Archive for September, 2011

I hesitated to include this article since cell phone pings has always been something of an urban legend among the private investigation and bail enforcement communities. However, I do know for certain that it is absolutely possible and that many fugitives and abducted children have been recovered through the use of cell phone pinging by various State and Federal law enforcement agencies. Do you remember when President Bush went to the Middle East on a surprise visit to the troops not too long ago? The media made a big deal about the fact that the Secret Service made everyone onboard Air Force One, including the President, take the battery out of their cell phones so that the “real bad guys” didn’t know of their location. Voila! (Cell phone pinging has gotten someone’s attention.) I was convinced to include the article because a trusted peer indicated that he too had luck with a locate at one time and anyone interested in locating another person may at least have the need to understand the technology and the process of locating cellular phones.

There are two ways a cellular network provider can locate a phone connected to their network, either through pinging or triangulation. Pinging is a digital process and triangulation is an analog process.

A cell phone “ping” is quite simply the process of determining the location, with reasonable accuracy, of a cell phone at any given point in time by utilizing the phone GPS location aware capabilities, it is very similar to GPS vehicle tracking systems. To “ping” in this context means to send a signal to a particular cell phone and have it respond with the requested data. The term is derived from SONAR and echolocation when a technician would send out a sound wave, or ping, and wait for its return to locate another object. New generation cell phones and mobile service providers are required by federal mandate, via the “E-911” program, to be or become GPS capable so that 911 operators will be able to determine the location of a caller who is making an emergency phone call. When a new digital cell phone is pinged, it determines its latitude and longitude via GPS and sends these coordinates back via the SMS system (the same system used to send text messages). This means that in instances where a fugitive or other missing person has a GPS enabled cell phone (and that the phone has power when being polled, or pinged) that the cell phone can be located within a reasonable geographic area- some say within several feet of the cell phone.

With the older style analog cellular phones and digital mobile phones that are not GPS capable the cellular network provider can determine where the phone is to within a hundred feet or so using “triangulation” because at any one time, the phone is usually able to communicate with more than one of the aerial arrays provided by the phone network. The cell towers are typically 6 to 12 miles apart (less in cities) and a phone is usually within range of at least three of them. By comparing the signal strength and time lag for the phone’s carrier signal to reach at each tower, the network provider can triangulate the phone’s approximate position.

Similar technology is used to track down lost aircraft and yachts through their radio beacons. It’s not identical because most radio beacons use satellites and older cell phones use land-based aerial arrays but the principle is the same.

Not surprisingly, the phone network companies are shy about admitting they have this ability. The triangulation and pinging capability of mobile phone network companies varies according to the age of their equipment. A few can only do it manually with a big drain on skilled manpower. But these days most companies can generate the information automatically, which makes it cheap enough to sell.

Some nefarious service providers have indicated that they have either developed sources within mobile telephone service providers to be able to get this information upon request or have access to the software interfaces to accomplish this on their own (or some variant thereof). I highly suspect that these “cell phone ping service providers” I see advertising from time to time are actually using a good ol’ fashioned pretext to obtain the location of a cell phone rather than using an actual ping. If you do come across a real provider, please let me know.

There you have it- the short course regarding the technical capability of locating cell phones and those who possess them either through pinging or triangulation. Again, I cannot speak to the commercial availability of such a service but like anything else in the investigative business; for now I believe that mobile-phone pinging is largely urban myth among private investigators, fugitive recovery investigators and skip tracers.

There is rarely a case made in the popular media about the good things PIs do. There are rarely stories like the recent case handled by Mark Feegel, of Feegel & Associates Investigative Solutions, a private investigator out of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Feegel has been in this business for more than 25 years. While attending college in Atlanta, where he was considering pursuing a career in law, he took a job as a runner for a local law firm.

“Which convinced me, no way, I don’t want to do that. I took the position of, ‘I don’t want to be married to the many problems each civil suit might bring on for years on end,’” Feegel said. “It’s very stressful.”

