This week I answer a reader’s question right out of the mailbag about surveillance and child safety seats in your surveillance vehicle and it also considers the idea of using a pretext while conducting surveillance.
This week’s question comes from an investigator who does surveillance. He has a child so there’s a child safety seat in his car and he was wondering – is it good to leave it in his surveillance car because people who see it would never think you’re an investigator if you’ve got a child safety seat in the back of your car or… should you take it out because people who see it will know you have a child and may expose a bit of a weak spot in your life a bad guy might exploit.
His specific concern is if you get a crazy or disgruntled subject of your investigation who might decide to “get even with you” through your family?
If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know, I’ve said I’m very much in favor of using props when you do surveillance – props that enforce the pretext that you’re using.
Of course, if you’re doing surveillance in the back of a van and you park your van in the proper spot, (be sure you park in a proper spot!) then you’re just gonna be in the back of the van and maybe you don’t need any pretext props up front. Maybe if you’re posing as if it’s a construction van, then you might have a hardhat on the front seat just to “sell it” a little bit more. But, otherwise, set up in the back of a surveillance van, you may not need any props.
However… If you’re posing as something where you’re sitting in the front seat of a car you should have the appropriate props so if someone comes up to you and you say, “Hey I’m doing XYZ” and they look at the things in your car- they’ll say to themselves, “Well, yeah, that makes sense, you’ve got exactly the things I would expect that person to have.”
So in that context, I think a child safety seat is kind of a neat thing because if you’re doing surveillance and there’s a seat there, it can throw people off (or persuade them) that you’re just sitting there because your car broke down and you’re waiting for a ride (if that’s your pretext). Maybe you’ve even got an empty bag from a fast-food kid’s meal on the floor in a back. That’s a prop that may help sell the pretext.
If you don’t have any children in your life then a car seat back there might be the perfect pretext in certain circumstances. A perfect prop because there is no downside. They’ll never be able to get to your kid if you ain’t got a kid.
But, looking at the downside if you do have kids, the idea is if people see a child safety seat, they know a little bit more about your personal life and that’s not good for you if they want to seek revenge.
Here’s two things to consider…
On surveillance, the person you’re watching should never know that you’re there – if you’re far enough away, if you’re at the appropriate distance from where you should be. Yeah, maybe a neighbor might see you and come out or say something, but (since they are not the subject of your investigation) that’s probably not gonna be the person who gets angry at you and loses their mind.
I will give a shout out to Andrew over at PIAdvice.net, he has an excellent video about a smart phone app that allows all neighbors in the local area to share information with each other. He has an excellent video on why nowadays – even if you’re far away – the fact that you are there can “leak out” to the neighborhood. But really the subject of your investigation should never know you’re there and that means having a child safety seat in your car shouldn’t give them a single clue about your personal life. They won’t know you have kids because they’re never gonna see the child car seat.
Finally, it’s very unlikely that you’re gonna run into a problem where somebody tries to hunt you down or get even with you. It can happen… I’ve had a few times in my life – not as a PI but as a loss prevention officer – where somebody tried to follow me. That’s happened. But the idea of someone tracking you down and getting even, while it could happen, really statistically unlikely, and you should find some comfort in that.
How to protect yourself?
I have another video that talks about using a layered approach to privacy and security.
Also, I have a podcast that covers that as well. Episode 3.
So don’t drop your guard but don’t freak yourself out either.
In the meantime, remember to stay safe and always do the right thing even if it’s the hard thing.
Committed to your success and safety,
Larry Kaye, P.I.