I, Spy: How to Be Your Own Private Investigator

I, Spy: How to Be Your Own Private Investigator

by Daniel Ribacoff, Dina Santorelli


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Have you ever wanted to be your own private eye? Have you ever wanted to track down long-lost relatives or people who've scammed you? Have you ever wanted to know if your kids really are where they say they are? Or if your significant other is cheating on you? Or how to locate assets in order to collect on a judgment?

World-renowned private investigator Dan Ribacoff will show you how. With decades of experience in public safety, private investigation, and credibility assessment, Dan will teach you:

The do's and don'ts of surveillance
How to conduct a stakeout—from what to wear to what to bring
How to track down anyone anywhere
How to collect and interpret evidence
How to tell if someone is lying
How to utilize informants
How to protect your home, your valuables, and your privacy
How to go off-grid, for now or forever
How to know if you're being stalked
The fundamentals of garbage retrieval
And much, much more!

Learn the art of private investigation from a pro. With Dan's time-tested tips and stories of true crime detection—straight from the gritty streets of New York City—you'll be hot on the trail in no time!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250116871
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/07/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 468,890
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.62(d)

About the Author

Daniel Ribacoff is the founder and CEO of International Investigative Group, Ltd. He is a trained polygraph examiner and has been a private investigator for over 23 years. Ribacoff studied at The Academy of Scientific Investigative Training, Philadelphia, PA. He was named as the 1991 Man of the Year for the NYPD Honor Legion. Ribacoff has worked on many notable investigations, including a $120 million dollar bank fraud case for AIG Insurance Co., one of the largest bank fraud cases in US history. He also worked on the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing investigation and conducted investigations into the case US v. Osama Bin Laden, et. al. He has conducted many investigations recovering rare works of art, such as Monet, Picasso, and Twombley paintings. His investigations have resulted in millions of dollars being recovered throughout the world for his clients. He was named as one of the "Top 15" investigators in the US by ION. His firm has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, CNN, CNBC, and many others.

DINA SANTORELLI has been a professional writer and editor for over 25 years. She currently serves as the executive editor of Salute and Family magazines, for which she has interviewed many celebrities, including James Gandolfini, Tim McGraw, and Angela Bassett, among others. She has collaborated on a variety of nonfiction books, including I, Spy: How to Be Your Own Private Investigator, and her book Daft Punk: A Trip Inside the Pyramid has been published in several languages. Dina also lectures for Hofstra University's Continuing Education Department about writing and publishing.

Read an Excerpt

I, Spy

How to be your Own Private Investigator

By Daniel Ribacoff, Dina Santorelli

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2016 Daniel Ribacoff
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-9253-8



All of us have seen movies where the grizzled gumshoe trails the bad guy down a dark alley into a secret door or where a pair of police detectives sits in an unmarked car, ribbing each other and eating fast food during a stakeout. Looks cool, right? Exciting? Fun?

The truth is: Surveillance is tough work. There's a lot to know and a lot to do. Real-life gumshoes and police detectives train very hard for many years to do the job right. You've got to be able to blend — to see as much as possible without being noticed yourself. You've got to be able to track someone and monitor his or her behaviors for hours, or sometimes weeks, and log or process the information gathered. You've got to, on occasion, go without food or sleep or both, all in the name of getting your man. Or woman. It's a tall order, and one not to be taken lightly.


Although there's nothing illegal about conducting a physical surveillance, there aare possible risks of breaking the law:

• Traffic violations: You need to obey the traffic laws to the best of your ability. Careless or reckless driving will not only get you in trouble, but can cause harm to others. You don't want to hit a kid. If you have an accident because of a negligent act, you will be held liable.

• Assault or physical injury: You can't be knocking down old ladies while you're chasing a guy.

• Trespassing: Entering private property without the consent of the landowner in order to obtain a photo or video violates trespassing laws. Plus, whatever information you gather will be inadmissible in a court of law.

• Roping and entrapment: You often hear about these issues on television shows, such as Law & Order. Roping, or pretexting, is obtaining information by means of legal deception. Entrapment is creating a condition in which the target of an investigation is required to perform a certain action. In other words, if you're on a disability assignment, and want to prove a guy is perfectly healthy even though he's collecting disability checks, you can't drop a handkerchief on the floor in order to video him bending over to pick it up. You can't let the air out of his tires, so that you can take photos of him jacking up his car. Your role as investigator is to be a bystander. You need to let the guy screw up on his own.

