Who we don’t work for

Yes, we work for interesting clients doing important work…however, there are some clients that we don’t want. Many have figured out the game and have a practiced sales pitch … asking for technical help in a desperate situation. Here are some interesting examples from the distant past.

Organized crime calling

The call came from a downtown lawyer and was a plea for assistance. He described his client as a poor immigrant lady who needed help for her husband. A quick background check and the latest local newspaper filled in the rest of the story. The client was a leader in a local mafia franchise who had been picked up for extortion, kidnapping and assault. It’s not a good idea to inflame these potential clients… I just start to sound bumbling and they go away.

They are after me!

It was a desperate situation. He called saying that he had been able to hear people plotting against him. My normal response is to ask if others heard the voices. He said no — but that he had a recording of the voices. Not wanting to waste clients’ money I often ask to talk with someone who they trust. He put his wife on the phone. She said that it would be worth my coming by for an inspection for electronic intrusions. When I arrived I was given a small recorder which played the “voices”. It wasn’t possible to clearly distinguish the words until I hooked up some audio filtering hardware. At that point it was clear that the voices were from a local AM radio station. Poor shielding of the recorder amplifier worked as a detector for the strong radio signal. After revealing this, The client said “Tomorrow morning I will check myself into the VA hospital”. That was great news for all concerned. It helped him lots more than a home inspection could.

Get on a plane right away

A computer forensic investigation was needed in an interesting foreign location. Something was odd, however. I would not be able to actually look at the results… they could only be seen and retained by the client. After learning a bit more about the details it became clear that something was amiss. A call to a US government official identified the potential client as the leader of a terrorist cell. Oops.

Help! Find my ex

Private investigators are often asked to locate an individual. Often these cases are legitimate but a careful approach is needed. Step 1, do a detailed background check of the prospective client. Step 2, talk to others familiar with the situation. Open ended questions that begin with “What do you think” are helpful. My biggest priority here is not wanting to connect a criminal predator to his next victim.

Corruption, Inc.

The call came from a high roller. He wanted to partner with us in order to detect smuggled cellphones in prisons. He asked for the design of a small electronic device which could be used by guards to quickly search cells. A bit of research confirmed my intuition — known technology augmented by hand searches was the way to solve that problem. When I explained the low technical feasibility of his approach he replied that it didn’t matter.

He had political friends that would assure getting lucrative federal contacts. Not long after I declined the job he was charged with a serious unrelated criminal offense. He then made headlines by receiving a presidential pardon. Was he guilty? A pardon implies guilt; acceptance the pardon is a confession of guilt (see the Supreme Court decision https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burdick_v._United_States).

No, I don’t want your money

The honest accountant was working for a crooked Seattle firm. His tourist visa had expired. He was stuck without any good options. The problem was clear: the firm enjoyed profiting from his near-zero salary — he really was a prisoner. This was a personal, not business matter. It was 20 years ago in the era of cash, before the common use of of plastic money. The wad in my wallet was enough to get him a cheap ticket home. A short time later he wrote a beautiful letter thanking me. It included photos of his family and photos of kids in an orphanage that he volunteered for. It’s a joy to help truly deserving folks.