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Give ‘Em a Call: Hazards of inadequately planned pretext telephone contacts

Among the most useful of tools in the investigator’s box is the ability to extract useable information by means of a telephone call made under a suitably planned pretext. Years ago, such a technique could be employed readily and with little risk of adverse consequence. However, with the advent of Caller ID and the Internet, this technique has become significantly more complicated – and risky.

When there is no danger of exposure, it might be feasible to make an impromptu pretext call to acquire general information. However, this would be the great exception to the rule of “backstopping” such contacts.

In one case taken over by ResultQuest, the previous investigator had posed as a lender in calling a company to request information regarding a current employee. Within minutes, the subject of the investigation was calling him to ask why she was under the scrutiny of an investigator pretending to work for a bank. The investigator’s poor choice of pretense, used without client approval, and failure to consider the possibility that the Caller ID signal might lead back to him led to what might have been a disastrous outcome.

Pretext calls, properly developed and implemented, often provide valuable intelligence. But there are some fundamental considerations.

The first, and most critical, consideration is client authorization. Gathering information under false pretense should only be done with the full knowledge and approval of the client. Many attorneys view such a tactic as unethical, even when trying to uncover fraud. Once an approach is formulated, it is essential that the client is in complete accord.

Next, never use methods that would constitute a violation of criminal statutes, such as falsely claiming to represent a lender. Furthermore, careful deliberation should be given to the likelihood that the process of discovery might uncover the procedure. Consequently, the ability to convey the appearance of a measured and reasonable approach is crucial.

Finally, every effort must be the product of appropriate backstopping. In short, this means the cover story used must be believable and documentable. This often requires specialized identity shielding techniques and exhaustive research, which can be costly. However, an inadequately prepared call can not only risk alerting the recipient, but it will also seldom provide anything of use.

Better to invest in the proper groundwork and come away informed, than to simply try to wing it and end up entangled. You can rely on the specialists of ResultQuest for guidance in formulating specialized intelligence-gathering techniques. Call us at 713/781-9040.