Claude Bookout is President of United Investigations International, a private investigations firm located in Austin, Texas. ( Texas license number: C9472

Blog updated monthly.

United International Investigations is an experienced private investigations firm with a reputation for integrity, dependability, and thoroughness. The firm provides its clients with a broad range of investigative assistance. Corporations, law firms, and prominent individuals have relied on its professional team of investigators to obtain power and control over their particular situations.

Protect yourself when selling online (and a few other ramblings).

Selling personal items and services online can be a way to earn a few extra bucks. However, the dangers of advertising and selling expensive items online or in traditional print classifieds became all too apparent recently. James Sanders advertised a 1.07-carat diamond ring with an asking price of $1,050. He arranged for a couple to come to his home to look at the ring, and hopefully purchase it. During the transaction, James and his wife were ambushed by four people. By the end of the altercation, James had been shot. Click here for full story.

While it would be easy to suggest Craiglist be monitored, controlled, or shut down, this would come at the loss of a great, free, and easy service. It would also not solve the problem of people creating these dangerous situations. This tragic story only highlights the need for people to better plan for the dangers of interacting with strangers and engaging in online (social) networks.

Here are just a few tips to keep in mind in dealing with online and offline interactions:

  • Never post personal details, home phone number, or addresses online, especially when engaging in a high-value transaction. With phone number reversal sites and the online white pages, it’s easy to figure out where you live, especially if you still use a landline. Cell phones are more difficult to trace, but it’s possible. Create a free email address or use the Craigslist anonymous email posting option. When doing an online transaction, ask people to supply their full name and number in the initial email response. Then you can check them out before you make more personal contact.
  • Meet in public spaces, with lots of people and surveillance cameras, and during the day. This does not require further explanation, does it?
  • Arrive first and leave last. This will reduce the possibility that you’ll be staked out by potential thieves.
  • Meet people with your (big) friends present. Again, no further explanation needed.
  • The incomprehensive list above applies to all types of off-line interactions that originate online or via advertisement. If you’re on a social networking site, never post that you’ll be leaving town and wait to return before sharing the photos and updates from your trip. Many people whose homes are burgled oftentimes have a direct or indirect connection with the thieves.

For added security, especially on big ticket items like cars, you may want to consider hiring a private investigator. Here are just a few things he or she can do for you.

  • Attend the sale with you. Some private investigators are certified in doing security and are licensed to carry a fire arm.
  • Complete a background check on a potential buyer.
Protect your online persona.
As far as your online persona goes, many private investigators are being hired to complete comprehensive on-line security analysis. Just like a home security analysis can be used to identify potential security weaknesses in your home, an online analysis can identify the areas where you are open to identity theft or exposing yourself to personal risk. Fortunately, there are now many ways to control what people are able to find out about you through search engines (e.g., Google) and a professional private detective can identify and deal with these for you.

There is no reason for tragedy to strike you. There is no reason for you to be passed on an excellent job offer because your friends tagged a photo of you doing a shot of vodka at that bar you don’t remember and posted it without your permission to their Flickr account. There is no reason you should expose yourself to identity thieves and predators. Just keep these things in mind and you’ll be much safer: If you won’t do it offline, don’t do it online. If you wouldn’t plaster it on an interstate billboard, don’t post it online. Finally, expect what you’d find offline (e.g., violent criminals and stalkers) to be more pronounced online. Call a professional investigator if you have any concerns, chances are he or she can help you.

Another resource:

Civil rights violated?: Another reason you need a private investigator

by Craig Engstrom, Ph.D.*

Radley Balko, a senior editor for Reason, recently published an intriguing article. As he notes in the introduction to the article:

George Orwell famously said, ‘If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.’ He may still be right. But in today’s age of smart phones, Flip cams, and iPod cameras, there's a pretty good chance someone's going to capture that boot and the face it's smashing and post both to YouTube for all the world to see. Two recent incidents in Maryland illustrate the power of this new and increasingly democratized technology—and highlight just how important it is that the law protect the people who use technology to hold government agents accountable. (Balko, 2010, ¶ 1)

The first incident Balko describes, which will frame the advice given in this post, occurred recently at the University of Maryland. Following Maryland’s win over Duke, university students spilled into the streets to celebrate. In what appears to be an unprovoked confrontation, Jack McKenna, a Maryland student, was beat by three riot cops. With their iPhones, several bystanders captured to video this event and posted them to YouTube. Interestingly, the campus police initially stated that they could not provide footage from the campus security camera:

