Legally using telephonic information to find your skips and determine useful information.
Over 20 years ago, when I started my investigative agency, I asked as many investigators as I could what the most valuable tool in their arsenal was. The dominant answer (other than our skills) was the telephone. About 10 years ago I asked the same question and was surprised that it was the computer, and all the accessible information. At that time I still thought the telephone was the most useful tool. When I ask that question today it is usually the computer followed by the telephone. With many of the changes that have taken place regarding the access, or lack thereof, to information, many investigators have turned back to the ‘old’ methods of the telephone. In my opinion the answer is both. We can now take the benefits of the telephone and computer and develop some unique tools. The key is to first understand that virtually every person and business has a telephone, especially cell phones.
Technology has seen some significant changes since I presented my original article on traplines. Some are to our favor and others work against us. I hope to impart some new wisdom that I have experienced in the most recent several months. The toll-free trapline is a very useful and powerful tool. You no longer need a telephone number to call and pretext; you can now take advantage of cell phones, text messaging, email, website contact forms, social networking sites, and other forms of communications. The goal is to get your trapline number to the subject and entice them to call it. I freely endorse the vendors I mention in this article, but I am not compensated in any manner or responsible for the services they provide.
The idea is that your subject will call your trapline number, at least identifying the number they have called from, and possibly the subscriber name and address. This will work even if they call and hang-up without completing the call. Of course a message is nice – often telling you when they are home (or at work) and verifying certain information (i.e. non-published numbers, spouses, etc). If they call from the number that you initially called, you have located them (subject to verification); if they call from a different number, it is likely either a work or home number. Those that are suspicious will call from a friend, relative, payphone, or hopefully from work or home. Oftentimes they will leave a different number to call – sometimes a pager, cell phone, friend’s, or relative’s.
The premise is that calls to toll-free numbers are similar to collect calls. When you have a toll-free number, you are essentially agreeing to accept the charges for the long-distance call and are therefore entitled to the number calling you. The billing company must provide the subscriber data for calls on your bill. That is a headache, time consuming and, in our line of work, just not practical to wait for the phone bill. Unlike your common toll-free number and phone bill, which gives you information monthly, your trapline account can notify you by fax, email, website, pager or even connect your caller to you. The use of this is perfectly legal – the pretext you use to get the return call may or may not be, and caution should be used. Illegally obtained information is both a crime and inadmissible as evidence, together with any consequentially developed information. Keep in mind – the fruit of the poisonous tree.
An old trick smarter subjects used was to call a suspect toll-free number via payphone, calling card (not many allow this, some do), or an Internet long distance service (i.e. Net2Phone). Sometimes, especially with calling cards or PC based telephone services, only a one or two digit number or a non-working number is ‘trapped’. The current trend is to use prepaid cell phones and VoIP telephone services (i.e. Vonage, MagicJack, etc.). When ‘trapped’ these may leave a number that is not reversible to the subscriber or the main ‘trunk line’ number (common on PBX phones). If a complete number is provided it will usually not have a subscriber name and will not lead to an address via common search methods. It is new information that should further assist you in your investigation and there are methods to obtain additional information.
Related concerns are services offered by phone companies: Caller-ID, Anonymous Call Rejection, Caller Screening, etc. These services are designed to require you to disclose who you are to the party you are calling or attempting to locate – not exactly in our best interests. How do you get around this? Most use calling cards (try them first), or a ‘Blindline’ offered by any of the toll-free and trapline companies. On the Caller-ID, the calling card usually appears as ‘Anonymous’ or ‘Out of Area’ and the ‘Blindline’ usually returns a generic office number. You can also use this feature with Kall8, as detailed below.
A word of caution about forwarding numbers. Many years ago, more than I care to remember, you could forward a number and be anonymous. This is no longer the case. For example, if you forward your office number to a cell phone or toll-free number and then call your office number from a third phone, that originating number will show up on the Caller-ID. This bit of information is handy to know because that also means our subjects cannot use call forwarding to hide from our traplines.
Deciding which service is right for you depends on your needs and the size of your office. I used commercial trapline companies for many years and still recommend their use. If you have a large business, account volume, and multiple employees, I recommend using a commercial service. The other consideration is if you have the need to send pre-paid calling cards, which are only available through a commercial service [see Calling Cards]. These turnkey solutions come with monthly and per call costs that do have associated benefits. If you have low volume and few employees, you can gain many customizable features and cost savings creating your own trapline system, such as with www.kall8.com.
