By Brad Robinson, Private Investigator
Increasingly, we are contacted by clients who are convinced that their sociopath is tracking or monitoring them even when they are alone in their vehicle. Sometimes this is merely the imagination of someone who (often with good reason) has become frightened and a bit paranoid. Often we are able to determine that their ex (or a friend or relative he has co-opted or a private investigator he has hired) is physically surveilling our client. Increasingly, however, our investigation reveals that our client has become the victim of technical surveillance, i.e., a device has been secretly installed on/in their vehicle.
GPS = Global Positioning System
By far the most prevalent of the above-mentioned devices is the GPS-enabled tracking unit. The Global Positioning System is a space-based satellite navigation system that provides highly accurate location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more of the orbiting GPS satellites. Yes, for $199 plus tax, you too can be spied on from outer space!
Where to look
Our company deals with GPS tracking devices a lot both offensively and defensively. On the offensive (installation) side, I can tell you that a well-placed, state-of-the-art device will (almost) never be found by a non-professional. We bury them deep inside the dashboard and other equally well-hidden locations that I can’t discuss here. Therefore, as an amateur, your best hope is that whoever did the install lacked the know-how/time/budget to do it properly.
From the defensive (detection) side, I can say that these devices have become FAR more prevalent in just the last few years. We used to get perhaps a half-dozen calls a year from clients who suspected that their vehicles were being tracked, and half of them were wrong. Now, we get two such cases per month, on average, and 90% of the time, we find a device (usually placed there not by the FBI, but by a controlling current, or ex, spouse/lover).
If the eavesdropper is inexperienced or operating on a small budget, the device may be detectable by the untrained eye. Check to see if it was stashed in the trunk, the glove box, the side map pocket on the door, or under the seat. If the person planting it does not have access to the interior of your vehicle, it may have been mounted (using magnets or double-sided tape) inside one of the wheel wells, inside the front or rear bumper or on the bottom of the gas tank. The device usually has a black, plastic, rectangular housing about the size of your TV remote.
GPS Trackers: Now available in two flavors
GPS trackers are not listening devices or “bugs.” They are used strictly for locating the current (or past) whereabouts of the target vehicle, although some also show the vehicle’s speed and direction of travel.
These devices come in two varieties — active and passive. The former are a bit larger and require a constant source of power, either from their own batteries or by tapping into the car battery. Active devices allow a vehicle’s position to be monitored “real-time” from any computer or Smartphone. A passive device (aka logger) simply stores location data and cannot transmit the vehicle’s current location. The logger itself must be retrieved from the vehicle and downloaded in order to view the location information and then replaced.
Other technical threats in your vehicle
Although requiring more technical savvy, longer access to the vehicle and greater expense, there are other, non-GPS threats to your privacy while driving. The techniques range from tiny listening devices (typically planted in the headliner, which is the fabric covering the inside of the roof) to covert video (most often secreted behind the A/C vents) to hacking into your vehicle’s on-board navigation/safety system (e.g., OnStar).
Police can’t/won’t help
If it seems that someone is too well-informed regarding where/when you are driving, this is a definite red flag (although there are other possible explanations — see above). Also, be alert for any odd interference (i.e., static, poor connection, etc.) in your vehicle’s electronic systems — radio, navigation, Bluetooth. Similarly, if the device has not been secured properly, you could hear a new rattle from either the interior or the exterior of the vehicle.
Unfortunately, regardless of how strongly you are convinced that you are being illegally monitored, the police will not be of much help. They have neither the training nor the equipment nor the motivation to perform a “debugging” sweep of the family minivan. Instead, if your own inspection yields no results, you may be well advised to hire a qualified (and most are not) private investigator or security specialist. Of course, a less-expensive but also less comforting option is to accept the likelihood that you are being tracked (and, possibly, listened to and watched) whenever you are behind the wheel.
For more information on how you may be under surveillance, read Brad Robinson’s previous articles:
Brad Robinson is an ex-CIA operative and currently Senior Partner with The Millennium Group, a full-service investigative and security consulting firm staffed by former federal agents. They offer a variety of romance fraud-related investigations nationwide including debugging “sweeps” of residences, offices, vehicles and phones. Visit their website at MillenniumGroup2001.com or call them at 855-SPY-TEAM.