Investigative Professionalism Recognized
Columbia Investigations and its detectives have been noteworthy and newsworthy, appearing in print and radio interviews. Please be aware that we will never violate a clients confidentiality... ever! Our clients come first!
Local Sex Offenders a Cause for Concern
I got an email this week from Melinda Kidder, a private detective with a heart for children’s issues.
On the Job: Private Investigator
Between hanging with her little girl and practicing martial arts, Melinda Kidder scopes out scenes to get the dirt on unanswered questions and finds out some unwanted information, too.
Networks Advance Child Trafficking Investigation
Melinda Kidder of Columbia Investigations. Kidder, a PI, and Siedow each began making phone calls and posting Facebook and IM messages at a fast and furious clip.
Investigators with Integrity
Our team of detectives and support staff are committed to providing the highest quality investigative services.
Our law firm has retained the services of Columbia Investigations many times over the past year. Our firm is extremely pleased with the expeditious manner within which results are achieved. Columbia Investigations owner, Melinda Kidder, is very professional and courteous. We highly recommend Columbia Investigations, LLC and the services they offer!
I would like to offer my recommendation for Melinda and Columbia Investigations. Melinda’s assistance with my difficult and protracted situation was undertaken with the utmost professionalism and consideration. In one instance Melinda’s dogged persistence resulted in her serving a subpoena to an individual who was resolute in his efforts to not be located. Without any reservations I highly recommend Melinda and Columbia Investigations.
I have worked with Melinda for approximately 15 years. She is my go-to person for all things in Missouri. Melinda is an honest, trustworthy and knowledgeable investigator. I can count on her to keep me up to date on my cases, and I trust her work. The details matter in this business, and Melinda gets me the results and details I need every single time!
When I became a target of workplace violence, stalking, theft, and identity theft, it was Columbia Investigations (CI) that came to the rescue and helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. Melinda has the integrity, toughness, and honesty needed in investigators today. She is freakin’ awesome and I wouldn’t recommend anyone else for your investigative needs or even to establish a baseline as support for trial.
Useful Tips and Tricks from the Blog
Surveillance or Stalking?
I’ve been contacted by a variety of clients who had decided, prior to contacting us, that they’d like to try doing surveillance on their own. Some clients, especially in divorce and custody cases, have a great support system to rely upon. It is often these clients who try to do surveillance on their own or use their support system to keep tabs on their alleged cheating spouse or bad parent. Although this can certainly save the client some money, it could also get one into trouble. I’ll put out some tips and cautions in the paragraphs to follow. First, if you’re in a state which requires licensure for private investigators, having a friend or family member perform surveillance might get you into legal trouble. Second, if there is a restraining order, order of protection, or ex parte on any of the parties involved, you need to steer clear of surveillance. Even your PI needs to limit their activities to act within the scope of the restraining order, order of protection, or ex parte. If one were to conduct surveillance on an individual who either had a restraining order on them, or whom a restraining order had been filed against, they may be found guilty of stalking or harassment. If they had someone else doing their surveillance for them, their surveillance person could be found guilty of stalking, and the person who assigned them to the surveillance of stalking by proxy. Although the following link talks of more aggressive types of stalking by proxy, it gives a great definition of the idea: http://blog.stalkingbyproxy.com/intro.html So, my point: If there are any restraining orders, don’t do surveillance and don’t ask someone else to do it for you. Check with your attorney and with your investigator to see what other alternatives exist. If you’re clear on that legal issue, then some of the following tips may help in your surveillance: Mobile Surveillance: Its helpful if you have alternate vehicles at your disposal. Your subject is most likely familiar with your own vehicle, and likely those of your mutual friends. If you have any other vehicles, which you are legally allowed to drive, I recommend using them. Although using disguises can seem a little silly, it can be helpful if you end up sitting behind your subject at a stop light. Baseball hats and sunglasses are great. Easy to remove and replace. If doing mobile surveillance, making sure items are off the dashboard and not hanging from the rear view mirror is a good idea. Another idea would be to change the items on the dashboard from time to time. Using a vehicle that seems common and doesn’t stand out in a crowd is key as well. If you do end up sitting behind your subject at a stop light, don’t stare at them. You know they’re in the car in front of you. You don’t need to