In general, PIs rely on the Mark I eyeball and a quality video camera to get the evidence they need. But eventually, every PI runs into a case where conditions on the ground are going to need you to go the extra mile and get into some genuinely exotic spy technology. Maybe it’s a worker’s comp case surveilling an isolated farmhouse; maybe it’s getting into a secure condo building to check on a cheating spouse. In either case, modern surveillance technology has your back.
Concealed Cameras Get The Picture in Difficult Places
One of the more common areas where PIs have to get creative is in monitoring well-known areas in businesses or homes, as often is necessary in fraud or domestic case investigations. Video recording is invaluable in these cases, but putting a blatant security camera in place is a sure tip-off to suspects that you are on to them.
So-called nanny cams are one answer to this issue. Disguised as teddy bears or coat hooks, these types of devices work well in nurseries, but not so much in offices. Fortunately, other models are disguised as clocks, air fresheners, or power strips, all commonly found in office environments.
But hidden cameras only see what you point them at. There’s no flexibility and if the subject goes somewhere else, you’ve lost them.
Enter the wearable hidden camera. Disguised as hats, pens, bluetooth headsets, or glasses, these cameras can gather HD-quality video or snapshots in real time as you stay on the trail of the subject. The watch is water-resistant, can take two hours of 1080p video on a single charge, has near-infrared sensors for low-light scenarios, and captures audio… it even looks pretty stylish.
Another wearable camera type that is just getting off the ground are smart glasses. Popularized by Google’s Glass, these computerized, Internet-connected devices have the potential to revolutionize PI surveillance work by combining the two most important elements in modern investigative work: the Internet and video recording capabilities.
Although Glass is pretty obvious (and no longer in production), other smart glasses models, such as the Epiphany, look more like regular eyewear and won’t attract attention… as long as you can walk and watch YouTube videos at the same time.
A related technology is night-vision. A lot of cameras have it built-in these days, like the spy-watch above. But sometimes you just need to be able to see and not record, and that’s where night-vision binoculars come in. Working in low-light or infrared, these have been around since the late 1960s, but today are increasingly affordable for the PI on a budget. Most modern investigators won’t leave home without one.
All PIs know to tread carefully around audio recording, which can easily run afoul of state and federal wiretapping laws. But sometimes, to get the facts, you have to get a recording.
And what’s better at listening in than a Monster Ear sound amplifier? A 20” pistol-grip, snap-together parabolic antenna with headphones and an audio out jack for recording will let you pick up whispers at 300 yards.
You see versions of this on the sidelines at any NFL game and you get to hear the results of all those meaty linemen crunching together on live national broadcasts. If they can clearly capture the sound of two 350 pounders belly-slapping over the deafening crowd noises at Centurylink Field, then they can sure pick up the sweet nothings being whispered between two illicit lovers you have been trying to spy on from across the parking lot.
And if you need something a little less conspicuous, you can get a boost from a Stealth 3D Tactical Ear. The 11x amplifier looks like a hearing aid, but boosts signal—while damping noise—in all directions.
Sometimes it’s easier to get the subject talking over the phone than in person. In those cases, smartphones are a godsend. Dozens of apps are available that will automatically record calls on iPhone or Android—Google Voice will do it for free on either platform. Just make sure you get a version that doesn’t beep every thirty seconds, or your cover is blown! You can also insert a plain-Jane old digital voice recorder inline in the audio out jack on any mobile phone.
Smartphones also work as the ultimate modern body wire for in-person recording. Everyone knows they can record, but everyone has one… it’s not suspicious to walk around with one in your pocket. Even the cops are going in this direction instead of relying on old-school body mics. Tag5 Industries’ Phantom turns an iPhone into an encrypted broadcast device, so not only can it record but also send audio out over the Internet to someone monitoring the conversation elsewhere.
GPS Trackers Make Tailing Easy
GPS trackers take all the fun out of tailing a subject. You can’t lose ‘em!
Equipped with local broadcast beacons or cellular, Internet-linked service, modern GPS pucks can last for weeks on a charge and show your target as a blip on a map anywhere in the world. At 5”x3” the rugged little pucks can be concealed either inside the vehicle or on the frame with a magnetized holder, practically undetectable.
If it’s going to be a long job, you can get a model like the PGPTX5, which can be hardwired into the vehicle electrical system so it will work as long as the car is working.
Many trackers, such as the GPSTPro, come with subscription services that cover the cellular costs and add a host of additional capabilities like storing historical tracks and setting speed limit triggers that let you know if the subject is going somewhere in a hurry. Don’t feel like getting up early to stake out the subject’s house? No problem—the GPSTPro allows you to create an electronic geo-fence perimeter and will send you an email only in the event the bad guy starts to head someplace interesting.
Gathering Electronic Evidence
Key loggers are usually used by hackers to snoop for bank account information or passwords, but PIs use ‘em, too… looking for incriminating statements or other digital evidence. You can still find them in the form of hardware widgets that physically plug in to a keyboard cable, but those are both easily detected and increasingly ineffective as more keyboards go wireless. A software version, like the Ultimate Keylogger, can be installed secretly on the target computer and capture everything and send it to you directly via email or FTP.
If you need more than just keystrokes, other spyware is even more powerful and just as easy to install. The Stealth USB Stick can be inserted in any open USB port, used to quickly and secretly drop software that will rifle through documents, take screenshots, monitor chat sessions, and more. And, of course, any USB stick can be used to take a quick copy of everything on a PC for you to investigate later at your leisure.
With great power comes great responsibility, though; namely, to make sure your surveillance efforts remain within the bounds of the law.