Are Private Investigators licensed and should they be?
Are Private Investigators licensed and should they be?
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In conversation with WTR, two representatives from the Association of British Investigators (ABI) explain how private detectives are continuing their work during government-ordered lockdowns, and what IP rights holders can do to ensure that anti-counterfeiting and other brand infringement operations are a success during the ongoing coronavirus emergency.
Across the world, covid-19 has caused jobs deemed non-essential to cease or be undertaken from home if possible. That restriction of work, for the most part, impacts both trademark professionals and the private investigators (PIs) that are often hired to assist with enforcement activities. For many brand owners who rely on PIs to help investigate or monitor for infringement, especially in countries that a brand may not have in-house boots on the ground, enforcement has been severely affected. However, not all is lost, and some PI operations are continuing despite widespread lockdowns.
Talking this week to WTR, Ron Harrison, the current president of the Association of British Investigators (ABI), explains that evidence-gathering is key at present. “At the moment, the police, Trading Standards and UK Border Force are not working operationally on IP crime, so most [private investigator] work right now is gathering intelligence on sellers, making online test purchases and then completing an evidence package ready to send to the authorities once the lockdown is lifted,” he explained.
That point was reiterated by Dick Smith, a past president of the ABI and the owner of a private investigation company that has specific expertise in the field of brand protection. “We are hearing within the ABI that many of our members are operating, but strictly within government guidelines,” he tells us. “Process serving [court papers] is considered a vital part of the judicial system, so that continues under certain conditions. Furthermore, whilst some members have refused to go out on the streets (because there could be issues, such as vulnerable people living within their own households), many investigators are continuing with the work, but arranging for letterboxing as opposed to personal service.”
On top of that, Smith says that “some surveillance continues”, adding: “By definition, close contact is usually inadvisable anyway, although there are fewer crowds in which to conceal oneself. Doorstep enquiries are naturally more difficult. For that reason, much is being done by phone and email. With regard to IP test-purchasing, with fewer shops/markets open, that has dramatically reduced. However, online sales are at a high and investigation firms with the ability to make purchases, using robust identities which stand up to evidential scrutiny, are sought after.”
So while many companies continue to seek private investigators, both Harrison and Smith – who are both senior members of the ABI’s governing council – urge brand owners to ensure they are hiring “reputable and long-standing” investigation companies. Private investigators in the UK (and many other countries) are unregulated, so the ABI has a strict code of ethics for all investigators on its books, and actively encourages all businesses, including law firms, to avoid hiring PIs that do not work to an ethics code and, in some instances, stray outside of legal parameters. As Smith warns: “Only engage reputable investigators. – it’s no use sitting on evidence if it has been obtained illegally and cannot be used!”
Of course, that hiring of private investigators should only be considered for work that can actually be carried out during the ongoing lockdown. Smith continued that, for example, undercover operations (such as the insertion of a PI into suspect manufacturing or distribution channels) is “out of the question at the moment”, but other activity is possible. “Limited operations (such as test-purchasing, surveillance, and asset-tracing) can continue within the government guidelines and the application of common sense. For example, a seller who you may meet at a 2-metre distance is not going to view you suspiciously if you are wearing a mask and glasses, which could be an advantage!”
Furthermore, he advises that products are sterilised “at every opportunity”, including test purchases from online platforms. Ultimately, he adds, “now is the time to gather intelligence” because “it will be mayhem when the restrictions are lifted” – especially when it comes to fake goods. “The counterfeit situation will definitely get worse,” he concedes. “Factories may be closed now, but I have no doubt that the sweat-shops are still operating (and we all know where they are) and once the lockdown is lifted, there will be a sudden demand for consumer goods which benefits the counterfeiter.”
That suggestion is not unique to experts from the ABI, with a representative from the Association of Private Detectives in India (APDI) also warning that a lack of PIs on the ground is causing a rise in counterfeit goods. For that reason, Harrison says brands must take proactive measures now or risk being overwhelmed by the onslaught of fakes in the weeks and months ahead. “The counterfeit situation will undoubtedly get worse, these people do not have any boundaries – and we are certainly much more busy online for our clients than we would normally be.”
The work of trademark owners is difficult enough right now without the prospect of a stark rise in counterfeit goods in the future. But with enough foresight, preparation, evidence gathering and, in some cases, help from private investigators, the challenges ahead are not insurmountable.
