Can a Private Investigator trick a bad guy into doing something to catch it on video?

Is it okay to manipulate a bad guy into doing something so you can catch it on video and have evidence?

Generally speaking, that is not ethical but, I’m going to give you an exception here today.

What I’m talking about here is causing the subject of your investigation to do something they might not normally do and, generally speaking, this is considered unethical.

Anytime you’re interacting with your subject, you have to think, “What am I doing here? Is this ethical? How will this look to the outside world? Am I tricking this person? Or is this something that is legitimate?”

Maybe a pretext to gaining information is legitimate but let me give you an example of something completely unethical. For example, if you’re working on a worker’s compensation case, you cannot set a big rock behind the person’s car and sit back and film when they come out and move the rock so they can drive away. You cannot do that. That is completely unethical.


If their car is snowed in and they come out to shovel the snow, record it all! That’s a win!

Another example that’s generally is considered unethical is having a model or an operative approach the subject of the investigation to see if he will cheat on the client. I know you see that type of thing on TV but, that is generally considered unethical.

It may not be illegal but, most reputable agencies will not do that. In fact, there are some state associations, if you want to be a member of that professional organization, you have to agree not to commit that kind of action.

Now, let me give you an example of something I learned early on in my career. I learned this on the streets with a bounty hunter.

It is kind of a clever little thing where we caused the subject to take an action but, but I consider it ethical.

We were watching a guy from a distance and we were not quite sure if this was our bail jumper or not. So the bounty hunter honks the horn just once and the subject turned and looked straight in our direction. He didn’t necessarily knows it was us but, it gave us the opportunity to get a good look at the guy’s face. It was our subject and it worked out well for us.

This is a useful trick for process servers doing skip tracing as well.

This is the type of thing where a little action did manipulate the subject of our investigation but, I consider this to be ethical and reasonable. In fact, it’s really the only exception I can think of to the rule.

If you can think of other exceptions, please feel free to post your comment. I would love to figure out if there are others and share them with other Investigators out there.

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