Private investigators get up early to catch workers' compensation cheaters

Private investigators get up early and stay hidden in effort to catch workers' compensation cheats.
by Nolan Clay Published: March 3, 2013

To catch a faker, it takes an early riser.

A plain-looking car helps, too.

Private investigators say they often set up surveillance by 6 a.m. weekdays outside the residence of an employee suspected of faking an injury or exaggerating how badly he's hurt.

They are watching for the worker to do something — anything — inconsistent with the worker's reported physical limitations.

Working out of a car with a video camera ready, an investigator often will wait for hours. Some carry guns. Some don't. Stealth is key.

“A good PI, I guarantee you, can watch you and you'd never know they're there,” said Robert Cox, owner of Winston Services, a Norman company that has nine investigators.

”They get up early. They get there. They stay out of sight,” he said.

Investigators at Winston Services use their own cars.

“The motto is something nondescript. Something that doesn't stick out,” said Lance West, who supervises investigators at Winston Services.

Investigators say they listen to books on tapes or sports on the car radio during surveillances.

“It can be pretty mundane sitting there in your car all day. You've got to keep in mind you never know when something is going to happen. And, when it does, it's a pretty big adrenaline rush to get some activity, finally,” West said.

Investigators have their tricks to avoid being spotted.

Longtime private investigator James B. Pate, of Hinton, drives a car with darkened windows. He also keeps three or four ball caps handy when he is following someone in the car.

He will do things like switch caps or take his glasses off, put on sun glasses, and then go back later to his regular glasses. “I make my appearance look a little bit different,” he said.

Some investigators resort to unethical ploys.

The unscrupulous ones will spread trash on a worker's yard at 2 or 3 in the morning on trash day so they can get video of the worker later picking it up. Other times they will flatten a car tire or throw quarters outside a house.

“I've known people who have done it,” Pate said of the trash trick. “I don't do that. I refuse. Now if a dog comes up there and strews … trash all over the place, I'm probably not going to scare the dog off, but I'm not going out and do that myself. … You've got to have some character.”

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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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