So instead he took a job as an insurance adjuster in 1985 and diligently worked as an investigator in that field until finally starting his own private investigation agency in 1994. Feegel said that when he started his agency the majority of cases he took were insurance defense cases, because that was familiar territory for him.

“Since then it’s been encompassing all types of investigations: Insurance defense, plaintiff work, mortgage fraud, criminal background, criminal investigation, criminal law, and some marital type things.”

But this recent case didn’t really fit into any of those categories…

Feegel said he was contacted by a man on the recommendation of a local law firm. This man, who we will call “Henry” because the court case has yet to be completely resolved, was fostering two young boys, three and four years old, and wished to adopt them. The children were placed into foster care by the state after their daycare center reported evidence of abuse.

“The kids would go to daycare with feces in their hair, reeking of urine. Just disgusting,” Feegel said. He added that they had lived for a time in a storage facility with their mother, and “her apartment that she’s been evicted from was inspected by the county. Roach infested, maggots.”

Henry wanted Feegel to find out if the children’s mother was still seeing her abusive boyfriend. She was seeking to regain custody of her children and told the court that she had cut ties with him as part of her bid to get her children back.

“And [the foster parents] didn’t believe it, but they were ready to accept whatever the truth is,” Feegel said. “He gave me the case, and didn’t tell me much about the boyfriend, just wanted to know if they ever got together.”

It didn’t take long for Feegel to confirm the foster parents’ suspicions.

“One day. Immediately,” Feegel said. “I set up down the street from her mobile home, and I followed her. She went to this guy’s mobile home and picked him up, and they went to lunch. Labor Day weekend they were partying together. So, there’s no question they’re definitely together.”

Feegel presented the evidence to the foster parents. It was then that Henry dropped the bomb.

“After I told them I have them on video, they’re definitely together, it’s documented and proven. He started telling me about the abusive boyfriend and that he’s a drug addict. I ran his background and he is definitely a drug dealer. Battery, assault, all this crazy stuff,” Feegel said. “Then he told me that the two-year-old, when he was one, received a fractured skull from this guy. He was arrested for it. And the four-year-old, who was three at the time, he slammed into a refrigerator. When I heard that I just went, ‘you know what? Your bill is zero. Let’s get these kids safe.’”

Feegel said that his bill would have been about $1,500 under normal circumstances.

“When it came down to billing time I’m thinking, ‘Why would I take money out of this guy’s wallet and get paid for saving these kids when that money can go to these kids and they can eat and be happy?’” Feegel said. “You know they’ve got a lot of responsibility having two kids. I don’t know if they have any more than that but they’re doing the right thing. At that point money isn’t always as important as doing the right thing.”

Feegel said that the children are being well taken care of by their foster family and, though no custody decision has been made, he has high hopes for the outcome and the betterment of the lives of these two beautiful foster children.

“The kids are going to church, they’re clean, they’re fed, they’re happy,” Feegel said. “Henry just sent me a picture of the kids at his father’s farm where they’re petting a pony. Showing that they’re happy and everything’s good.”

There’s no denying that a lot of what a private investigator does revolves around the question of money; whether it’s an insurance company trying to keep insurance claim proceeds from being paid to a fraudster, a spouse trying to catch a cheater so they can get a larger settlement out of the resulting divorce, or just getting paid for an investigative job well-done. However this assignment was different. The couple who hired Mark Feegel wasn’t looking for a payday… and, in the end, neither was Mark.

This wasn’t a case about money; it was about the welfare of two innocent children. For Feegel his reward was helping those kids, and he feels that says something about the PI profession that the public often fails to recognize:

“This is something that people should understand. We help people too,” Feegel said.

New York (CNN) — A man authorities say was part of a Brooklyn husband-and-wife identity theft team has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for the deaths of three identity theft victims, prosecutors said Thursday.

A federal jury in March found Dmitriy Yakovlev, 43, guilty of the deaths and identity thefts of Irina Malezhik and Viktor Alekseyev.

The remains of Malezhik, a Russian-language translator who lived in Brooklyn and worked in the federal courts, were never found; Alekseyev disappeared in December 2005, and his body was found in New Jersey in 2006.

