The speaker was Meriah L. Crawford, owner of Rhino Investiagations and English teacher at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Meriah shared information with the group as the winds kick up outside and the lights blink inside. Not knowing how long the library would be open, the group decided to start in on our Panera boxed lunches while Meriah gave her presentation.
Suspense writer Mary Burton manages to juggle lunch and ask some great questions of our guest speaker.
Meriah showed how she set up a fake Facebook account and friended Heather W, one of our program chairs. Then Meriah set out to pretend to be someone that Heather and her friends went to school with. Of the 51 people she sent friend requests to, only one questioned who she was. That's kind of scary and an eye-opener. You really could be "talking" or friending just about anybody on these social networks. As writers, we tend to friend potential readers and rarely don't friend folks. Writers need to accept a certain loss of privacy. But people not in the public eye may want to think carefully before jumping in with both feet.
Ms. Crawford does a lot of Internet work in her investigations. The social networks are becoming more and more of an issue in divorce cases as the cheating spouse will be in online friendships with the person they are cheating with. A staggering 50% of divorces now have some social networking involved.
In her work as a private investigator, Meriah L. Crawford has worked on many types of cases from insurance fraud, background checks and stalking to murder and theft cases. The day of a PI is never boring.
She used google maps to explain to us how she sets up a stakeout. And she explained how to park to best see the person you're surveilling and methods to follow a target.
Google maps is also a great way to visit a neighborhood where you'd like to set a book. You can do a 3D 360 degree view of any location and this was demonstrated to us as well.
Another site that Meriah uses is Wunderground. Not only does she use this to check the weather for surveillance activity, but she also uses it in her writing. With this site you can check the weather for many locations and for many dates, both present and past. If you're writing anything other than a current date into your story, this can be very helpful in figuring out what the weather was for a certain date. It will lend reality to your story.
Meriah shared some inside information with those of us gathered - such as, you can walk on a person's property even if they have a posted No Trespassing sign until the owner tells you to get off of their property. Then you must leave.
Both paid and free internet search sites are used by private investigators as they attempt to locate people or work a case.
Since stalkers have been known to hire PIs to locate their victims, Meriah stressed how careful a PI needs to be in taking cases. She asks careful questions before she'll commit to a case and trusts her internal moral compass to decide whether or not to take a case.
She once had a client who wanted her to locate his high school sweetheart 20 years after the fact and provide him with pictures. Ms. Crawford stated that for some reason this creeped her out, and she refused to take the case. You have to use your good judgment in deciding what to do or not do.
We were just getting into more detailed information when the library announced it was closing early due to the impending hurricane. We had to wrap up the meeting quite quickly. Meriah was given a round of applause not only for sharing her information with us but for also braving the weather.
It is my sincere hope that we will have her visit us again in order to continue her fascinating presentation.