Listen: 5 Signs your Surveillance was just Burned
I suppose there are a million ways to get burned on surveillance. To be burned or made simply means the subject you’re following has become aware of the surveillance. They may not know who you are or why you’re following them…but you’ve drawn their attention nonetheless. Sometimes it’s abundantly clear your surveillance has been burned. Other times it’s subtle. It’s common for rookie private eyes to feel that every subject they follow is on to them. If your subject does a U-turn he may simply be lost. If the subject pulls over on the side of the highway she may just be checking her map. If you suspect you’ve been burned I’ve always found that the best course of action is to proceed on the surveillance until it’s glaringly obvious; until your suspicions are confirmed. Then break off immediately.
Years ago I followed an elderly couple from their home to a medical appointment. Because they were elderly I became a bit cocky and assumed they would not be particularly alert. Once we arrived at the clinic we both pulled into the parking lot. They exited their vehicle and immediately looked in my direction. At this point I had my suspicions that they might be on to me. What happened next confirmed it. The elderly gentleman flagged down a security officer. Then all three of them pointed and gestured in my direction. It was time to get out of Dodge. I immediately departed the area, changed surveillance vehicles and returned to the parking lot. After their appointment ended the elderly couple were escorted to their vehicle by the same security officer. They all three looked up and down the rows of parked cars for my vehicle. I was safely ensconced in my secondary surveillance vehicle and was able to follow them successfully when they left.
You’re going to be burned occasionally. Anyone who says they haven’t been burned is either a brand new private investigator or they haven’t conducted a lot of surveillance. Either way, consider these five signs that your surveillance was just burned:
To be Burned or Made (verb) This occurs when the subject you’re following becomes aware of the surveillance.
Much like the elderly couple who exited their vehicle and looked back at me, the look is often a sign that you’ve been made. For example, on a moving surveillance watch your subject ahead of you as they make a left turn. If they’re on to you, the subject will often turn their head and look back at you out the driver’s side window during the course of a turn.
Circling the Block
Another counter surveillance trick is when the subject exits their residence and circles the block a couple of times. They’re often advised to do so by their attorney. What’s funny is that when folks do this – they go through the motions of circling the block (as if that alone would prevent them from being followed) but they don’t always look back to see if they’re being followed.
The Sudden Stop
I once followed a young man in his mid-twenties named Juan who, aside from a fraudulent workers comp claim, was also a drug dealer. People that are engaged in criminal activity or those with multiple insurance claims are often very alert to surveillance. Juan departed his apartment complex and began driving through an adjacent residential neighborhood. I pulled in behind him and kept a comfortable distance. Unfortunately we both came to a four-way stop. I had nowhere to go other than to pull in right behind him. As soon as I came to a complete stop he and his passenger exited the vehicle and casually walked back to my vehicle. I cracked the window and he said, “Why are you following me?”
Certainly a lose-lose situation. Remember: 99.9% of the time it’s always better to lose the subject than to get burned.
The longer you follow someone the more difficult it can be to stay on them without drawing their attention or getting made. It takes concentration and skill. Once, during the course of following a woman to several different destinations I noticed that on her third stop something had changed. She exited her vehicle and walked into a store as she had before. However this time she was now walking with a limp and favoring her left leg. If, during the course of your surveillance, your subject suddenly begins to exhibit physical issues, such as a limp, using a cane or neck brace or getting in and out of their vehicle slowly in an effort to protect their back – and it comes out of the blue, you probably just got burned.
The One Finger Salute
And finally, my personal favorite: when a subject waves to you or gives you the one finger salute, i.e. flips you the bird. That’s never a good sign. Unless the subject’s waiving to someone in your general direction – you’ve just been burned. On one of the very first cases I ever did I followed a couple from a rural area to a medical clinic in town. I had no problems following them. It was actually very easy. I even found a suitable surveillance position across the street from the clinic. I thought I was clever. That is, until they exited their vehicle and looked in my direction. The woman smiled and waved while her husband gave me the one finger salute. Yes…good times.
Remember folks: Crime does not pay.
Until next time,
This is Scott Fulmer, the Utah Gumshoe, reminding you the game…is afoot!
Next Friday on The Utah Gumshoe
The Mystery of the Crying Child
“Initially, I didn’t pay it much attention. I’m a father of three and it wasn’t my child, so somehow I was able to tune it out. Besides, I was waiting for my subject to exit his residence. But the crying continued. It eventually dawned on me that the child was in distress. And that’s when I saw him standing in the front yard in Spider Man pajamas…”
About The Utah Gumshoe Podcast
The Utah Gumshoe Podcast follows the real-life exploits, riveting case stories, investigative tips and insightful advice of Scott Fulmer, The Utah Gumshoe. Scott is a 20 year veteran Utah private investigator, surveillance expert and President/CEO of intellUTAH, a private investigation firm based in Salt Lake City.
He has written numerous articles on investigative and surveillance techniques that have appeared in PInow.com and other industry journals. He is a decorated combat veteran of the Persian Gulf War where he served with the famous 2nd Armored Division (Hell on Wheels). Whether you're a novice or an experienced investigator this is the podcast for you.
Articles from Scott Fulmer