stare them down. Pretend to talk on your cell phone, change your radio station, and seem naturally uninterested in them. Don’t use your turn signal. Your subject may change lanes quickly, change their mind, or be checking to see if they’re being followed. If you change your signal or change lanes quickly behind them, this can tip them off. Allow yourself some room between you and your subject. Although you don’t want to lose them, you’d much rather do so than be discovered. You want to avoid confrontation and discovery. So, you may lose them this day, but being discovered may make it impossible to find them again or follow them another day. Foot Surveillance: Foot surveillance can be difficult. You’ve all seen the movies where the detective is moving along at a set pace, keeping up with the subject, when the subject suddenly stops and turns or stops to look into a store window. That stuff actually happens. If your subject is especially paranoid, they may stop and look into a store window to see in the reflection if anyone is watching them from behind. Don’t get careless when following on foot, zoning out and losing focus on your subject or his pace. You need to be able to stop suddenly if your subject stops. Be prepared for them to turn around suddenly. Be aware of your surroundings so that if your subject does turn around, you can duck into a store or doorway if necessary. If your subject does turn around and walk the other direction, towards you, don’t stop suddenly and turn around as well. Walk past and go into a store or doorway, trying to find a spot where you can determine if the subject simply forgot something at his previous location (at a store they just left or in their parked car) and will be coming back, or if they changed their mind on their destination. Have patience and trust your instincts. You know your subject better than an investigator. Fixed Surveillance: Fixed surveillance can be in a variety of locations. Once you’ve followed your subject in his vehicle and he parks and enters his destination, you may be in for a wait. If its obvious you won’t need to follow the subject on foot, you may need to stay on watch from your vehicle. You’ll need to be prepared for several possible situations. First, people are nosy. Many folks are completely aware of who does and does not belong in their neighborhood. You might stick out like a sore thumb. Be prepared with a pre-text or BS story for anyone who may confront you as to your purpose in their neighborhood. Don’t get distracted by your surroundings. If kids are playing near you, totally ignore them and don’t watch them. Watching them will simply creep out their parents and get the police called to your location in a jiffy. Other distractions such as animal life, neighbor activities, noise, etc, can all be distractions which pull your attention away from your subject location. Try not to get focused on alternate activities, even texting on your cell phone, as you could miss something important. Wave at passersby. Nothing disarms people more than being friendly. If you look like you feel out of place, you’re more likely to have the police called on you. If you’re friendly and act like you belong there, others are more likely to believe that you belong there, too. You may be there long enough to need sustenance. Bring healthy snacks with protein to keep you alert. Try not to take in too much sugar as you’ll have the sugar high and then the sugar low. You don’t want to fall asleep on the job. Water, energy or coffee drinks are great. All will help you to complete your task. The drawback of partaking of sustenance is the need to …well… get rid of it. Our primary surveillance van has a camping toilet: http://tinyurl.com/def8xc . Some detectives use depends (no, I’m not kidding). However, I wouldn’t recommend depends for anything beyond urination. You’d be amazed how much one depends will hold! Male detectives often use a large mouthed bottle. Female detectives have been known to use tupperware bowls with lids. Personally, I recommend the camping toilet and depends. You think you’ll be able to hold it…but, you won’t :). In some fixed surveillances, you may be in a public location such as a restaurant or bar. Bars are easier due to low lighting. You are less likely to be detected. In restaurants, you’ll need to make sure you enter long enough after your subject that you won’t be in a line with them, waiting to be seated. Often, the greeter will try to seat you with their own discretion. Don’t be shy. If you see a table near your subject which would be a prime location from which to listen or observe without detection, make it known to the seater that you need to sit there. They shouldn’t argue with you since it is their job to be gracious to the customers. Regardless of how you keep an eye on your spouse, be safe and stay objective. Allowing your emotions to overwhelm you can get you into trouble. Ask any police officer and they’ll tell you that domestic situations can be some of the most dangerous for them due to the heightened emotions involved. Always check with your attorney so they can advise you on the legality of any advice you receive or activities you wish to undertake. Remember, I’m a PI, your friends are friends. Only your attorney can make sure you’re plans are within the scope of the law and will actually help you in your goals.
