Privacy laws limit what investigators can do, they say. There is no looking over high wooden fences. There is no trespassing.
Pate said in the past, in rural areas of Oklahoma, he would dress in camouflage clothes and watch a house from the woods of the worker's own property. Then, the law changed, he said. Now, he sometimes does the same thing from a neighbor's property, if the neighbor gives him permission.
Pate has come across stills and marijuana patches. Once, while lost near Lake Wister, he drove up on a white supremacist training camp. Fortunately, no one was there.
For the insurance company that hires an investigator, a lot of money may be at stake.
“You know a single back claim is $100,000 by the time they pay all of the medical parts of it and pay the claimant off and the disfigurement,” said Jim Kent, owner of Claim Research Services, a Tulsa-based company that has seven investigators.
Not all successful surveillances result in fraud charges. An insurance adjuster may just confront the employee who is supposed to be temporarily totally disabled and tell the employee to go back to work.
“More often than not, adjusters use the information that we get to help them close the claim. That's all they want to do,” Kent said.
Some private investigators use ruses to get video. At Claim Research Services, the tactic is called an indirect.
In one case, an investigator posed as a hunter to covertly get video on a man who was supposedly temporarily totally disabled from his regular job.
“This guy seemed to get hurt every hunting season. Turned out he had a little business where he processed deer,” Kent said. “We got video of this guy. He's got blood and bone fragments on his hand while he's standing there talking to our investigator.
“There's three clear ways you can be convicted of workers' comp fraud,” Kent said. “The main one … is whenever you catch them working somewhere else when they're claiming to be TTD.”