A high-profile private investigator has claimed there’s been a startling rise in infidelity cases during the coronavirus lockdown.
Julia Hartley Moore, from New Zealand, charges up to $5,000 per client for her services with her private investigation company where she has been carrying out surveillance jobs for two decades.
But with the world in shutdown, she said many suspicious partners are starting to notice things about their spouses they would normally overlook as they’re being forced to live in close proximity during isolation.
A growing number of her clients are suspecting their spouses are having an affair because it’s ‘becoming increasingly obvious they are not just taking work calls’ while cheaters are using things like exercise or grocery shopping as excuses to leave the house.
Paul Barresi alleges he was hired by Amber Heard’s lawyers to find people who had been verbally or physically abused by Johnny Depp
Amber Heard hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on Johnny Depp but they found nothing, it’s claimed.
Paul Barresi alleges he was hired by Heard’s lawyers to find people who had been verbally or physically abused by Depp and be star witnesses in the upcoming defamation case against her.
There was a good article on how to hire a private Investigator written March 2014 by Jonathan Rayner for the ‘The Law Society Gazette’ explaining what a law firm can do to distinguish between good and bad private investigators.
Hiring a private investigator was once, to coin a phrase, elementary. You would take a cab to 221B, Baker Street.
There would be no uncouth discussion of fees or, heaven forbid, professional indemnity insurance. Sherlock Holmes would simply stalk off in a fug of pipe smoke and nab the cad.
Those were the innocent days before phone taps and computer hacking. One relied on doltish, but decent and honest, policemen and on cockney petty thieves who called you ‘Guv’. It was useful to be handy with a sword stick or revolver. Fisticuffs could also come in useful to help a chap out of a tight corner. One remained resolutely amateur, albeit an amateur with fantastic powers of deduction.
Even today, and quite surprisingly, ‘amateur’ remains the hallmark of the private investigations industry. (Roll on licensing) There are an estimated 10,000 private investigators working in the UK offering services as varied as serving documents, investigating insurance fraud, tracing missing persons, countering intellectual property theft, computer forensics and gathering proof of adultery. Not one of these 10,000 investigators is regulated by the government. Perhaps 20% (or 2,000) have voluntarily submitted to regulation by a peer-reviewed body, but the rest have not bothered or needed to.
There is nothing to stop the remaining 8,000 people from screwing a brass plate to the wall or, more probably, creating a website to tell the world that they are private investigators. They can charge what they like while getting access to your confidential information. They could rob you and there is no industry body to which you could complain or which would impose sanctions on offenders.
We are members of The Association of British Investigators
It would be unfair – and wrong – to assume that these investigators are crooked. Many practice to an ethical code and provide excellent value for money. But given that some aspects of this work can operate at the edge of legality, how are solicitors or private clients to distinguish between the good and the bad guys?
Jo Pizzala, a partner at national firm Plexus Law, has been instructing private investigators on behalf of insurance company clients for more than 20 years. She makes the point that defrauding insurance companies is ‘not a victimless crime’. We all pay the price for fraud through increased premiums, she points out.
Pizzala has seen huge changes in the industry over the last two decades, with surveillance techniques becoming more sophisticated as products developed by the military have filtered through to civilian use. ‘The growth of social media has also made a big difference,’ she says. ‘It enables investigators to build a picture of younger people in particular.
If your thinking you want to hire a private investigator do you research, call a few not just the one at the top of the search engines as they may not always be the one for you. After all just because their web site is ranked very well does not mean that they a suitable for your needs or type of enquiry. We specialise in surveillance. If you need surveillance, hire a private investigator who specialises in ‘Surveillance’. If you need a Process serve carried out, then again hire a private investigator who specialises in Process Serving. the same applies to trace Enquiries and so on. Phone a few and choose wisely.
We have been in the business 32 years
People will often say one thing in a witness statement and then say something completely different online. They might claim to be broke and unable to pay their ex-wife, for instance, and then boast online about their new car or a recent holiday in the Caribbean.’
Pizzala generally commissions investigations into personal injury claimants who are claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds from an insurance company because they claim to have suffered life-altering injuries. The investigator’s role is to gather evidence to determine whether the claim is fraudulent or legitimate.