Is My Daughter Dating An Axe Murderer? How to Run a Background Check on Anyone – Part One
Reasons for a Background Check: One of the most common inquiries we receive at our firm is to look into someone’s background. Some clients need to know with whom their children are spending time. Others want to check out a potential spouse. The more financial savvy individuals are looking to find whether a potential investment is sound or if the deal may be a scam. Persons of a more litigious nature want to dig up the dirt before getting into the courtroom to either get something on the other guy, or make sure their own witnesses can stand up to cross examination. The number of reasons for a background check vary broadly. Application of the Law: As licensed investigators, we have to be aware of many laws which keep popping up to protect the privacy of our fellow citizens. There’s the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLB) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gramm-Leach-Bliley_Act Next is the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) http://www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/031224fcra.pdf Another is the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) http://www.accessreports.com/statutes/DPPA1.htm There are more, but these are some of the major ones by which we need to abide when checking into someone’s background for a client. If you attempt to check into someone else’s background on your own, you STILL need to abide by these laws. They’re not just for private detectives. They’re for everyone. To put it plainly, these laws are there to make sure NO ONE can have access to another individual’s specific personal information without a valid reason. To see those reasons, check out the links above. How Can I Do It Myself? What Do You Already Know? The first thing I ask a client is to write down all of the information they already know about the subject upon whom they’d like a background check. This saves them cost since I won’t be running down the same avenues they’ve already traveled in their search. More importantly, however, this helps the client to organize their needs, information, and helps establish other ideas for where to search for more facts. Database Searches: Well, you’re not going to have access to our proprietary databases such as www.irbsearch.com, www.skipsmasher.com, www.locateplus.com, etcetera. So, what about those sites all over the internet which appear to offer a background check for around thirty bucks? The difference between proprietary databases and the cheap online public access databases are that the proprietary ones typically update their information on a daily basis. However, if you’re going to do this yourself, the public one might be worth a shot as a starting point. Be sure to note that some information may be outdated or incorrect. Always double and triple check your information for accuracy, especially when your subject has a common name. Use the Power of the Internet: The internet is a wonderful tool. Learn advanced search techniques. There’s a very simple, but true, list of “do’s” at: http://www.ehow.com/how_2911_conduct-advanced-internet.html For a deep web search, check out www.paterva.com . One could not ask for a better search and relationship connecting program than Paterva’s Maltego Community Edition. I’ve been amazed at the depth to which this tool delves in its search to find information. The user interface is a bit difficult, but if you play around with it, the results will be worth the time and effort. The PI buddy who steered me to this “open source forensics and intelligence application” told me its even used by the CIA. True? I have no idea, but the program is awesome for our cause. Every investigator should add this data mining tool to their arsenal immediately. Hell, its free, too! Social Networking Sites: Don’t miss the social networking sites. Although Facebook and MySpace are enormously popular, there are so many more like LinkedIn, Naymz, etc. Even your boss might be checking on your online activity on these sites. Opposing counsel and prosecutors use social networking site searches to gather evidence and more. Here’s a great list of popular social networking sites for your search: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites Another social networking site recently pointed out to me by a friend, which is not on the above list, is secondlife.com. Its new and growing fast as a virtual reality social networking site. Pretty cool, too. However, the first time I used it, I took the tour, then clicked randomly on the map and ended up in a virtual reality BDSM shopping center with no warning of the true nature of the content in advance. The moral of the story is to be careful where you click 😉 My family is urging me strongly to get off of the computer and join them for some family time. Therefore, this post is going to be a two-parter 🙂 Melinda Kidder Licensed Private Detective Columbia Investigations Columbia Missouri 573-673-2485
Private Parts Exposed – Part One
In today’s technologically advanced society, those in the know (or want to know) are constantly developing new ways to get at your private information. As a result, privacy laws are in a perpetual state of evolution in efforts to keep up with that technology. In the field of private investigation, we have to take continual steps to keep up with those laws to avoid ending up on the wrong side of them. If you’re undertaking an investigation, you’d better keep up, too. As stated in previous blogs, I’m not an attorney. I have one on retainer. Get your own. As the title suggests, when ones private information is made available for public viewing, it can feel like standing naked in Times Square. This blog post will hopefully cover ways to get at information on a subject and ways to hide your own “private parts”. We’ll go over some simple, cheap and easy techniques for information gathering as well as some that are more costly, time consuming and advanced. The same goes for covering up your own tracks: there are simple and easy options as well as ones more cumbersome and time-consuming. Its all up to you. How much time and money do you want to spend to find out what you want to know or keep your private life private? Setting all that aside for a moment, I would be remiss