Yakovlev was also found guilty of stealing the identity of a third Brooklyn resident, Michael Klein, who disappeared in November 2003.

In addition to the killings, Yakovlev was also found guilty of bank fraud and bank fraud conspiracy charges in connection with the stealing of his victims’ identities, a press release said.

At sentencing Thursday, U.S. District Judge I. Leo Glasser found Yakovlev was also responsible for Klein’s death.

In addition to the defendant’s 30-year sentence, Glasser ordered the defendant to forfeit $432,050, representing the proceeds of the fraud.

Yakovlev faced a possible sentence of life in prison, but U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch said, “Today’s sentence ensures that this defendant will never again have the opportunity to murder or otherwise victimize innocent victims.”

Yakovlev’s wife, Julie Yakovlev, pleaded guilty in February to identity theft and credit card fraud for her participation in the plot to steal Malezhik’s identity said Robert Nardoza, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office. She was sentenced on August 29 to 36 months in prison.

She was not charged in connection with the slayings.

The couple was originally charged in August 2009 with illegally using the identities of three people between 2003 and 2007.

Yakovlev’s attorneys did not return phone calls Friday seeking comment.

Read more

How to Avoid Employee Fraud

Those starting their own businesses like to think they’re in control. But the reality is that most are not in control of their own security.

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners found that corruption and billing schemes were the leading types of fraud in the U.S. and the rest of the world. In a study, they also found that small businesses are especially vulnerable to fraud.

It can be avoided, however, if you keep your eyes open. Start with audits – they’re helpful and many businesses depend solely upon them to detect fraud. But there are other, clearer ways to detect it.

Look for changes in inventory without changes in sales, says Allison Muzal, owner of Bookkeeping Express in Westchester; if inventory is low and sales don’t increase, there’s a problem. But even this is just a logical solvent for fraud. Some aren’t so obvious, like an employee who seems incredibly dedicated, works late, takes work home, and refuses to take vacations. Sounds like an ideal worker, doesn’t it? Not always.

Muzal says the main avoidance of fraud is not to segregate duties among staff. “You don’t want one person to handle duties,” she says. “At least have two people completing a task. Make sure there are two people signing checks instead of one. Check tampering is the number one cause of fraud.”

She adds that small business owners are often too focused on the business itself to pay attention to the financials – and that trust in employees with longstanding ties to the business owners (like relatives and friends) can be hazardous.

It might be against your principles to give in to cynicism, but when the future of your business is at stake, it’s worth it.

Read more

Police adapt to new equipment: Body cameras

Gadgets allow cops to record anything from a traffic stop to a hot vehicle pursuit

Oakland, California and hundreds of other police departments across the country are equipping officers with tiny body cameras to record anything from a traffic stop to a hot vehicle pursuit to an unfolding violent crime. The mini cameras have even spawned a new cable reality TV series, Police POV, which uses police video from Cincinnati, Chattanooga and Fort Smith, Ark.

These cameras are smaller than smart phones and are worn on the officer’s chest, attached to shirt lapels, or on small headsets. The cameras, which run about $125 apiece, were brought instead of purchasing video equipment for squad cars, although the body cameras can also be mounted on the patrol car dashboards. The cameras are intended to provide more transparency and security to officers on the street and to reduce the number of misconduct complaints and potential lawsuits. The Oakland department officials plan to equip at least 350 officers by the end of summer.

“First and foremost, it protects the officers, it protects the citizens and it can help with an investigation and it shows what happened,” said Steve Tidwell, executive director of the FBI National Academy Associates in Quantico, Va. “It can level the playing field, instead of getting just one or two versions. It’s all there in living color, so to speak.”

In Oakland, where the department is still under federal supervision because of a case in which four officers were caught planting drugs on suspects a decade ago, the cameras are like another set of eyes, said Capt. Ed Tracey.

Officers are required to turn on their cameras for calls including traffic stops and possible searches. They are also required to download their video within a day and they are not allowed to edit or manipulate it. The video can be stored up to five years.