She tells the Gazette: ‘The bigger insurance companies have their own panels of approved investigators and so selecting one is easy. But if I was starting from scratch, I would look for a firm of investigators offering a range of services, not just manned surveillance, but also mining data and tracing missing persons.
‘I would ask if they were ISO-registered, had Edexcel accreditation, had undertaken Skills for Security training and had passed their Criminal Records Bureau checks.
I would want confirmation that they were solvent and their staff were experienced at giving evidence in court. Do they have fraud capabilities and undertake corporate investigations? Do members of staff have on going training in the latest technologies and techniques? For that matter, does the firm regularly update its equipment?’
The private investigation sector has learned to be wary of collecting ‘the best evidence in the world’, only to see it challenged in court and disallowed. ‘Twenty years ago, an investigator would knock on the door of a claimant and tell him he had won a TV set,’ Pizzala recalls.
‘But would the claimant please get it from the boot of the car. If he could carry a heavy TV set, then what price his claim that he had suffered a crippling back injury? Job done; except these days the investigator would be accused of getting the evidence through entrapment and it would be ruled inadmissible. All that time and money wasted.’
Investigators must also be up to speed with the Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act, because breaching either could similarly result in evidence being disallowed.
We next hears from the Private investigators themselves. More…
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Woman tells of her horror after suspecting her husband of cheating and discovering the other woman was her sister
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If you need to catch a cheating partner we can help. Cheating partners often cheat with someone close to them, maybe a work colleague, family member, friend of the family.
Worried about a cheating partner? Call us now +44 (0) 7944 512578
We serve any of the following documents:
Having been a Process server in the area of Chelmsford, Essex we have met with and dealt with people from all walks of life and have always dealt with each and everyone of these people professionally and to the best of our ability. Despite threats of violence and having a car driven into by one Respondent and surrounded by a gang of 12 burly guys on another we have always managed to talk our way through and serve each one.
We are based in High Roding and happy to collect documents urgently if we are not already committed to another client. We will always cover non-urgent matters and try to cover as much of the urgent process serving as we possibly can.
Following representation by the Association of British investigators (ABI) of which we are full members the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has reviewed the licensing requirement under the Consumer Credit Act for the activity of ‘Pure Process Serving’ and issued the following guidelines:
‘Pure Process Serving’ is meant that: –
The firm (a process server) is instructed by a law firm, or in-house solicitor, to serve legal documents on the recipient as part of the pre-court legal process. The firm will serve a variety of different types of documents (e.g. County Court or High Court Claim Forms, Bankruptcy Petitions, Statutory Demands, Court Orders and Applications), some of which may relate to debts due under credit agreements, but many of which may not.
The firm will be aware of the legal nature of the document, but will not be told about or investigate the cause of action or the underlying circumstances. For example, the firm may not be aware whether the claim is for a consumer credit debt or a different type of debt.
The firm will take steps to ensure that the recipient understands the legal nature of the document and the fact that it is part of a legal process (e.g. that it is a Claim Form), but will not engage in any discussion or negotiation with the recipient about the contents of the document or the substance of the action
Full details (Link)
Process Servers in Chelmsford, Essex
We have been helping private clients and Solicitor clients in the Essex area with surveillance and Process Serving for many years. We are always looking to grow our business. We service, Essex, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and London. Having been a Private Investigator in Essex for so long we have over the years dealt with many clients. Often we deal with Matrimonial matters, Infidelity, Co-habitation, Cheating Partners. Probably most our work involves cheating partners in the Essex area. If you want to confirm your suspicions we can be contacted on any of the above numbers.
Contact us now why wait to prove what you already know
Go straight to our surveillance page
We will never hard sell you, free friendly advise only
We specialise in Covert Surveillance, Process Serving and Trace Enquiries and are suitably located to cover Essex, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and the North & Central London Areas.
Each case is dealt with on it’s own merit and a bespoke service is tailored to each and every case. We are contactable throughout your investigation and will keep you updated every step of the way. We will Provide you with a written estimate of costs prior to any work.
KSM Investigations will never phone you back as we wouldn’t want to make it awkward for you.
Our clients are generally Private Individuals, Businesses, Solicitors or Insurance companies.
If you have issues with someone who may not be being as honest as they could be, We can help. Covert surveillance maybe the only option left to gain the evidence you need.
Private Investigators Essex