Private Investigators Serving East Bay and Now Silicon Valley, San Jose, Palo Alto, Mountain View

We have served the East Bay for more than 20 years and now serve Silicon Valley, San Jose, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Mountain View and more. We have a billing point in Fremont.

We provide: surveillance, court research, witness interviews, finding missing persons, difficult service of process and many other services for attorneys, business and select private clients.

We recognize many other private investigators provide similar services. What makes us different is the consistency and high level with which we provide services. We are efficient and always make the most use out of a client’s budget.

We are premier providers of investigations in major civil investigations and criminal defense cases. Mike Spencer, licensed private investigator, knows what it takes to help you win in court.

East Bay Private Detective Surveillance

We constantly think about our work and how to help our clients. It does us no good to take a case and not get results. The client isn’t happy and neither are we. We try to be as transparent as possible from the first contact to the last. We are writing this entry about surveillance to tell you how the process really works and to increase your/our chances of getting results.

Calculating What a San Francisco Bay Area Surveillance Costs

At first the client has to decide what’s at stake. Is the surveillance for an insurance defense investigation trying to prove fraud in a $1 million claim or for a family law case where child custody is at stake, or maybe it’s trying to get evidence of infidelity in a long-term marriage? I look at the budget commitment question as something similar to playing poker, what is referred to as pot odds. Or, use a business analogy: What is the return on investment?

The more important the situation the more resources you need to commit. If playing in a poker game and you know you have a good hand, or you know your opponent is likely to be bluffing, it makes sense to commit more to win the pot.

In the more than 20 years we have been doing this we have seen and obtained results for clients who have spent about a minimum of $2,000 and well over $10,000. We will use one, two or three licensed private investigators each with their own video surveillance equipment. The number of personnel depends on the subject. We use professional surveillance operatives who write detailed reports and who make for excellent court witnesses. We are nor farming anything out for cheap or inferior labor. In surveillance like any other service you really do get what you pay for. The hourly range for our surveillance services may range from about $125 per hour to $300 per hour. Cost depends on the number of personnel we are going to use.

The Three Ps of A Good Surveillance

  • Planning

We obtain solid evidence with good information up-front. After the client agrees to a retainer, we then meet the client in person. We need to know as much as possible about the subject. What does he drive? Where does he park? What is his driving style like? How does he wear his hair? Does he wear jewelry. We will need photos of him. We will need to know his schedule.

On a mobile subject we will need to use two or three investigators. On a suburban or stationary surveillance, one investigator might be enough for the job. Heavy traffic situations will also require more personnel. We will also use a male-female team of private investigators. Surveillance is more about blending in than not being seen.

  • Patience

We typically will not work surveillance cases on a rush basis. Flying out the door without a plan in place rarely yields good results.

If we are too aggressive in the beginning and get detected, will have to take a long break before attempting again. We are all creatures of habit. The insurance cheat or the marital cheat will make mistakes. With a patient, disciplined approach, we get results. Over time, we will figure out a subject’s habits.

It’s not the end of the world if we temporarily lose someone on surveillance. We return to our staging areas another time or find the subject at a place he frequents. Good habits allow us to get back on the trail again.

  • Persistence

On a Berkeley case it took a week or two to catch a cheating husband. The client could see on her husband’s phone he was going to a certain area. She saw that he was visiting the same area before work but not for a very long time. We went on him with one operative at first but caught him using two operatives. We had determined his habits.

The GPS the client checked on her phone was not precise. We knew he was going to an area about 200 yards long. We went to the same location three times. We caught him on the third time because we had planned, committed and anticipated his next steps. When we caught him we had two investigators in separate cars. Each parked in a separate area. We obtained video of him cheating. The results cost about a total of $2000.

California Law about Using a GPS Device

In some situations it is legal to use a GPS device. It’s always best though to consult an attorney. One gray area is where both spouses are on registration and title to a vehicle. If you solely own the vehicle but someone else–spouse, child, family, etc–is using the car then it’s likely legal.

