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Using AI in Your Investigations

by Jay Paulino, CPI

Technology is advancing rapidly—and the tools available to private investigators continue to grow along with it.

From using drones to help with accident reconstruction (Using Drones in Your Investigations, visit WorkingPImag.com), to the latest advances in artificial intelligence (AI), I continue to be amazed at how technology is developing and providing new tools to help private investigators deliver a higher quality product and work more efficiently.

“Work smarter, not harder” is a core part of my philosophy. If I can use tools and technology to be more efficient, save time, or improve the quality of my work, then I will be able to serve my clients better and I’ll make more money too. I try to constantly challenge myself to learn something new on a daily basis and stay on the cutting edge of technology. The day I close my mind on learning something new from anyone at any time, is the day I am through.

Many private investigators are aware of a new AI tool called ChatGPT—a natural language processing tool driven by AI technology that allows you to have human-like conversations with the chatbot.

The use of ChatGPT has exploded in the span of only a few months, with the latest numbers showing over 100 million users now on the platform. Its potential uses seem nearly endless—middle schoolers are using it to “write papers,” teachers are using it to create lesson plans, marketing professionals are using it to curate ideas and write “draft” marketing copy, and even lawyers are experimenting with it. A judge in Colombia recently used it to explain part of his ruling in an insurance case.

As a private investigator, I’ve found Chat GPT to be an incredibly useful tool in my work, saving me time, helping me be more efficient, and helping me formulate ideas. I think of ChatGPT as my own personal “AI Assistant,” helping me to quickly answer questions, giving me information, and pointing me in the right direction in my investigations. I do not use it as my only source of information, but rather as an artificial intelligence teammate. I team up with the chatbot.

At the time of this writing, ChatGPT is now only one of a myriad of AI tools. Google has launched Bard, Bing has BingAI, and there is a rapidly growing list of AI chatbots, AI programming engines, and even AI-generated photo and design tools. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to be focusing on ChatGPT.

Here’s how I use ChatGPT as a private investigator—and how you can too.

Real World Examples
ChatGPT is a great tool to use when you are investigating in arenas that you are not familiar with, from investigating in a new city or even a new (to you) investigation area. I like to think of it as tapping into an artificial mind that can provide answers within minutes. In many areas, it is able to piece together all that information rapidly, much faster than you or I can do by Googling or scrolling through dozens of webpages.

I work as a private investigator for Casey Gerry, a personal injury and complex litigation law firm that has recovered over $25 billion for its clients. In any given year, I might work on 300 different investigations across a variety of areas.

Here are some specific examples of how I use ChatGPT in my investigations.

Example 1: I recently worked on a case where the incident took place in Sacramento. We get cases from all over the state and it can be a hassle because the law enforcement agencies and other investigating agencies are not in my hometown and not in areas I’m familiar with. I don’t have access to the same resources or the same relationships that I do down in San Diego. I don’t know the processes, the agencies, or the avenues to get the information I need.

Since I was not familiar with the law enforcement agencies and other investigating agencies in Sacramento, I was having a difficult time getting on the phone with someone to request the accident reports and other public information. I kept getting automated messages and I couldn’t get through to anybody. The reason I needed to talk to a person is the client didn’t have the report number. Without a report number, it can be a lot harder to send out a written request or follow the prompts on an automated message.

After getting the go-around for 30 minutes and only dealing with prompts and automated messages, I was frustrated and decided to try ChatGPT. In less than 2-minutes, ChatGPT was able to provide me with a direct phone number that got me in touch with a person that I could talk to. I was then able to ask more concrete questions. I was able to figure out what the fees were and track down the report number associated with the incident. All of this is important when we are starting a case because we need to do conflict checks and make sure the person who is at fault isn’t a former client of ours or a party in a separate matter. Time is currency, so to have access to an AI assistant was extremely pivotal. Think of it: 30 minutes versus two minutes using ChatGPT!

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Example 2:
ChatGPT can help investigators find information on how to submit public records requests and Freedom of Information Act requests. As long as you know how to provide ChatGPT complex instructions on what you need from what agency, the AI can help provide online information, emails, and addresses. Accident history reports are just one example.

How many accidents have happened at a particular intersection? When I need to get accident history on a particular intersection, ChatGPT can direct me to the city or government agency that I need to contact, in many cases giving me instructions or providing contact information—emails, phone numbers, etc. For a lot of newly licensed PIs or maybe an experienced PI that is in a new territory or a new area. ChatGPT can be a great resource to give you leads on where to go and who to contact. Remember to always fact-check any information provided by the AI model with other reputable sources.

