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You’re Only as Good as Your Last Investigation


You're Only as Good as Your Last Investigation

A drunk convention goer prompts a look at the ethical considerations of an independent investigation.

A fact of life for any investigator is that we’re constantly caught between the reality of what an investigation can produce and the client’s expectations of what the results should be. In any investigation, there is no reality until the results are in. Client expectations, however, often suggest that results will be conclusive and that the investigator should: “just get out there and get the guy because I know he’s doing it.”

Results at Any Cost

I am almost embarrassed to recount antics of many years past, where an over-eager PI colleague was known to stoop to almost any method to set up and entrap his subjects in acts of exerting themselves outside their realm of physical restrictions and limitations. In a bid to prove health benefit fraud or abuse, it was nothing for him to ask his snow plow buddy to add more snow to the end of a driveway to catch them digging out in the morning. Paying cash for a dump load of dirt to be delivered in a driveway or flattening a tire to catch a suspect in the act of changing it were fairly common practices. These were tame in comparison to some of the “tricks of the trade” this guy would invent to return results for a client.

Granted, at the beginning, he scored big accolades with his clients but as you would imagine, it all comes around to catch up eventually. I mean, seriously, how many videos of subjects fixing flats can a PI tape before it prompts a tire recall?

Rarely on Target

An investigation is a work in progress through which we cipher fact from fiction and truth from lies, all within the framework of “actual” events. Although we hope for results that meet client expectations, the reality is that results are subjective and elusive and seldom conclude as we expect they might.

One of the best life lessons I learned was while attending an insurance fraud conference in the US for adjusters, private investigators and others with interest, that gave me a moment of clarity.

Reputation Reality Check

A boring seminar topic drove me to the pool for a drink where I met an American insurance adjuster who had been basking poolside for a while, judging by the collection of empty glasses by his chair. Introductions and conversation naturally led to what we did and who we worked for.

“Oh… so, you’re a ….V E N D O R” he said in a tone filled with contempt. Wounded, I said, “I suppose that I am but I’ve never heard it said like a four-letter word before”.

He responded with, “We deal with the likes of you guys all the time. You’re great at the beginning with the first few cases we hand you and you seem to do your best to impress us with results. It doesn’t last. You drop the ball once you get more comfortable in the relationship and then you show your true colors.”

Sometimes, the simplest comment can hit you like a bag of hammers.

When the Truth Hurts

Buddy had a point that I did not like. We argued and I dismissed him as a rambling, drunk convention goer caught dodging a boring conference speaker.

But it left me reeling and in denial. I struggled and tried to justify to myself that he was wrong, but he wasn’t. He was dead right and I hated it. That one moment of clarity led me to re-assess my company and change the way we did business, which we hold dear to this day.

Fair Deal for the Client

The lesson mined from that conversation resulted in a decision that although an investigation may not bear the fruit that the client expects, there should be no question that everything that could be done was done properly to conclude a finding. Regardless of the size of the budget we’re all allocated, we have chosen to accept the challenge and the commitment. Even when a client’s expectations are not met, they should get their money’s worth and proof that we have done as much as their budget has allowed.

It only takes one “oh s**t” to cancel out 100 “attaboys”. You’re only as good as your last investigation.