in my duties if I did not mention that there are individuals out there who will offer you for a price any information you desire. Beware of the laws. Beware of information brokers with fly-by-night businesses. Beware of governmental agencies setting you up for a sting. On a weekly basis, I hear from other private investigators who have been approached and asked to dig up information that would be illegal to obtain. One detective even commented recently that on one of these sting calls the caller ID showed “US Government”. Stings are set up all the time in efforts to weed out unscrupulous information providers. Personally, I hope the government catches all the bad guys. Of course, they’ll have to start using *67, caller ID blocking, if they want to do it right ;). ————————— This is going to come as a shock to some of you, but one of the biggest violators of your privacy will be YOU. I’m sure some readers are wondering how that can be the case since they’re not peeping in their own windows at themselves or tapping their own phone lines. Seriously, so many clients are unaware when they come to us about the incredibly simple things they can do to limit their vulnerabilities and do some damage control after already exposing themselves, so to speak. Let’s take, for example, some of the big topics that’re always in the news: social networking sites on the internet. Private investigators and attorneys LOVE social networking sites. They provide a treasure trove of information on individuals who are simply out to socialize, share histories and good times, and simply don’t know how to use privacy settings. Facebook has been all over the news for their privacy settings changes…and more changes…and changes to the changes. It can be hard to keep up on all of that. Personally, I recommend SOPHOS’ Facebook Security tips , AllFacebook(which has a downloadable privacy guide), and Facebook Wall (an unofficial Facebook guide). Yes, there are other sites out there. If in doubt about your security on those sites, simply google “site name security tips” or “site name privacy settings”, substituting your favorite site for “site name” ;). So many court cases have been won, lost or settled out of court simply because someone decided to post the wrong comments, pictures, libel or threats. Be careful what you say online. Just because you’re not face to face or “in real life” (IRL), doesn’t make a threat or defamation non-existent. Even employers are looking on social networking sites at potential and current employees. Employers will try to decide if you’re a good fit with their firm or if that sick time you requested was really sick time or time theft. And did you know that you can delete whatever you want from your page, but the history of what existed previously can be subpoenaed from the company that runs the social networking site? Its all still there on their servers for posterity…and litigation. Consider your safety, too. Are you posting pictures of your children? Are they standing in front of their daycare or school where you can read the sign? Can anyone see these pictures and do you trust them? Are you posting your vacation plans online? Do you trust everyone there? Many crimes have been reported where the offending party ended up being a trusted facebook “friend”. Be careful to whom you give your trust. ————————– Another pitfall, which I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, is what gets thrown in the trash. Its incredible what people will throw away without a second thought. As a matter of fact, I learned more about my neighbors than I ever cared to know. Once my dog decided to play detective and do his own trash pull, bringing the neighbors’ trash back to my yard to tear up and inspect. Trash archeology, garbology, trash pull. Whatever you call it, one can glean a lot more than banana peels from a little stinky effort. Phone bills, credit card receipts and offers, prescription drug bottles. Think about it: when was the last time you re-filled your prescription, went to pick it up, and you were asked for ID? Pretty rare, isn’t it? So if Joe Criminal finds your empty pill bottle in your trash, likes the flavor of the week, calls in your refill and picks it up? Nice. Anything with Personally Identifiable Information (PII), or information that can be used by itself, or with other information, to identify a single individual, needs to be protected. If a criminal is able to pull a bit of information from one piece of your trash, a bit from another, etc…he may be able to use that information to exploit your identity, among other crimes. Another interesting part of trash archeology, which can be a bit frightening to some, is the thought that one can establish a lifestyle profile from the effort. Although it would be ideal to make multiple trash pulls and examine them over a period of time, even one trash pull can provide enough information to get a general picture. For example: Its fairly plain to spot if one has children. Kids generate a lot of child-specific trash. Eating behaviors are significant. One can take a look at several trash bags with microwaveable diet dinner packages and surmise that a single woman might live in that abode. Drinking, smoking, and even drug habits can become evident. Evidence of sexual activity, along with DNA samples, might be available. True, that’s a bit gross, but its helpful in cheating spouse and custody cases. Giving someone access to your private life via your trash can be limited, but its up to you to set those limits. My advice when it comes to throwing things away: if in doubt, shred it. If you can’t shred it, burn it. Whatever the case, think about what you’re throwing away before you toss it out. Once you put your trash on your curb, “beyond the curtilage” as its referred to in legal terms, it is considered public domain. There may be some limitations based on local laws, so check those out with your attorney. However, when its on the curb, access is easy. Besides burning and limiting the PII you toss, you can also keep your trash cans away from the curb. The preference would be inside your home, if you have that option, until as close to the time of trash pick-up as possible. Otherwise, your trash may become another man’s treasure. To be continued…
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