Eye in the Sky
“I worked as a ‘ghost passenger’ for an airline. Basically, I flew around and graded flight attendants’ performance. While still parked at the gate with the door open, one flight attendant began berating passengers who were using their smart phones, which was completely permitted at the gate. She threatened to have the person in front of me thrown off the plane if she didn’t put hers away. She also threatened me.
After we left the gate and were taxiing to the runway, I looked back to see her sitting in her jump seat. using her phone. I took a photo of it and included it in my report. She initially denied using the phone and claimed I was being unruly on the aircraft. After she saw the photo, she changed her tune.”
Just Sneaking Around
“I do social engineering for financial institutions (banks, credit unions, etc). I went to a credit union in Texas which failed on a miserable basis for security. I walked in with a fake badge that stated I worked for a made up company and that I was there to do an inspection of the building. I dressed in a polo and khaki pants with matching colors to my badge and walked in to the front desk.
The girl there was probably in college or just out of school. She immediately let me into the back room and I walked into offices and desks that were unoccupied but located in rooms with other employees. I walked up to empty computers in use and plugged in USB drives. Huge no no. I began typing random things into computers and taking pictures of myself at the computers. Employees would literally look at me and go back to their jobs without thinking anything of a guy taking selfies at their friend’s work desk.
Once I had been in every office, I went to the vice president’s office. I opened her desk and looked through files to find people’s personal information. I found tons. I went into the file room and took personal loan documents off the shelf and took pictures of myself accessing them. When I was done, I walked to the person who had contracted my company and laid out all the information I had found and all the things I had done. The guy just sighed. This scenario has happened a couple of different times. Most places fail somehow.”
A Stitch In Crime
“I worked for an armored car service for a while as an undercover guard. When a place had a lot of money or if it was a risky area, two plainclothes guards would arrive before the truck. I would scout the place and the outside area to make sure the uniformed guys could get in and out safe. We wore a color of the day and the local cops knew who we were as did the uniformed guards.
It was a pretty easy job and I only once waved off a pickup because of a bunch of Latin kings sitting on benches out front. I hung out a while to see what was going on and hoping they would leave so we could make the pickup. As I sat on a bus bench across the road I watched one of the guys take out his needlepoint (it’s like sewing, you use thread to make things on the fabric like logos and scenes) I never would have thought that a gang member would tote his needlepoint to a stick-up job, but after a hard day of watching your ho’s and robbing armored cars you need to wind down I guess.”
“I worked as a secret shoplifter for a large retail chain. I would basically test loss prevention and see what I could get out of a store. The total would be tallied up and taken off the store manager’s bonus. They had to be on their game.
One thing I used to do was steal copper electrical cable sold by the foot. I would drag it to the fence and spool it up in my car parked on the other side. This was fun to me and an obvious catch for the store. I went outside to the wire rack and there was the store manager receiving a bj from a cashier. They spotted me and quickly went back inside to leave me alone. I then went ahead and spooled out the wire as planned. Not one, but the entire inventory, to the point at which my car started to get lower under the weight.
I went in and bought something and went to the cashier I saw with the store manager. I asked her how long she had been there.
‘For a couple of weeks now,’ she replied. ‘It’s just part-time until I go back to high school for my junior year.’
I then went back to the manager and identified myself and what I saw in private. The cashier was the daughter of a friend of his and was only 16. He was 37. I gave him two weeks to find another job or I would be back to blow it all up. He not only left in one week, but left the state entirely. In hindsight, I should have called the police but I didn’t. This was about twenty years ago.”
Be Careful With Flirting
“For the first part of my adult life, I was an intelligence officer in the Air Force (I’m a female). On the outside world I’m about a 6, but for the military, I’m a solid 9. I am also a pretty good talker and pretty outgoing. At my first duty station I got invited to participate in a special program in which, basically, I was trained how to pick military guys up in a bar, ostensibly to see how well members of the armed forces were at keeping their mouths shut.
I’d get super dolled up, approach guys who had more than likely never been hit on in their entire lives and spend an evening chatting them up to see what I could get them to tell. For the most part, all of them were pretty good at keeping their mouths shut, but some weren’t. The worst I heard was ‘Capt. So-And-So is such a prick, too bad he’s cheating on his wife AND his girlfriend,’ which was very actionable intel if I had really been collecting on a unit or person. I think on one occasion I got a young officer to tell me some detailed parameters of some system or another which got him in some serious trouble. What I got ALL THE TIME were recall rosters. This was back in the day when most people were supposed to carry a paper recall roster on them at all times and my specialty was asking for a guy’s number but not have a pen, so on a dozen or more occasions I would get a cell phone pic or even have them give me the entire sheet. With that, I would have the entire unit structure, along with phone numbers and, sometimes, home addresses and even wives’ and kids’ names.