Read more

Keep your personal information out of online databases

The problem of keeping your private information private has been aggravated recently by the hacking of law enforcement networks

With good reason, cops have always been careful about keeping their personal lives separate from their professional lives. Conventional wisdom says that a cop should get his mail at a post office box to keep his physical home address confidential, maintain an unpublished telephone listing, and take advantage of the system some state motor vehicle bureaus have where they will hide the address associated with an officer’s personal vehicle and driver’s license in a routine inquiry. These are all sound practices, but they’re less effective than was the case in my day, before the proliferation of online data mining services.

Data mining services probe the extensive network of online databases and gather information they then sell to third parties. Unless you go to Unabomber-level “off the grid” measures, there is no practical way to keep your information away from these services. We’ve all got some combination of driver’s licenses, vehicles, real estate, credit card accounts, marriage and birth records, etc. out there, and the companies that hold this information can often increase their profits by selling it.

Even before my first law enforcement job, I was careful to keep my physical address and phone out of the public eye, or so I thought. Until recently, my landline telephone service was through my cable TV provider, and I paid extra each month for an unpublished listing. Imagine my reaction when I got a letter from them advising that they had “unintentionally” included my phone number in a listing of published numbers they sold to a phone directory company. Worse yet, although my bills came to a post office box, the address associated with the number they told everyone about was my physical address, where I got my service. They changed the phone number for free, but they declined to buy my house and move me to another one.

I’ve talked before about the importance of creating strong passwords and watching what information you make available to social networks like Facebook. You can also take steps to limit what information is available through data mining vendors like Zabasearch and PeopleFinders.

• Do a search for your name on any data mining service you can locate and request the service remove your information from their database. Most will comply. There is a list of the major players in this industry, with instructions on how to request exclusion from their listings, here.
• Contact the Direct Marketing Association and file a request to be removed from the lists their members maintain and sell. You can select the type(s) of lists you want to target, e.g. magazine subscriptions, credit card offers, etc.
• Consider subscribing to a privacy service that actively monitors the internet and files information removal requests on your behalf. DeleteMe is one of these, although I haven’t tried it and have no way of knowing how effective they are.
• Obtain a phone number from Google Voice and link it to your other phone numbers (home, office, cell, etc.) selectively. The service is free, the numbers aren’t associated with your name, and you can set it to ring all your phones at the same time, or place a “Do Not Disturb” on them during hours you choose. Give out the Google Voice number instead of your personal phone number.
• Register your phone numbers with the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry, or call (888) 382-1222 from the phone(s) you want excluded.
• Have your mail sent to a post office box—one at a real post office, not a private vendor. The Postal Service has rules about what information they will give out and who they will give it to. The private services make it up as they go along.

While it’s unusual for bad guys to hunt down officers at their homes to terrorize them or their families, it’s not unknown. Don’t make it easy for someone to do so.

Read more

When Tiawanda Moore secretly taped a conversation with two Chicago police officers, she had no idea that she would soon be indicted on criminal charges under an obscure Illinois eavesdropping law.

Prohibiting the recording of public conversations without permission, the statute punishes offenders with up to 15 years in prison when law enforcement is involved.

On Wednesday, a jury acquitted the 20-year-old of all charges.

The tape, which was played multiple times during trial, held a recording of a 4 minute conversation during which two internal investigators attempted to intimidate Tiawanda Moore into dropping a complaint against a fellow office, reports the Chicago Tribune.

She had accused that officer of sexual harassment during an emergency call to her home.

Illinois’ eavesdropping law is only one of a handful in the country that prohibits the recording of public conversations.

Most eavesdropping laws are designed to protect privacy, meaning that it is only illegal to record conversations wherein the other party has a reasonable expectation of said privacy.

In other words, citizens can normally record public conversations but not those held behind closed doors or on the phone.

Even though Moore’s conduct appears to violate the letter of the law, the Tribune reports that the statute has an exception permitting secret recordings when a person suspects a crime may suspected.

The officers were arguably engaging in official misconduct.

