people interested in becoming a private investigator.
When I get these calls, I have fixed feelings.
I certainly don’t want to discourage someone who has done a little homework about the profession and genuinely feels they might have the capabilities of becoming a good investigator. When I get a call from someone like this, I’m quite happy to chat to them about investigation work and give them some insights.
On the other hand, I also wonder whether the caller has just watched a Magnum PI re-run on TV or read a spy thriller. Then, on impulse they decide to call a PI to find out more because it all looks and sounds really exciting. Usually, for this type of caller, it’s turns out to be just a waste of my time.
The excitement factor
Is PI work exciting? My usual answer is, no.
There can be occasions when you will get a rush of adrenaline, such as when conducting a surveillance assignment, or get a great deal of satisfaction in finally being able to uncover some critical evidence in a very complex matter, but generally investigation work is tedious and boring.
Surely following someone around on surveillance isn’t boring? Okay, following someone around isn’t boring, in fact, it can be quite exciting. But, surveillance work is not all about the surveillance subject being active.
Surveillance work is generally 90% inactivity and 10% activity. So, for every ten hours of surveillance, you will spend 9 hours doing nothing but watching and waiting for some sort of activity.
Are you really ready for that kind of boredom?
Only one person in 10 will make it past the first 12 months as a surveillance investigator
Video #1 - Anyone looking at getting into the investigation industry should definitely watch the following video. Whilst it is from an American source, it does provide some extremely valuable insights. Length - 10 minutes.
Over the past 23 years, I’ve lectured on surveillance techniques to a lot of aspiring investigators. Based on that experience, I’ve found that, of ten people who have gone to the trouble and expense of taking a course on surveillance, only one person will still be working as a surveillance investigator after 12 months.
Why is that? For one thing, surveillance work can be extremely demanding physically. For example, spending 10 hours in a car in one spot in the middle of summer isn’t the average person’s idea of fun.
Then there is a very large skill-set that needs to be leaned and perfected. Despite only one in ten people actually staying in this industry, there seems to be no shortage of people who still want to become surveillance investigators and the competition is usually fierce.
Most surveillance investigators work on a sub-contract basis, which usually means the better you are, the more work you will get and the more money you earn.
The skills required to become a good surveillance investigator
Your driving skills need to be top notch. This doesn’t just mean being prepared to drive fast, far from it. You need to be able to “read” the traffic around you and the surveillance subject, ideally place at least one vehicle between you and the subject whenever possible, yet still be able to stay with the subject if he decides to go through a yellow traffic light and the driver between you and the subject wants to stop.
There is a real art in being able to follow someone undetected, particularly over long distances. Training and practice will go a long way to getting there, but I believe there is also some innate skill involved and some people just never acquire that skill. Losing a surveillance subject will cost you money and work. Lose then too often and you will need to look for another line of work.
Being able to take good, clear and steady video that targets the subject matter appropriately is another critical skill. Again, it can be learned but the really good investigators I’ve seen seem to have a knack for getting good video.
Video isn’t just taken from behind tinted windows whilst sitting in a car. If your surveillance subject is out and about say, attending a shopping centre, you also need to be able to take good covert video and remain totally undetected.
You will be rated on the amount of video you are able to take.
PC and writing skills
Every investigator I know hates paperwork. But, it is an essential part of this profession.
If you don’t know how to use MS Word and Excel, you will need to learn first. Being able to receive instructions and send your reports via email is also essential.
If you can’t string a grammatically correct sentence together (with correct spelling), you will also need to learn this skill. Many investigation agencies include the surveillance operative’s field notes with their covering reports when they report to their client.
You will be judged on the quality of your surveillance notes.
Droughts and floods
Working as a sub-contractor usually means there will be times when you just can’t handle all the work you are offered. There will also be times when you simply aren’t getting all the work you would like. This does tend to be a cyclic industry and you will need to be able to cope with that, both emotionally and financially.
The more available you make yourself, the more work you will get. This means sometime starting very early and finishing very late. Being prepared to work nights, weekends and public holidays is essential.
Your domestic life will definitely suffer.
Operating a business
As a sub-contractor, you will also need to learn how to run a small business. This means making sure all your licensing and insurance cover is up to date, you are fully tax compliant, have an ABN (registering the GST is up to you) and have at least some basic bookkeeping skills – unless you want to pay a professional to do that for you.
Background and training
A lot of private investigators come from a police background, but this is by no means a requirement. Yes, it is an advantage to some degree, but a lot of the methods and practices used by police will need to be re-learned to accommodate a commercial environment. Government services are run very differently to private enterprise.