• Stalking and harassment: Stalking is defined as instilling fear into a person; harassment as aggressive pressure and intimidation. If you're following someone, and she discovers you and asks, "Why are you following me? Why are you harassing me?" The jig is up. You have to leave. Whether you are a licensed private investigator or a private citizen, you have to go away. Of course, you can try again in a few days — wear a disguise, change cars, change your technique, try to find some other place to watch from. But if she sees you and complains about it, or files a complaint, then you are essentially stalking her and can be arrested.


• You're following around an employee whom you believe Is stealing money from you. She catches you, says she feels threatened, and warns you to stay away from her or else she'll call the cops. You think she's bluffing, so you continue to shadow her. You've just committed a crime! (Depending upon the type of stalking or harassment, the offense can either be a misdemeanor or a felony.)

• Your ex-husband has had you served with an order of protection, because he says you've been following him around and saying he has a girlfriend. You tell him where he can shove his order and keep tailing him. You've just committed a felony! You ask your girlfriend, Cathy, to follow him around instead, because the order of protection is against you, not her. Guess what? Now, she's committed a felony, because she's operating under your direction.

• Order of protection: Sometimes there are orders of protection involved. An order of protection is issued by the court to limit the behavior of someone who harms or threatens to harm another person. If a target has had an order of protection issued against you, you cannot conduct a surveillance of that person. We get a lot of obsessed boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives all the time who want to hire us for surveillance, but we have to tell them we can't do it if there's an order of protection. We'll get arrested. And so will they.


Felony: a higher-level crime, usually punishable by more than one year in prison.

Misdemeanor: a lower-level crime, usually punishable by less than one year in prison.


Before you conduct a surveillance, you first want to get to know the area in which you'll be working. This is called pre-surveillance. Drive by the neighborhood during your lunch hour. Visit a few of the stores, if it's a mall or a shopping center. Get to know the parking signs on the street.

It's always best to physically visit a location, so you can get a good feel for the place, but if that's not possible you can also look at maps or, with today's technology, visit the area virtually by consulting Google Earth, Google Maps, or similar services. These tools allow you to obtain a tremendous amount of detail, so you don't have to creep around like you do during an on-site visit. You can establish good vantage points, see what vehicles are parked in driveways (fortunately, Google Maps provides you with a month and year for when its images were taken, so you can determine if the information is current), locate possible exits, and identify traffic flow. Also, Google Maps can provide you with information regarding live traffic situations, such as construction zones and road closures.

What kinds of details should you be looking for? Let's say you're watching the girl with whom you think your husband is having an extramarital affair. Your theory is, I'll watch her instead of watching him, because she doesn't know who I am. Good. What kinds of details would you need to know?

• What trains are near her house?

• What bus lines run there?

• Does she have a car?

• Are there any one-way streets?

• Is there an underground garage in her building?

• What highways are nearby? Can she jump on one or get to a road where all of a sudden traffic is very fast?

• If you drive to the surveillance area, and she starts walking to the train, can you ditch your car in a legal parking spot? Are there any around?

• Do you need a parking sticker to park in a town or city lot? If so, where can you buy one?

• Do you need a MetroCard? An E-ZPass?


Intel: Short for intelligence.

These are the kinds of questions you need to ask in order to prepare. However, even with the best preparation, things don't always go according to plan. For instance, you might begin to follow her — say, you've already gotten your parking sticker — but she nabs the last spot in the lot, and you miss the train. Or you get stuck behind a bus. It happens. But what have you learned? That she leaves the house at 7:45 A.M. That she drives to the train station and doesn't walk. Now, you can anticipate that scenario next time, and maybe have a friend hold a parking spot for you, so that when you follow her the next day, you can call your friend and say, "Susie, she's here." Your friend pulls out, you pull in, and — voila! — you have a parking spot.

A lot of times, on the first day of a surveillance, you take it from zero to one, and then you have to come back the next day and take it from one to two. Just like the military. Make a plan, but, depending on circumstances, be prepared to alter that plan. If an army unit goes to infiltrate a location with five soldiers, but when they get there, they go, Holy crap, there are three hundred guys here! They pull back and make a new plan. Don't be so rushed to execute everything in one day. If you see there's an obstacle, learn what you've learned today, and pick it up tomorrow. Haste makes waste. Think smart. Gather intel.