But, to describe the craziest thing I have ever seen on the job, I had a permanent change of station and thought I was done with the program. I got a call from a JAG and NIS at a Navy base and it turned out, rather than my normal stuff of just seeing what I could get from random military people, they had someone they wanted me to approach specifically. They were building a wide-ranging case against him. All I really was supposed to do was go in with the much more experienced NIS agent and act dumb and cute, but take detailed mental notes and record what I could on my phone. For whatever reason, this guy took an instant liking to me, so it was decided that I would be the ‘primary.’ This guy was super creepy and I really thought about seeing if I could get out of it, but the head agent really did a hard sell and got me to stay for at least a week.
Mind you, I had never taken any of my ‘relationships’ outside of a given bar or past one day/night. I really didn’t want to go when he invited me to his house. I knew NIS would have a good tail and I would be safe so I agreed. On the way there, he touched my leg repeatedly, tried to grab my chest, and reached over to smell my hair. I was very relieved to get a text from the NIS guys saying they were right behind me and to be calm and stay in my role.
When we got to his very typical suburban San Diego house, I was not at all shocked to see kid’s bikes and toys around the house. Inside were lots of pictures with him and his family, which made him even more of a scumbag. I did good with everything and had no issues playing along until he discovered the family dog had pooped on the floor. He proceeded to torture and abuse this poor dog like I have never seen. He was kicking it, grabbing it by the scruff of the neck, and picking it up and throwing it against the wall. The dog lost several teeth and was bleeding all over the place and whimpering as if it was about to die.
I lost it and threw up… as best I could in his kitchen sink, but missed a little. I was obviously concerned that he was going to start beating me as well. I wanted so bad to scream why I was there but I composed myself as best I could and said that I needed to go home and this was too much for me. But, just as creepily, he got a paper towel and very gently wiped my mouth for me. It still gives me shivers that those were the same hands that had just about killed the poor dog. I told him that I was leaving, made my way to the front door, and walked down the street hoping the NIS guys would see me. He followed me for about a block screaming that I was a wench, a floozy, a tease and that it did not matter because his wife would be home and he would take it out on her anyways.
Shortly after, he turned around and went back to his house and the NIS guys picked me up. I gave them a statement and they had a little bit more to throw at him with the infidelity and the conduct unbecoming was sealed. I left back to my regular job after two days and saw that he got in serious trouble for many things. I do not know what came of the animal abuse though. NIS said that they would turn it over to the local police, but this guy was in so deep with so many things I guess justice was done anyway.”
Water They Doing?
“I was secret shopping at a high-end restaurant – around $100 per plate. The busser came over and refilled my water glass (which I had already drank out of) and overfilled it. He then poured part of my glass back in the pitcher before continuing to re-fill everyone else at the table from the same pitcher.
I really wanted to throw a fit, but could only include it in my report.”
“I was running a wire. We were looking to arrest a guy who beat a 2 year old so bad she had broken femurs. We wired up the mother (well, technically wireless, and very small, fits in a pocket) and had her go to the boyfriend’s (the culprit) house and try and get him to confess.
She started out great. She led the boyfriend along and… started to blow him. Then they hooked up. The man who beat her daughter so bad she was LifeFlighted, she SLEPT WITH on wire. I was punching my dashboard and wishing I could arrest her as well. It was awful. Luckily we had enough evidence, but since the victim was too young to testify, a confession would have made things much easier. She told us later that she ‘wanted one more’ before he went away.”
Under The Covers
“I used to work for furniture showroom stores that sold out of catalogs. I ran two stores and helped others. One of my jobs was to go to other stores and pretend to be a customer. Most of the scenarios involved various selling points, product knowledge, and up-sells. I had to get a written estimate as proof. I also checked store security, the condition of the store, and so on.
The worst thing I encountered was when I entered a store and there was no one in there. It was during open hours, but the entire showroom was vacant. I wandered into the back room and I changed a few things around. I went into the till and put in a note on the back of my business card that I had been in their till. After half an hour, I just left. I would have locked the store up if I had the key.
I called the manager to let her know, and she got in her car and immediately drove to the store. There were employees in there by the time she got there, but she checked under the till and saw my business card. She spoke to the employees, who said that they were there the whole time, but were at a loss to explain the business card and the stuff in the back room I had messed up. I think she fired her staff on the spot.
Another time I was part of an FBI sting. There was a group of people that were using stolen credit cards to buy large ticket items and have them delivered to the store for ‘Parking Lot Pickup,’ which was an option for a lot of people who lived in rural areas where delivery was not available. Of course, you would not have to verify your address either. All we cared about was that you showed up and picked up the merchandise you ordered.
The group of people that were using stolen credit cards were actually made up of a few former employees of the company who knew how to game the system. But, the FBI was wise to a lot of their thefts. They set up a sting operation at my store with the drivers. All they had to do was sign for the furniture to complete the deal that they picked up the stolen merchandise they had paid for with stolen credit cards.
Once they did that, several armored, armed men jumped out of the back of the truck and surrounded them. They ordered them to the ground, where they were handcuffed and carried away. They did not even resist, so, despite that one moment at which I knew that a bunch of agents were going to jump out of a delivery truck, it was actually kind of boring.”