A lot of investigation work is done on behalf of the legal profession and the insurance industry, so a background in law or insurance would also be an advantage. But, again, it isn’t a requirement. Some of the best surveillance investigators I know don’t have a police, legal or insurance background.
Undertaking an approved training course is now a prerequisite to becoming licensed as a private investigator in Australia. However, whilst many training organisation do a fair job of teaching skills associated with doing certain tasks within this industry, they usually don’t teach the skills associated with being successful in this industry.
There is a vast array of information you will need to learn to be successful in this profession and it is the sum of this information that will define your level of professionalism. No training organisation will teach you this. You must learn it through experience, experimentation and self-study.
Specialising in one field
Whilst surveillance work is usually part and parcel of most investigation agency workloads, there are numerous other areas of specialisation an investigator might branch out into.
Insurance related work can encompass a myriad of different areas and specialities. Some investigators specialise exclusively on conducting only accident investigations. This might involve attending the location of an accident (usually well after it has happened) taking photographs, measurements (and later preparing a scale plan of the area), as well as interviewing witnesses, taking formal statements, obtaining relevant documentation and preparing a final report.
Other investigators take on a more general role as a “Factual Investigator”. This might mean they don’t limit themselves to just one type of insurance matter, but take on a number of different types of claim types, such as liability claims, workplace accident investigations, general insurance claims (burglaries, stolen motor vehicles, etc.) or income protection claims. Then there are fire claims, marine accidents, product liabilities matters... the list goes on and on.
Good analytical, interviewing and report writing skills are all critical. This is definitely an area of work where a legal or police background will be of great assistance.
Factual investigators might also take on criminal defence work – again a legal or police background is almost essential.
Starting your own agency
My advice is, if you don’t already have a minimum of three years of investigation experience in at least one particular field, do not put yourself out there and market that service/s to the public. Personally, I believe this should be a legislated requirement. But, in Queensland at least, it isn’t.
Starting your own private investigation agency sounds great doesn’t it? Do a few courses, get licensed, set up a web site, get some business cards printed and go make some money. Great in theory, but I have a huge problem with inexperienced people doing that. You are not only doing yourself a huge personal disservice, but you are also inflicting your inexperience onto the general public. It certainly won’t enhance the public’s perception of this industry.
Unless you’ve worked very closely with an experienced agency owner during those initial three years (and also learned all you can about the various facets of running an agency), you will definitely flounder. You might not fail in the long run, but you will hit a lot of hurdles. I did, but things were a lot different 23 years ago. It’s even harder these days.
At the very least, you will need a mentor prepared to be on call and provide advice on an as needed basis.
Being a good investigator doesn’t mean you can run a successful investigation agency. Running a successful business requires a completely different skill-set..
More information on obtaining a Private Investigator licence in Qld is available from the following website
Still with me at this point? I’d be very happy to answer any questions you might have.
Send me an email
1994's Most Bizarre Suicide
At the 1994 annual awards dinner given by the American Association for Forensic Sciences, AAFS President Don Harper Mills astounded his audience in San Diego with the legal complications of a bizarre death. Here is the story...
On March 23 the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a gunshot wound of the head caused by a shotgun.
Investigation to that point had revealed that the decedent had jumped from the top of a ten story building with the intent to commit suicide. (He left a note indicating his despondency.) As he passed the 9th floor on the way down, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast through a window, killing him instantly. Neither the shooter nor the decedent was aware that a safety net had been erected at the 8th floor level to protect some window washers, and that the decedent would not have been able to complete his intent to commit suicide because of this...
The best way to help your investigator on a private/domestic matter – and perhaps save yourself some money.
A lot of investigators don’t provide private or domestic investigation services. By private/domestic matters I’m referring to infidelity or cheating partners, child custody and other Family Law matters, pre-nuptial checks, divorce litigation support or child activity surveillance.
Ever wonder why that is?
These types of private matters are often highly emotional situations for the client. When someone is having a personal crisis and they turn to an investigator to obtain information or “peace of mind”, that investigator is often the only person with whom they feel comfortable sharing this information. There is often an “unburdening of the soul” and a great avalanche of information is provided, particularly at the first meeting.
It's always nice when you can help someone out. This particular client needed to find someone quickly and one simple search conducted while the client was still on the phone got the information they needed. The search only cost me a few dollars and I was happy to help at no charge.
When you then get such a nice email in return, it's thanks enough.
Listen to some jazz whilst reading