Burned: When an investigator has been exposed — the target has become aware that he is being watched. If I hadn't walked so close to him, I wouldn't have gotten burned.


Stationary surveillance, also known as a stakeout, is being the proverbial fly on the wall. It's when an investigator stays in one place — indoors or out — to observe a target. Investigators use stationary surveillance all the time and for any number of reasons. Usually, we want to see if a person is doing what he is supposed to be doing — or doing what he's not supposed to be doing. My ex-husband is not paying child support, and he says he's not working, but a friend of mine told me they saw him working at Luigi's Pizzeria. You'll want to plan a stationary surveillance and get some evidence. I had a target once who worked as a salesman for a medical equipment company, and somebody told his boss, Hey, do you know this guy is also selling water bottles while he's selling medical equipment? Sure enough, we did a fixed surveillance, and, lo and behold, while the guy's on the clock for his boss, he's quenching thirsts everywhere!

Also, we'll run a stationary surveillance when an individual has a non-compete clause in his contract and chooses to ignore it, which is illegal. In other words, if you work for me as a private investigator and you get fired or you leave, you're not supposed to work for another private investigator in Nassau County, New York. The clause is in the contract I have my employees sign. If, while conducting a stationary surveillance, I find you working for another private investigator, I can now sue you for breach of contract.

Fixed surveillance is a different story every day, and every day poses a different challenge. Today, I can park in front of your house and watch you. Tomorrow, there's a road crew there, and I can't. Or they've closed off the road, there's an accident ... Everything is fluid. There's no rubber-stamping like at the DMV. Not in this business.


In order to have a successful stakeout, you want to think like an investigator. What will you need? You want to have everything on hand, because you can't be running to the grocery store in the middle of a job — you can potentially lose your target or get burned. Here is what my guys bring along when they run a fixed surveillance:

• Pee bottle (wide-mouth bottles for the ladies). Any FBI agent will tell you that this is Number One in surveillance. Hands down.

• Water. You need to stay hydrated (remember, the more water, the more pee bottles). Go to Costco and stock up.

• Snacks. Keep in mind you don't know how long you'll be there, so bring lots of goodies — stuff that you like and that doesn't have a shelf life. Leave the meat and produce at home.

• A friend. If you're going to be out for an extended period of time, having a friend with you will let you alternate duties — one can sleep, one can watch. If you're a woman, maybe for safety reasons — depending upon the target — you might want to have a friend with you as well.

• Binoculars. Most compact binoculars usually offer 7x to 10x magnification ranges and are easy to store or strap around your neck. For the larger magnifications, such as 12x to 16x, you might need to bring a tripod to stabilize the binoculars. (Note: Night goggles are optional for rural areas with no streetlights; however, they are pricey.)

• Cell phone. Obviously, this can be used for communication, but it can also be used as a camera.


When packing for a surveillance, instead of folding your clothing, which is how you would normally fill a suitcase, do what they do on submarines: roll your clothing. You'll be able to fit a lot more, and your clothes won't wrinkle.

• Digital camera. Although most cell phones offer cameras with comparable zooms, some investigators prefer stand-alone digital cameras for stills or video.

• Adaptor. To charge electronics in the car. Don't leave home without it!

• Flashlight. For reading at night. Or you can download a flashlight app to your smartphone.

• Dark or inconspicuous clothing. When choosing your clothing, you want to wear something that's not going to make you stick out. Usually, a pair of jeans and a black shirt will suffice, but it depends on where you are. If you're going to watch a church, you want to look like you're a churchgoer. If you're going to downtown Manhattan on a weekday, you don't want to wear cargo shorts and a T-shirt — you want to wear business attire. If you're going to a baseball game, you want to try to look like you're a person going to a baseball game, so you'll wear a sports jersey and cap.

• A change of clothes. During a surveillance, you often need to be a chameleon and change your appearance at a moment's notice. So wear a blue baseball cap, and carry a red one. Keep elastic bands on your wrists so you can put your hair up in a quick ponytail. Replace your regular glasses with prescription sunglasses. Wear a reversible jacket or a black shirt over a white T-shirt, so you can remove the black shirt if you need to. Start walking with a limp using a collapsible cane you just took out of your backpack. It takes a person three times to really recognize someone — three times, unless you're easily identifiable with tattoos or piercings that are memorable. Make it so even if your target has spotted you on several occasions, as far as he's concerned, he only saw you once. And, remember, if he already knows you, it will only take one time before he recognizes you.