Here is the relevant California law and a good article about GPS

637.7. (a) No person or entity in this state shall use an electronic tracking device to determine the location or movement of a person.

(b) This section shall not apply when the registered owner, lessor, or lessee of a vehicle has consented to the use of the electronic tracking device with respect to that vehicle.

(c) This section shall not apply to the lawful use of an electronic tracking device by a law enforcement agency.

(d) As used in this section, electronic tracking device means any device attached to a vehicle or other movable thing that reveals its location or movement by the transmission of electronic signals.

(e) A violation of this section is a misdemeanor.

(f) A violation of this section by a person, business, firm, company, association, partnership, or corporation licensed under Division 3 (commencing with Section 5000) of the Business and Professions Code shall constitute grounds for revocation of the license issued to that person, business, firm, company, association, partnership, or corporation, pursuant to the provisions that provide for the revocation of the license as set forth in Division 3 (commencing with Section 5000) of the Business and Professions Code.


Why Cheap Online Background Checks Fail

We are flooded with ads for fast and convenient products. Problem is: fast and convenient rarely add up to “quality.” The fast and convenient option is a horrible way to try to do background checks. Don’t spend your money on cheap backgrounds checks. Instead, use a quality, experienced local private investigators who knows how records are compiled, stored and where to get these records.

A client recently contacted us after he had paid for an online criminal background check of a subject with a somewhat common name. It showed about 12 hits for this name in several different states. He paid about $50.00 for a mess of false hits. His background check just pulled up by first and last name, and not by middle name or date of birth. It took us about 2 hours to figure which ones were relevant.

Stop using online background checks

Why they fail:

  • Illusions of thoroughness. There is no such thing as a national criminal background check outside of perhaps an FBI database. Records usually have to be found on a county by county, state by state basis.
  • Online background checks don’t discriminate by proper identifiers such as middle names, dates of birth and address histories. You have paid money for an incomplete product that you have to sort.
  • You don’t know the geographic areas of their searches or the time frames. What if your subject has a criminal record in an area from 1991 but the database searched starts at 1995?

Our practices:

  • We start with obtaining an address history on the person and we concentrate our searches on where the person has lived. We will start out with online criminal searches but we only do this for the counties we know have good systems and databases in place.
  • If a subject has lived in Oakland or San Francisco or Walnut Creek, very likely the person could have records in Alameda, San Francisco or Contra Costa counties. We will look in adjacent counties as well.
  • We will contract with court runners in out-of-state jurisdictions to look for records we can’t access online.
  • We will often check civil and federal records looking for other relevant information.



Alameda County Courts Searches Now Online

Performing background checks in Alameda County just became slightly easier the past year with both criminal and civil searches being made available online. Of course though, for a true professional background check a private investigator should visit courthouses in person to search for records.

The system links branch courts from Berkeley-Oakland down through Hayward to Fremont and out to Pleasanton. The criminal records search goes back about to 2005. Again, if you are not sure on dates you are always best served going to the court in person. The system does not show actual documents but gives charges, conviction, sentencing and a docket chronology. And best? It’s free.

Civil Search:

The civil records section search allows you to actually find the case as well as the documents. It’s a pay system with each search about $1 and then .50 per page for copies. You can preview the document you want to download but it shows a half-page of the relevant document.

The improvements are welcome and aid both the public and the private investigator. Every county in the state has a slightly different records system. We are usually able to gather public court records throughout the state of California. We are private investigators for San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and all Bay Area counties.

Rethinking San Francisco Bay Area Surveillance

img_2614The traditional talk for private investigator/potential surveillance client goes like this: Client wants the job done as cheaply as possible and private eye quotes a price to try to land the client. The negotiation seems to be more about price than about achieving results. The first-time client has maybe called around to a few other investigators and seeks a bargain.