The Last Interview
“In the late 1980s, I did some work as a private investigator. Someone I knew did it as a side job out of a large law firm’s office. He hired me to help him out. It involved interviewing witnesses to something that may have happened several years ago and stuff like that.
One night, I had to drive about 45 minutes out into the country to interview someone involved in a possible driving under the influence incident in which he ran a stop sign and severely injured someone. I posed as someone from his law office, and never let on that I was working for the victim. I thought myself to be pretty sneaky for doing that.
As we were sitting there as I asked him a round of questions hoping not to tip him off, he just went and told me the whole story of how inebriated he was, how much he had been drinking, where he had been drinking, and tons of other details. As I was listening to this, I thought, If he finds out I’m from the other side of the case, he could kill me pretty easily. I quickly ended the interview, drove a couple towns over, wrote down everything he said in more details, and turned it into the lawyers the next day.
I had zero training, was probably 20 years old, and had no knowledge of anything law related. After realizing how stupid it was of me to be out doing this, alone, with no one knowing where I was or what I was doing (and the fact that no one had given me any sort of training or guidance), I never went back to the office again. Instead, I just focused on trying to build my freelance photography career.”
Watching Traffic, Unable To Move
“From 2007 through 2008, I worked on a smuggling interdiction task force. My team dealt with human trafficking. I regret that we could not really do anything to put a dent in the problem. I worked undercover in that I did not wear a uniform or carry a badge and my authority was civilian so I only reported to LEAs.
The most taboo thing I witnessed that I was not allowed to do anything about was women (mothers, aunts, grandmothers) offering children in exchange for cash. The truth of the matter is that (at least in western society) the threshold of evidence required to hold women responsible for trafficking is not even in the same ballpark as it is for men. The number of cases we had to tolerate sickens me. I don’t know which we need to address first as a society, the rampant abuse or the gender bias that keeps it going.
Truth be told, I met just as many female ‘sellers’ abusers as I did men. The biggest difference I could see is that women were more often focused on the under 12 demographic vs. the male who focused on teens. I never saw one female prosecuted, but we were successful in moving a handful of kids to foster care.”
Drinking Club Infiltration
“I worked as an undercover operative for a private investigation firm. I was once placed at a soft drink bottling facility on the graveyard shift as a mechanic. My job was to keep the motors lubed on all the conveyor belt systems and so forth. I knew nothing at all about that line of work but the PI firm got me in to the union job using false records and a little string pulling by the plant president.
My official job was to look for employee mistakes. There were plenty. Drinking on the job was the main mess up, Friday nights, especially. Out back of the loading docks was where we kept the wooden pallets, hundreds of them stacked in about 20-foot high columns. On Friday nights, we would take the forklifts and create a hidden pathway in the middle of the stacks where we would sneak in coolers filled with brews. Throughout the night, we’d shuttle people in and out of the hidden area so they could drink. We would forklift them in and circle back a few minutes later with a new crew to drop off while returning the imbibed person back to their stations. The night boss had no idea. He was usually passed out wasted in his office.
I finally had to have a clandestine meeting with the plant president to let him know that, due to my ignorance on what my phony job actually entailed, he had better get somebody in there to lubricate those machines before stuff started breaking down.”
An Uncomfortable Position To Be Undercover
“I am a private investigator, contracted by the government to check massage shops to see if they are soliciting. I usually get sent to shops which have had multiple complaints, investigations into shops are in their final stages, and they need evidence to support their case.
I went to this one shop. Everything seemed normal, except for how I was asked to strip bare for an oil massage. Eventually, I was asked to flip over. The therapist without asking just starts rubbing some ‘gel’ on my ‘parts.’ At this point, I was obligated to refuse and end the session. I asked her to stop, but halfway through the sentence, I was hit with the most intense pain.
It turned out that she was new and was unaware that isopropyl gel is not the same as massage oil. Long story short, the manager was convicted of coercing staff on the basis of their visas being revoked if they did not comply. I had to stand in court and tell the events of that day.”
“I used to own a game store at which we bought and sold Magic: The Gathering cards in Maryland. There was a big tournament in Pittsburgh the weekend before at which someone’s collection (worth a few thousand dollars) was stolen. That day, we were visited by someone we had never seen in the store before looking to sell a collection – a collection matching the description of the stolen collection.
I told him that we were interested, but needed to set up a longer time to sit down and look through the collection. We set up a time for the following Tuesday and they went on their way. We then called the police in Pittsburgh who connected us with a detective. He worked with our local county police and they set up a sting. There were three cops in the store pretending to play (one of whom actually knew how and is now a regular) and two more in unmarked cars outside.
When the guy came into the store, I did exactly what I would have done with a regular collection. I rung it up, negotiated, and paid the guy for the collection. Once the money exchanged hands, the cops busted him. Collection was returned to the kid in Pittsburgh and the guy ended up with some plea deal involving probation.”