If you're conducting a stationary surveillance from your car in the dead of winter, be sure to run the engine periodically to clear out the windows and to get yourself some heat (same goes for the summer and air- conditioning). Don't run the engine all the time, because this will only draw attention to you — the white smoke coming out of your tailpipe will make you stick out like a sore thumb and will also waste gas. And remember to crack your windows a little bit to prevent any carbon monoxide buildup.

• Seasonal and/or appropriate dress. When choosing clothing, pay attention to the weather. You don't want to get hypothermia, so if it's cold, dress in layers as if you're going skiing. Use hand warmers and foot warmers. If it's 105 degrees out, face it: you're just going to sweat. The fact is, if you're in North Dakota and there's a snowstorm, you've got problems. If you're in Florida and it's 120 degrees in the car, you've got problems. Surveillance is a brutal investigative art, because no matter where you are, you're exposed to the elements.

• Full-windshield sunshade. If you're monitoring a target from a vehicle, a sunshade can offer additional concealment, preventing people from seeing you through the front window.

• Vehicle paperwork. Your car should be inspected and your registration current, just in case the traffic cops are out and patrolling the area.

• Identification (i.e., driver's license). There's nothing illegal about conducting a stakeout, but if the police roll up on you, they may cite you for This is a no-parking zone or You've been parked here for more than an hour, and it's only an hour parking. One time, we did surveillance in Old Westbury, New York, and there was no parking allowed on any street. The cops came around and said, "There's no parking." I'm like, Dude, really?

Come on, you have nothing better to do? Still, you have to make sure that you're operating within the vehicle and traffic laws. Things need to be proper.


1. "I'm waiting for my son. I think he's cutting school."

2. "My car broke down, and I'm waiting for a ride." (Make sure you've pulled a spark plug or something out of your engine.)

3. "Officer, I have three little kids at home. I just need a little time to myself. You understand." (Have a book on your person or in the car.)

4. "I'm waiting for my wife. She works in this office building."

• A believable cover story. Again, there's nothing illegal about being on a stakeout, but you don't necessarily have to tell the cops what you're doing, because you run the risk of ruffling a few feathers or even blowing your cover. Let's say you're watching the smoothie store across the street, because you want to prove that your husband, who is not paying you child support, is working there, and it turns out that the place is full of law enforcement officers — the cops go there for smoothies all day long. If a cop decides to ask what you're doing, and you say, "I'm watching my husband who's working in the smoothie store," then, I'm telling you now, the cop will give you right up. You know your wife's sitting outside watching you. You want to have a cover story that's something like: My son is supposed to be in school, and I understand that he goes to this store every day. I want to catch him cutting. It has to sound feasible. It has to sound plausible. Lots of times, if we're doing a matrimonial case, we'll tell the police we're doing an insurance case. If I'm watching somebody for disability, I'll tell them I'm doing a matrimonial. We want to steer observers away from what's going on in order to maintain our cover.


Lying to a police officer, in and of itself, is not unlawful, as long as you're not otherwise breaking the law (you don't have anything illegal on your person or in your vehicle, etc.). You don't necessarily have to tell the officer that you're conducting a surveillance, because there are no loitering laws, generally speaking. They don't really exist anymore. You have the right to hang around. It's a free country, as they say. Therefore, if you're legally parked on Main Street in Small Town, USA, then you're not committing a crime. (However, keep in mind that parking in a mall or hotel parking lot may be considered trespassing, because it's private property.)


Excerpted from I, Spy by Daniel Ribacoff, Dina Santorelli. Copyright © 2016 Daniel Ribacoff. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1: Eye on the Street: Physical Surveillance 1
CHAPTER 2: Eye in the Sky: Electronic Surveillance 23
CHAPTER 3: Go Get ’Em: How to Find Anyone Anywhere 37
CHAPTER 4: True Crime: How to Tell if Someone Is Lying 55
CHAPTER 5: Proof Positive: How to Gather Evidence 79
CHAPTER 6: Out of Site: How to Virtually Disappear 105
CHAPTER 7: Safe House: How to Protect Your Home,
Business & Valuables 117
CHAPTER 8: Identity Theft: How to Protect Your Privacy 139
CHAPTER 9: Back Off, Pal: How to Protect Yourself 155
CHAPTER 10: Private Eye, Public Eye: How to Protect
Your Fellow Man 179
CHAPTER 11: What Would Dan Do? 195

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