Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Art of Pretexting

I recently came across an article in The Guardian about how several private investigators posed as journalists in order to obtain information, by deception, from a lawyer representing several NOTW hacking victims.

I had previously posted on when I posed online as a 20-something year old female which, I should point out, is not something I normally do. But pretexting (or 'blagging' as it is known in the UK) is a legitimate tool in the private investigator's arsenal and not inherently unethical or illegal.

Naturally, there are some legal considerations around misrepresenting yourself, such as not stating or implying that you are a law enforcement officer or that you have any statutory powers that you do not actually possess, but pretexting is a tool when seeking to elicit information from other parties that they might not otherwise divulge to someone who says they are a private investigator.

Funnily enough, not everyone wants to talk to us as private investigators but people do love to talk so may happily divulge private or confidential information if they think they are speaking to someone else. Like a reporter.

Most of the time, I don't go to much effort in a pretext - usually I misrepresent by omission: I just don't tell someone I'm a PI. Not really a pretext at all. At other times, as with those UK PIs, you need to take it to the next level.

Now, thinking back on it, I realised I had a bit of a history of pretending to be people other than myself before becoming a washed-out, cynical, PI.

On one notable instance, there was the time I impersonated an officer in the army - a foreign army - and participated in a military exercise with them.

I was visiting relatives abroad and had not yet obtained my citizenship in this unnamed European country when my cousins, who were all in the army, thought it would be cool if I accompanied them on manoeuvres. For some reason the thought that I was not in their army, a citizen of their country, or even fluent in their language never came into it.

Naturally I said yes.

So, I was given a uniform (equivalent rank of a lieutenant) and a weapon and for the next several days (and cold nights) I partook in small-unit patrols in the countryside around a strategic bridge awaiting eventual assault from the OPFOR. At night, we could hear explosions in the distance as other bridges were 'blown' and the returning fire from the defenders.

Sadly, at the conclusion of the exercise, ours was the only bridge that had not been attacked. I never even got to fire my weapon!

The only real scary moment came when an officer, from another unit, came to congratulate us on our fine achievement of not having had our bridge blown, and he shook my hand and jabbered away incomprehensibly to me all the while.

I just nodded and smiled and then he moved on to someone else.

Thinking about this now, I realise I probably broke a number of quite serious laws in this instance and might have been in very real trouble had I been caught. The other members of my cousins' unit were in on it and were happy enough to have me along with them.

Luckily, I didn't cause a diplomatic incident.

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