Undercover Investigation Techniques

Many techniques are used in undercover investigations by local, federal and private investigators. The purpose of these tactics is to accumulate information without a suspect's knowledge. Technology has changed the landscape of undercover investigations, allowing authorities to gather information for a case without directly endangering an undercover agent, However, traditional methods are still commonly used.

Background Checks

Background checks are used in the early stages of an undercover investigation. They give insight into the history of the suspect, such as employment records, credit cards, pending warrants, banks, education, and property ownership or rental. The rise of the Internet has simplified getting a background check. Access to the suspect's email, activity on the Internet and participation in social networking websites give insight to investigators without the need for warrants, wiretaps or putting an agency in a dangerous undercover situation.


Investigators on surveillance monitor a suspect's movements by staking out her residence and following her form place to place. Information can be gathered as to who the suspect is associating with and places where crimes are being planned or taking place. This assists the detectives in choosing places to monitor with video or audio surveillance.

Audio and Video Monitoring

The most common form of audio monitoring is a wiretap. This is when authorities listen into conversations taking place via the telephone lines. Other audio monitoring includes having an undercover operative wear a wire to record conversations regarding the crime being investigated or placing a bug in a room where those conversations are taking place. Video monitoring takes place with an undercover camera when the suspect does not know they are being filmed. It can be a hidden camera pre-placed in a suspect’s home or place of business or in hidden on the person speaking with the suspect. Often, warrants are required to tap a phone line but not required for undercover recording devices held on a person.


A sting is a tactic used in undercover investigations designed to catch a person in the act of committing a crime. An undercover officer or participating member of the public goes along with the planning of a crime in order to gather evidence and ultimately arrest the suspect. Some examples of a sting operation are posing as a child on the internet in order to lure a child molester or setting out a bait car to catch auto thieves.

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