Guy Tolomeo will never forget the “cruise case” of 2001. It centered on a woman out on workers’ compensation from a T-shirt manufacturing company. Under surveillance for a while, all the claimant did was smoke cigarettes and get her mail. Then, InSight Investigations learned she was taking a cruise. Tolomeo, InSight’s general manager, went on the cruise, too, and took another investigator. He even paid for their wives to come along.
The claimant didn’t touch a bag—at least not initially. She boarded the plane with her arm in a sling. But then, “The last time we saw the sling was when it came off at Tampa International Airport,” Tolomeo says. “On the boat, she did everything you do on a cruise—snorkel, gamble, eat—but she’d reported that she couldn’t even move a fork to her mouth with her bad arm.”
The case ended in a fraud conviction. “It was a glorious cruise, though we were working,” says Tolomeo.
Increasingly, we live in a world filled with deadbeat spouses and workers who try to cheat their employers. Companies like InSight exist to crash their party—or cruise, if it comes down to that.
A Media-based private investigation firm that handles the Tri-State area, plus Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Florida, InSight specializes in video surveillance and provides nationwide Special Investigations Unit services, including employment background and asset checks, scene photos, and the retrieval of DMV, criminal, court and hospital records. The bulk of InSight’s work focuses on helping insurance carriers in their investigations of workers’ compensation or liability claims. The company represents every major carrier; some are contracted. A website referral form cuts down on calls from the simply curious.
As for a typical case, there’s the trash collector who hates his job but likes collecting a check. If nothing’s done, a computer might spit out a check for the rest of his existence. Even if such a case goes to a settlement, it might cost $150,000 to end it.
Around since 1996, InSight has investigators and a full-time office staff with various responsibilities. Steve Manley is Tolomeo’s business partner in the agency. They’re the only two who can use their full names in print. “It’s a very competitive business, and someone is always faster or cheaper, but our product speaks for itself,” says Tolomeo. “Our success is measured by how much work we get. We may not get results every time, but it’s not for a lack of effort.”
Insurance companies are putting up tougher fights these days. In some cases, laws have also changed to support stiffer penalties for fraud. So there’s a growing need for investigations of this sort.
A criminal justice graduate from Temple University, Tolomeo loves developing information. “It’s such a high to find something, but sometimes you’re also sitting in a hot car for 16 hours and finding absolutely nothing,” he says. “But when it does happen, you have to be on your game.”
Investigators study the subject’s claims and stated limitations, learning their comings and goings. High time for filming is mid-March to October—especially April to June, when folks first emerge from winter hibernation.
Still, subjects are increasingly astute to being followed these days, which makes following them more difficult. Many leave their houses and circle their neighborhood prior to going on their way.
“I always say, ‘I think he’s on to me.’ But the first six or seven times, I also keep telling myself that I’m wrong,” Tolomeo says. “By the eighth time, he’s stuck his middle finger out at me, and then I say, ‘Now, I know I’m right.’ But there are a number of ways to skin a cat.”
Ex-spouses are great sources, though investigators must wade through bogus tips. “Some claimants are in the gutter, and if you don’t get down and dirty in the gutter with them, you’re not going to get them,” Tolomeo admits.
Once, he followed a trash collector with video surveillance all the way to Florida and down to Key West. The claimant was on a motorcycle. “When the case concluded, the guy asked if he could have a copy of our tape to document his vacation,” Tolomeo recalls.
Perhaps the best way to catch scam artists is to let them incriminate themselves. Virtual Information Analysis is the new investigative Internet tool at InSight. Scanning the Web, staff can tell if a claimant is dating, babysitting, in a bowling league, on YouTube—you name it. Claimants do themselves in.
One online offender was lifting weights, though he was supposed to have a shoulder injury and a 15-pound weight restriction. Another with a 5-pound lifting limit was filmed hoisting her sister’s baby, which hospital records indicate was 8 pounds at birth. Then there was the woman who had a million-dollar claim following an accident. She said she couldn’t get into another car because of the trauma, but still videotaped herself driving from Brooklyn to Philadelphia.
Even snowstorm photos are valuable. Subjects are either shoveling snow or playing in it. “We’re getting private stuff we can’t even get with surveillance,” says Dana, InSight’s VIA supervisor.
And if you claim you have no earning power, don’t start an at-home business. One woman was selling antique jewelry under her dog’s name, making $6,356.93 in one month. “We all know how to Google,” Tolomeo says. “But Dana has a knack for finding gold. It’s been a huge boon to investigators.”
Some are smart enough to block key information. For others, you eventually find a nickname or an eBay name. One claimant posted that he was going to a train show in Harrisburg. InSight filmed him loading his car, then setting up at the flea market. “We even purchased a few items from him,” Tolomeo says.
InSight checked his eBay history and discovered he’d sold $6,500 in trains that year, all while receiving workers’ compensation and declaring he had no earning power.
The domestic portion of InSight’s business can be lucrative—with the right client base. Right now, just 5 percent of InSight’s caseload is domestic. Eighty percent is surveillance, and 15 percent involves background/preemployment screenings.
InSight once did a domestic case for the CEO of a large Virginia-based company. It involved setting up surveillance in 30th Street Station and a large Center City hotel. The company used hidden cameras throughout the hotel and bar areas to get the requested evidence.
But the recession, Tolomeo says, is hurting the domestic division. Couples are just grinning and bearing it.
Still, February—with its flower deliveries for Valentine’s Day—is a busy month. “If you’re cheating, that day and the day before are the days the significant others want to feel significant,” he says.
On any investigation, there are times when cameras aren’t allowed. A Flyers’ or Sixers’ game, for example, is off-limits. In Home Depot, Tolomeo was following a woman with a pinhole camera when an employee asked if he was videotaping. At times, he simply uses his cell phone camera. There’s also a baseball hat camera and a pen camera.
Tolomeo does have credentials, which can help alleviate problems. Some local townships are tougher when it comes to running surveillance. Ridley Township requires notification each morning, even if it’s a days-long stakeout.
The industry’s no-nos are covered in one acronym: TIME—no trespassing, invasion, misrepresentation or entrapment. Tinted windows are just fine and come in three tint percentages—5, 10 and 15.
Every InSight report has the potential of landing in a courtroom, so attention to detail and patience are required. Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get.
“If a guy loads up to go to Cape May, I videotape him boogie boarding,” says Tolomeo. “I love the Shore.”
To learn more, visit insightco.com or call (888) 446-7483.