Talking about snooping and surveillance, many injured workers have asked us what to do if they believe they are being followed by a workcover Private Investigator. There are a variety of actions an injured worker will or can take if they find out they are being followed, bearing in mind that PIs do not have police powers and that their snooping must be done with the same authority as a private citizen. PIs must have a good understanding of federal, state laws, such as privacy laws, and other legal issues affecting their work. Otherwise, evidence they collect may not be useable in court.
Followed by a workcover private investigator?
A case of rough shadowing surveillance
Not long ago we received an email from an injured worker who was adamant that several private investigators, associated to a workcover insurance company, had been following him over a period of several months (off and on). This injured worker told us that he believed that the private investigators had broken “every law in the book” while following him; including reckless driving, traffic violation (going through red light and speeding), trespassing and trying to “rope” him.
What this injured worker described was what workcover private investigators call “rough shadowing”. Rough shadowing basically means that a PI continues to conduct surveillance even after the case has been compromised and the PI is being aware that the injured worker (aka as the “subject”) knows they are being followed. It is surveillance that is obvious or indiscreet to the “subject”.
How do injured workers respond or react when they know they are being followed?
There are a variety of actions an injured worker will take if they find out they are being followed. Typical responses by the injured worker include (in no particular order):
- Attack (usually verbally) the private investigator
- Threaten the private investigator
- Stop and make an obvious gesture to the PI to let them know you know they are being followed
- act as if they don’t notice the private investigator
- Stop their car in a random location (i.e. side of the freeway/street) – if followed on the road
- Follow the investigator
- Have someone else (i.e. neighbour, friend, spouse etc) scope out and possibly approach the PI
- Call the police
- So which of these injured worker’s actions in response to being followed would be the safest and most appropriate?
- Think about what a typical workcover private investigator would do if you gave them an indication that you were aware of their presence?
We know from our interaction with spied-upon injured workers that, in most cases, a private investigator will simply stop conducting surveillance and leave the area, when caught red-handed. By law (i.e Code of Conduct for Private Investigators VIC) “PIs are NOT allowed to continue surveillance if the Investigator suspects that the subject has discovered their surveillance”
PIs are doing their job and don’t want you to be “fearful” nor do they want an argument because they were caught following you. Saying that we also know that there are some stubborn, desperate, pathetic and/or inexperienced PIs who believe that they can either continue to follow you detected or undetected on that day or at a later date.
So what do you do if you believe you are being followed by a PI?
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Foremost, we strongly feel you should do whatever you feel is safe/safest for you (and your family).
You also need to take into consideration the possibility that the person who is following you is not a workcover private investigator.There are some crazy folks out there. What if the person following you is doing so to stalk or hurt you or your family? Is it possible that the individual following you is a private investigator, but that s/he has mistaken you for someone else? Truth behold, you really don’t know why an individual is following you.
With that being said we would recommend that you call your local police station and tell them that you are being followed. Give the police a good description of either the individual of their car. If possible obtain the license plate of the suspicious car. The police will make contact with the individual who is allegedly following you and suss out their intentions/motives.
Also workcover-hired Private investigators are not (always) perfect and some PIs may not pick up signs that they are ‘compromised’. Others don’t follow the Code of Conduct and will for example trespass. That is another reason why we believe calling the police can be very effective.
If it has been made clear to the private investigator that you know they are following you and they continue to do so,which is illegal, we would urge you to seek advice from your lawyer because at that point it is just plain harassment. Also consider filing a formal complaint against the PI.
Quite a few injured workers have also shared with us that, when they know they are being followed or watched by a PI, they pretend or act as if they did not notice the private investigator. In our opinion, this may well go in your “favour” in the sense that you can be extra vigilant by totally abiding by your doctor’s restrictions, and not undertake any ‘activity’ (even smiling when suffering from major depression!) that can potentially be twisted or taken out of context by the PI and their hiring workcover insurer! Need we say more?
Private investigators are no more than private citizens, and are bound by the same laws as everyone else. A Private Investigator’s license does not grant “special privileges” and does not protect PIs from legal consequences if they breach the Code of Conduct and relevant laws (note some laws are different from state). Breaking the law can result in the loss of their license, the loss of their business, and even the loss of their “reputation”. It also produces “evidence” that is inadmissible in court.
Here are some of the other most common things that trip up private investigators
Some states may allow a PI to use a third party property (with that owner’s consent) to get closer to the “subject”. This does not hold for right-of-ways, which are legal agreements between private parties and are not to be mistaken for public thoroughfares.
And, importantly,PIs may not enter the “subject’s” property without his/her permission.
This includes photography, even from a distance, of persons in the privacy of their own homes.
- Invasion of privacy
Privacy: “the condition or state of being free from public attention to intrusion or interference with one’s acts or decisions.” (Black’s Law Dictionary)
However, surveillance in a public place is not considered invasion of privacy. BUT…this does not generally include bathrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms, bedrooms, or other areas assumed or considered private.
- Entrapment (aka “roping)
Roping is close to “pretexting”, another illegal action. PIs are not allowed to obtain information from another by legal deception. In other words, no pretending some connection or activity to gain someone’s confidence. This also includes impersonating a police officer!
Entrapment is when a PI intentionally makes the subject (the injured worker under surveillance) perform an action. This can be dropping coins or notes in the street so that the injured worker (with an alleged back injury) bends to pick it up; popping a balloon to literally startle an injured worker (causing him/her to move a body part in fear), etc.
See our article: Workcover and Private Investigators: the truth
This is defined as unwanted attention to a person by an individual or group.Each state has somewhat differing laws. Stalking is related to harassment or intimidation.
Stalking can not be considered surveillance, which may only be covert (secret). No rough shadowing (surveillance that is obvious or indiscreet to the subject and public) is permitted.
- Traffic violations
There is never justification for endangering others through (a PIs) reckless or careless driving, no matter how exciting it looks in the movies…PIs must be watching 😉
- Recording a conversation without at least one party’s knowledge
State laws differ, ensure you know your own law thoroughly. It’s possible only one party needs to consent.
PIs may, however, eavesdrop on a conversation in a public place or when it is loud enough to hear naturally.
- Wiretapping without consent
Wiretapping generally requires a warrant regardless of consent.
Related articles and pages
- Private Investigators and Surveillance — contains the PI’s code of conduct & how to complain about a PI
- All our surveillance related articles
- A workers compensation private investigator tells it all
- Workcover and Private Investigators: the truth