After the iPhone video of McKenna's beating emerged, investigators subpoenaed 60 hours of surveillance video from the College Park campus police. The only video police couldn't manage to locate was the one from the camera aimed squarely at the area where McKenna was beaten. Funny how that works. Campus police claimed that a "technical error" with that particular camera caused it to record over the footage of the beating. As public pressure mounted, police later found what they claimed was a recording of the lost video. But two minutes of that video were missing. Coincidentally, those two minutes happened to depict key portions of McKenna's beating. (Balko, 2010, ¶ 4)

While this incident (and the other incidents described in Balko’s article) highlights the usefulness of new technologies to speak truth to power, it raises two important questions: 1) What if bystanders had not been recording the incident and 2) what can one do immediately following these types of incidents? A possible recourse for victims, who feel that their civil rights have been violated in any type of situation, is to immediately retain a private investigator.

The immediate benefit of retaining a private investigator, even before an attorney in many circumstances, is that she or he can immediately begin an investigation. This will mitigate the potential that precious time will be lost. In these types of situations, it is critical to begin an investigation immediately, before evidence is lost (or destroyed) and witnesses forget details or are coached to question their initial impressions. In many states, any information that is obtained by a private investigator can later be submitted to the attorney as “notes to file,” meaning that it becomes part of the attorney’s work product and is, therefore, not discoverable. This will allow you to search for an attorney (the professional investigator will likely have several to recommend) or to file your claim with civil rights agencies without worrying about whether you’ll have a case. The private investigator will already be collecting data that will hopefully demonstrate that there is grounding for your claims. By having hired a licensed private investigator, evidence will be collected and processed in a legal manner, consistent with court admissibility. You will also have a central person to whom you can direct all people who approach you about the incident.

The investigator may also uncover witness video recordings that, for whatever reason, did not make their way to YouTube or other social media websites. This is, of course, the best evidence to have. But even if no video is obtainable, the investigator will be able to follow leads and conduct interviews with witnesses in order to collect accounts of the events. He or she may even be able to uncover details that may be purposefully or accidentally omitted in police reports. Whatever he or she can collect becomes important data that can be used to help in your defense (should you be charged with a crime) or civil proceedings (should you choose to file a suit). If, for whatever reason, there are no witnesses present during an incident where you feel a government has violated your rights, you may still benefit from an investigator. You can file your complaint to the appropriate authorities, and the private investigator can conduct an investigation into other complaints filed against the particular agent(s). By interviewing other complainants, employees, and other individuals who are knowledge about the agents or departments, an investigator may discover a pattern that could prove some negligence.

Private investigators are important ballasts to their public counterparts. While hiring a private investigator is often a great investment, it is important to remember that you or your family should vet private detectives before hiring them. You should ask the private investigator several questions, including whether she or he can conduct an objective investigation into potential police misconduct. While some private investigators are former police officers, many of them are not. Nevertheless, you should not exclude a private investigator solely on the basis of his or her prior or current connection with a particular police department. Hiring a private investigator with prior police experience can be an asset for many reasons. In other words, the particulars regarding where an investigator received his or her training and experience is not as important as what type of knowledge and experience she or he has. What matters more than anything, and something that you will be able to tell during your initial conversations, is whether the private investigator seems interested in your case and has the expertise to conduct a competent investigation. Not every investigative agency is interested in or equipped to handle these types of investigations. You should ask the investigator to explain to you what she or he will do to assist you. If something doesn’t sound right to you, it may not be. Before hiring any investigator, you should also check his or her reviews on websites such as,, or the local Better Business Bureau.

It’s unfortunate that many citizens have to rely on technology and private investigators to protect themselves from government and corporate misconduct. However, by relying on both technology and quality private investigators, you can better protect yourself against injustices perpetrated by others against you.

* Dr. Craig Engstrom is owner and operator of Critical Hours, a company that provides consulting, research, and documentation services to small business owners. His scholarly research focuses on the business of private, professional investigations.


Balko, R. (2010, April 26). Watching the detectives: A nebulous "right" to videotape on-duty cops isn't enough. The right needs to be enforced. Reason Magazine. Retrieved April 27, 2010 from>