MY PERSONAL PICKS: MAJICJACK.COM, SLYDIAL.COM, AND KALL8.COM
• MajicJack.com is a very inexpensive device that your phone plugs into and then into the Ethernet port of your computer. It works incredibly well, has your choice of phone numbers throughout the USA, voicemail, customizable greetings and call forwarding features (except to a toll-free number, which would be an added bonus for our profession). The Caller-ID shows ‘Unknown’ and your assigned number. Many people do not answer ‘unknown number’ or ‘blocked’ calls. Although this will not forward to a toll-free number, I have had some luck with the voicemail greeting that says ‘We are experiencing technical issues. Please hang-up and try your call again. You may also call our customer service department at [trapline number]’. This usually entices them to call your trapline.
• SlyDial.com is a free service that connects your call (from any phone) directly to a cell phone voicemail service. This bypasses the possibility of the subject answering if you do not want them to. Be forewarned that although most calls will not even ring to the mobile phone, but some will ring once and show your Caller-ID. To be safe, use MagicJack or a calling card feature to complete this call. The idea here is: 1. listen to the voicemail greeting and see who owns the cell phone; and 2. entice a call back from your subject but from a different phone by blocking the ability to call from the cell phone [see Kall8]. It is also handy if you want to simply leave someone a message, but not talk to them – such as a meeting reminder.
• Kall8.com is my personal choice for a customizable trapline for a small office. The basic service is a few dollars per month. This includes do-it-yourself programming of your account online – voicemail, fax receiving, ring-to destination number, call blocking, etc. For about $10 per month you can add automatic call recording; check your state statutes for use and legalities. This feature starts as soon as they complete dialing the call and before it is answered. You will be amazed at what people will say before you answer the call (let it ring 2-3 times).
After activating the service you should first decide if you want to block calls from payphones. There is a one-time charge for this. In my opinion calls from payphones are useless (have you found one lately?) and you are charged a fee for each call from a payphone. Next decide the ring-to, or destination, number for the call. You can also choose voicemail and record a custom greeting. The last necessary steps are to provide your email for call reports and recordings, as well as activate the automatic name and address record. This service provides the published Caller-ID or subscriber data for each call to the trapline. From here you are ready to begin.
Each time your toll-free number is called you will receive an email(s) that will include the call date and time, length, call from number and (if opted) the name and address of the subscriber. If you have opted for call recording you will receive a separate email of that recording. This information is also stored real-time with your Kall8 account.
After receiving and identifying your calls, what do you do to prevent more calls? Simply login to your account and block that number. You can also block by state, area code, or area code and prefix. This is particularly handy to force your subject to call from a number that is different from the one you already know (see ‘Cell Phones’ below). You may add as many numbers and uses to your account as you need. You may also disconnect any number. One of the most useful tools of Kall8, and the commercial trapline companies, are ‘blindlines’. With the commercial companies you can choose from a variety of options that include spoofed names and numbers, such as ‘Government’ or ‘Customer Service’. With Kall8 you do not have that benefit. Kall8 is simply a calling card that you use to make a call, which I use to disguise where I am calling from. Make the call using your toll-free account and the receiving Caller-ID shows your choice of either your ring-to number or your toll-free number. I use my toll-free number to call a subject (including via Slydial). This works to receive a call back even when I cannot leave a message (some people still do not have answering machines or voicemail); hopefully they have Caller-ID or use *69 and are curious who called them. We are all curious by human nature.
This article is an updated section from Dean Beers’ book, ‘Professional Locate Investigations;’ and is one of the most popular subjects on which he receives requests for advice.
Dean A. Beers is the owner and Senior Legal Investigator of Forensic Investigators of Colorado, LLC, based in LaPorte, Colorado. He has been a legal investigator since 1987 with extensive experience in skip tracing. He left the private sector from 2005 to 2008 to work as Deputy Coroner / Certified Medicolegal Death Investigator for the Larimer County Medical Examiner’s Office. He returned to the private sector in late 2008 and now focuses primarily on the legal investigations of Personal Injury, Negligence and Death, as well as Criminal Defense. His wife, Karen, handles agency administrative matters and is also an Associate Legal Investigator. Please visit the agency website for detailed information at www.Forensic-Investigators.com. After ‘retiring’ from the private sector, he completed his book ‘Professional Locate Investigations’.
Dean has extensive training, experience, skill sets and knowledge in Personal Injury, Negligence and Death, and all contributing causations. Related areas include motor vehicle collisions, workplace incidents, elder abuse, child abuse, slip and fall, premises liability, as well as related evidence collection and analysis. In addition, he continues to provide detailed Criminal Defense investigations, now with the benefit of POST certification and extensive familiarity with the local law enforcement community and judiciary.
Part two of this series will be posted soon…