We talk a lot in this blog space about the perils and dangers that come with using an unregulated and unqualified investigator, and in the past we’ve published guidelines as to how you can avoid the pitfalls that come with hiring or working with what we call ‘Gumtree Gumshoes’.
We call them ‘Gumtree Gumshoes’ because the pop culture nickname for a PI plays well against the fact these people don’t have insurance or any marketable skill-set in the industry, so they mainly advertise on free business listing sites and across social media only. There’s no website. There’s no office. There’s no professional affiliations. Just a demand to pay upfront and a mobile number – that can be swiftly junked when they disappear if the job goes wrong.
Recently we discovered one of the more brazen ‘Gumtree Gumshoes’ was actually shamelessly piggy-backing off of our hard work and success. We’ve been advised to refrain from identifying them publicly whilst legal action is currently in its early stages.
It started with the discovery of a free business listing for a private investigation company based out of our office address. We know all of the businesses that are based and listed at our office complex and we had never heard of them or experienced them.
So we checked in with the owners of the office complex we’re based out of. They had never heard of this ‘company’ nor did they have them listed as renting space there. They quickly discovered this ‘company’ were simply squatting on the postal address in the hope that no one would notice. The people at Clavering House got in touch with this ‘company’ who simply said “There’s been a mistake, we’ll delete the advert!”
But then we found more free business listings with the same fraudulent issue. And more. And guess what? Yes, more. We even found on some of them that they’d listed a website address which, when visited, revealed it was half-built, littered with bad spelling and grammar and all but abandoned.
We then dug deeper still and found that there was direct lifts of our social media marketing campaigns where they had copied and pasted our text as their own and cropped our marketing art to take out our name and logo to use for themselves. Rather amazingly, we found one such stolen marketing post where they’d not correctly edited it so half of our name, email address and telephone number appeared at the bottom of their post.
We made a test call to this ‘company’ to confirm they were still operational and in “conversation” with them about their services they incorrectly stated that Surmount Investigations were someone they “work with regularly” (not true at all!) and “often pass work down to” (absolutely not true!). What’s worse was that at one point in the conversation they stated that they “weren’t insured” because “our line of work is one of the rare ones that doesn’t require it” (which is as ridiculous as it is untrue and it is very much not true!!)
A cease-and-desist letter was sent across to the ‘company’ within 24 hours. In the process of doing this we discovered it was not a ‘company’ of “ex-police officers from around the UK and Europe” but just one man up in Northumberland with no qualification in the field of investigation, no ‘team’ and no affiliation to any professional body.
Two days after receiving our letter, all ‘stolen’ materials of ours were removed from the social media platforms and said platforms were swiftly closed. All but one of the business listings have been removed and we’ll be keeping a close eye as to whether that remaining one stays active much longer. All that remains of this so-called ‘company’ is a half-completed, error-strewn website.
We will robustly continue to protect and defend not just our company name and reputation that we’ve worked hard to build in the region, but also the field of professional investigation itself. We will work to protect and defend ourselves and the industry from unregulated ‘chancers’ who seek to feed off the hard work and honesty of others in the industry and to thrive off potentially vulnerable people who have the misfortunate of mistakenly employing them.