The bargain mindset, going with the lowest bidder, often leads to failure. The standard arrangement would be for the private eye to do the best he could to tail and follow a subject all by himself. A lone surveillance operative can be successful but notorious Bay Area traffic makes it exceedingly difficult. All it takes is a right turn on red or any vehicle getting between you and the subject and even the most gifted and tenacious private investigator could lose the person.

Perhaps the first step in the talk between P.I. and potential client needs to be about the type of person who will be followed and when. Are we dealing with a younger person more likely to have a wild Friday or Saturday night, a person who drives a lot or someone who is more of a suburban homebody who might be up to something? It’s a very different surveillance task following someone in an East Bay or Marin suburb vs. following someone hitting the San Francisco clubs. In the old model, the single P.I. would try to do his best on the retainer but may or may not get results.

I encourage clients to use at least two and as many as four licensed private investigators for mobile surveillance. The operatives can be split into any number of ways, having two cars each with a driver and P.I. ready to tail on foot or other form of transit.  Even the simplest move makes the lone P.I. pull out his hair. The lone P.I. does everything right and follows the subject into San Francisco or San Jose. The subject quickly gets a parking spot and is away on foot while the lone P.I. searches in vain for a parking place and loses the target because he can’t get out on foot quickly enough.

On a retainer of $2,000, billed at $125 per hour, a single operative would have 16 hours of surveillance time. An extra P.I. added would be about $200 per-hour or give the client 10 hours on the $2000 retainer. Add a third P.I. and the hourly fee is up to about $250 per hour or 8 hours of time on the initial $2,000 retainer.

The object of surveillance is to obtain video evidence and document the subject’s activities. You might not have that many chances to get results. Adding personnel to the mission greatly increases the odds of success. A client will actually get better value, i.e., increasing the odds of success, by paying for more mobile operatives. When police do surveillance they are using teams of personnel and constantly rotating vehicles and people.

There are more transportation options than ever and a private investigator has to be ready to get on BART or follow an Uber or a Lyft. One private eye on surveillance faces incredible odds to get results.

Never Pick a Private Eye Based Only On Price

img_2470I write to inform the public about the work I do as a licensed private investigator. My subject this time: How to pick a private eye.

I have always said that our business is like a construction general contractor or other specialized service provider. You don’t want to pick a lawyer, CPA, dentist, eye doctor, college, auto mechanic or even a beer because he/she/it is the cheapest. You want to select based on quality and the likelihood that the professional will cure or solve your problem or get you answers. Continue reading

How A Private Investigator Helps Your Family Law Case

img_2447I’ve investigated and testified in family law and child custody cases in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. I’m sharing what I think it takes to win. No one can predict a trial or case outcome, but there are many steps you need to take to maximize your chances.

The keys to success? Teamwork and hard work. I had a recent case that involved issues of residency. Much of the case concerned whether the husband and wife, our adversaries, had been living together the last few years. Continue reading

Yes, No or Maybe For The P.I.

img_2341Client selection and case selection play large parts of how we run our business. These decisions not only impact our bank account but help ensure client satisfaction and results.

I like to explain how we work because there are so many misunderstandings about exactly what we do and how we do it. I can’t speak for every private investigator but can only provide information about our agency. Continue reading

Am I Dating a Married Man from Danville, California?

blog-marriageAt least three or four times a year we handle calls from potential clients who are wondering if they are dating a married man.

It’s not as simple as one might think to learn a person’s marital status in California. There is no single database of marriage and divorce information in California. There used to be a marriage index, but this only had records from about 1960 to 1985. You probably have a question list of things to consider: Does he ever have me over to his place, how come I never meet his family members, why is he so tight-lipped with information? Continue reading

Bay Area Real Estate Investigation Gets Real

photo89In a seller’s real estate market, the burden is even greater for the buyer to do due diligence and decision making lightning fast. Bar none, buying a house is the biggest financial decision you make in your life.

Choose wisely and not only do you enjoy the space and neighborhood where you and your family live but over time you will reap financial rewards from your investment. Choose poorly and every day you will invest energy in planning your exit and may suffer a big financial loss, headaches and other assorted despair. Continue reading