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"Pretext" is a common method of approach used by private investigators. During a pretext approach the investigator (or "operative") can confirm the subject's identity and, to a lesser extent, ascertain their activities, movements and interests. As Webster 1913 states, "pretext" means that there is a "cover for the real reason or motive". In colloquial terms, the investigator is acting/lying to find stuff out that he/she couldn't learn otherwise. It's all about deception.

Operatives can conduct pretext phone calls or direct approaches. Some lines/ ideas which are common :

  • Just say you're an investigator trying to confirm that Anna Gardiner lives at a certain house. If you have the phone number for a pretext call, you could ring and ask for Alicia Gardiner, saying that she was an old school friend. Most people would say "No, her/my name is Anna, not Alicia". You would then apologise and hang up, after confirming what you needed to know. Job done.
  • If there is a house for sale or rent in the area you could go to the subject's home and speak to them in a direct approach, stating that you are interested in the neighbourhood and the neighbours. When you introduce yourself to the subject (of course using a fake name!) he/she will usually tell you their real name, unless they are extremely wary of surveillance. And that's done. You know where the subject lives and what they look like.
  • You can also approach the subject's neighbours and speak to them under pretext. If you know that the subject, Joe, is 25, a computer programmer and tall, you could say to neighbour "Do you know if Peter lives next door? Kinda short, works as a plumber?". If they know the subject well, they could correct you, and tell you about Joe, his job, and his basic activities (when he's home, etc). If they don't know their neighbour at all, they may be at least able to describe his looks. And that's a help.
Some rather extreme pretexts have been used at my work place. Once, an investigator was hired by a federal agency to find a woman and her child, as the woman had kidnapped her daughter from the girl's grandparents (the woman was addicted to drugs, so the girl was considered to be in danger). Our operative couldn't track down the woman (the subject) but could find the subject's sister. He suspected that the way to the subject was through her sister, so he rang the sister and used a pretext of once being introduced to her at a pub. He asked the sister out on a date, but she stated that she wouldn't be able to get away from her kids. A rendezvous at the subject's sister's house was arranged. The operative turned up with cans of rum and cola and spent the afternoon drinking and talking to the subject's sister and her children. Eventually, he brought up the fact that he had a brother who was looking for a nice woman to date (entirely fictional, of course). Did she know someone for him? Did she have a sister, perhaps? And the subject's sister fell into the trap and told him all about her sister- where she lived (actually just across the road), her phone number, how she lived with her daughter. Our operative's job was done, he hightailed it outta there and the child was rescued. Later, he called the subject's sister and "broke up" with her.

The main dangers of the use of pretext involve over-exposure: using a pretext approach one day then calling the subject the next day is wrong, as the subject may recognise the operative's voice and become suspicious. Hanging around and asking nosy questions also gives the game away. Too much use of pretext as well as close surveillance (following the subject, making your presence known), can break the law under the Private Inquiry Agents Act (in Australia); it's considered harassment. Then you blow the job, and may eventually lose the client. You don't want that.

The best operatives know that the rule to pretext is to keep it simple by having your questions- and answers- ready. By being believable. By getting in, getting your info, and retreating quickly.

Pre"text [F. pr'etexte, L. praetextum, fr. praetextus, p. p. of praetexere to weave before, allege as an excuse; prae before + texere to weave. See Text.]

Ostensible reason or motive assigned or assumed as a color or cover for the real reason or motive; pretense; disguise.

They suck the blood of those they depend on, under a pretext of service and kindness. L'Estrange.

With how much or how little pretext of reason. Dr. H. More.

Syn. -- Pretense; excuse; semblance; disguise; appearance. See Pretense.


© Webster 1913.

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