This is likely not the last time you’ll hear about Tiawanda Moore and the Illinois eavesdropping law. The ACLU is currently challenging it in court, and will be presenting arguments in front of the 7th Circuit next month.

Read more

ACLU challenges Illinois eavesdropping act

Lawsuit cites cases of people charged with breaking the law for making audio recordings of police in action

It’s not unusual or illegal for police officers to flip on a camera as they get out of their squad car to talk to a driver they’ve pulled over.

But in Illinois, a civilian trying to make an audio recording of police in action is breaking the law.

“It’s an unfair and destructive double standard,” said Adam Schwartz, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

On Wednesday, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit in Chicago challenging the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, which makes it criminal to record not only private but also public conversations made without consent of all parties.

With cell phones that record audio and video in almost every pocket, the ability to capture public conversations, including those involving the police, is only a click away. That raises the odds any police action could wind up being recorded for posterity.

Opponents of the act say that could be a good thing and certainly shouldn’t lead to criminal charges.

The ACLU argues that the act violates the First Amendment and has been used to thwart people who simply want to monitor police activity.

The head of the Chicago police union counters that such recordings could inhibit officers from doing their jobs.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU pointed to six Illinois residents who have faced felony charges after being accused of violating the state’s eavesdropping law for recording police making arrests in public venues.

Adrian and Fanon Perteet were passengers in a car at a DeKalb McDonald’s drive-through in November when police moved in. Officers suspected that the car’s driver was under the influence, according to the brothers.

Fanon Perteet, 23, said he was scared. Past experiences with police had left him suspicious of the officer’s motives, he said. So he pulled out his cell phone and turned on the video camera, which also records sound.

“I felt obligated to record so nothing happened,” said Perteet, an event planner.

When the officers realized they were being taped, Perteet was arrested and taken to a squad car. Adrian Perteet, 21, a student at Northern Illinois University, then took out his cell phone and started recording his brother’s arrest.

Both brothers were charged with violating the eavesdropping act, a felony, their lawyer Bruce Steinberg said. They pleaded guilty in April to attempted eavesdropping, a misdemeanor, to avoid felony convictions, Steinberg said.

The Perteets were ordered to apologize to the officers. They were given back their cell phones, which had been seized by police, but told to delete the recordings. If they complete the terms of the sentence and stay out of trouble, the charges will be dismissed, Steinberg said.

Nonetheless, the episode was an embarrassing experience, said the brothers, who live in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. They welcomed the ACLU’s lawsuit.

“I’ve been waiting for something like this,” Adrian Perteet said. “I don’t want it happening to anyone else.”

Illinois is one of only a few states, including Massachusetts and Oregon, where it is illegal to record audio of conversations that take place in public settings without the permission of everyone involved.

Illinois’ eavesdropping ban was extended in 1994 to include open and obvious audio recording, even if it takes place on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists and in a volume audible to the “unassisted human ear.”

Experts said that although statutes like Illinois’ have been on the books for years, more arrests have occurred in recent years because of the prevalence of cell phone cameras that also record audio.

Robb Harvey, an intellectual property lawyer in Tennessee, said it’s likely there will be more widely disseminated videos with audio that show alleged police misconduct and more efforts by law enforcement to stop such recordings from being made.

Harvey and other attorneys said eavesdropping statutes were not intended to criminalize recording police officers in public.

“It’s a stretch to apply surveillance laws to a situation on the street with an encounter between the police and the public,” said Maryland defense attorney Steven Silverman. “An officer has no expectation of privacy when he makes a traffic stop or arrest in the course of his workday.”

Silverman refers to cases similar to one involving the Perteets — two of which are pending in Maryland, which has a similar eavesdropping law — as “contempt of cop.”

“The backlash is coming from embarrassment,” he said of police reaction to being recorded. “These are archaic statutes, made in a time when technology was different. The laws need to catch up.”

The defendant in the ACLU lawsuit is Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, whose office is pursuing an eavesdropping case against Chicago artist Chris Drew.

In December 2009, Drew intentionally set out to break the city’s anti-peddling law by offering handmade, screen-printed patches for $1 on State Street.