For example, you can ask: “Where can I submit a request for an animal control report in San Diego, California?” Or ask it about where to verify professional license information, you name it. It’ll show you steps of where you can go, do it online, go to this link, mail the request, or call this number. The AI is smart enough to tell you what agencies you should consider contacting. The City of San Diego, local police department, highway patrol, also provide telephone numbers, addresses, fax numbers, and so on. If you are not getting the answers you are looking for, try asking better questions to find better answers.

Example 3: Our firm is constantly getting inquiries from potential clients about defective products and product recalls. We were recently investigating a case involving a particular brand of eye drops. When I asked ChatGPT if there were any recent recalls, the AI gave me instructions on how to find this information on the FDA’s website, where I was able to locate something recent. Instead of spending hours on Google and reading through hundreds of pages online and scouring the FDA website, ChatGPT told me exactly where to look and I located something recent regarding recalls about that particular product. It might’ve taken me an hour or two (sometimes six!), clicking on everything that comes up. But instead I was able to find specific information in a matter of minutes.

Product recalls were one of the first areas that came to mind when our firm had discussions about ChatGPT. We do a lot of work with class actions and mass torts, so this gives us a whole new avenue to do product recall research and class actions. When our clients are having an issue with a product or collaboration with AI, I am able to get leads from the AI on where to look for info on the FDA’s website. Whether I am looking at a generic string trimmer, a car, or a home appliance product, I can ask ChatGPT about a specific product and it’ll direct me to the appropriate agency I need to contact.

Example 4:
Our firm was recently evaluating a case where a landscaper was using a particular electric trimmer and sustained a serious eye injury. The potential client bought the equipment brand new and had it for over a year. A big component of using this equipment was wearing safety glasses. In addition to looking at the manual online, we also asked ChatGPT for best practices using this electric tool. The AI also concluded that the potential client should have been wearing protective glasses, providing reasons and examples.

We held a meeting to discuss the merits of the case and whether it was worth pursuing. Sometimes we bring in regular people and hold a focus group to help determine the viability of cases. It’s a big part of what we do. This time, we asked ChatGPT. The AI didn’t cite case law (we didn’t ask for case law), but it added one more voice in our analysis and ultimately helped us make a difficult decision about whether to take the case or decline it.

Example 5: I was working a case where our firm was suing a large corporation that owned a bunch of smaller entities. They face a lot of litigation so they have a complex corporate structure and that makes it hard because any potential plaintiff has to sort through a whole tree of different entities. As part of my investigation, I needed to identify all these different businesses and figure out what they do and where they are located. ChatGPT made it so much easier for me. In many cases, I was able to ask ChatGPT what type of business it was and the AI gave me a bio about the entity or gave me enough information (like what state) where I was able to go to the Secretary of State’s website, get the agent of service information, etc. for all of the entities.

Without ChatGPT, I’d be stuck with Google searching every single business, going through all the links that pop up, and so on—for every single business. Some prompts for these entity searches include asking: What is [Company Name], explain [Company Name], describe [Company Name]; as well as asking where the headquarters is for a given entity. If you have the city or state where the entity is located, use it, otherwise ChatGPT might be able to help you find it.

Ask the Right Questions
Just like when you are questioning a witness or speaking to a high-value source, the key to getting better answers from AI is to learn to ask better questions.

Great investigators know how to talk to a witness. They know how to ask a question, ask the question a different way, and keep asking the question in different ways to get a witness to open up. Sometimes the witness remembers more as time goes along, or asking a question in a certain way elicits a different response or leads you down the right path.

The same is true for ChatGPT. This tool can help you find answers fast—but it can take time to learn how to get the best responses.


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Here are some tips on how to get the best answers from ChatGPT.

Be Clear and Specific: The more specific and clear your question is, the better ChatGPT can understand your query and provide relevant information.

Ask One Question at a Time: Avoid asking multiple questions in one sentence or message. This can confuse AI and yield less accurate responses.

Provide Context: When asking a question, provide as much context as possible to help ChatGPT understand the topic and provide a more personalized response.

Be Patient: ChatGPT may take some time to generate a response, especially for complex questions. Be patient and wait for the AI model to provide a detailed and informative response.

Check Sources: While ChatGPT is designed to provide helpful and accurate information, it’s always a good idea to fact-check any information provided by AI with other reputable sources.

If you ask a vague question, you will get a vague answer. If you ask a detailed question, you’ll get a detailed answer. It takes practice. Anything you practice you get good at. You want to be very articulate and detail-oriented. Add the details that you need and structure your question in a way where you help the AI look for those specific details and key points. If you don’t get what you’re looking for, just like when interviewing a witness, sometimes asking the question in a different way can get you what you want. Treat the AI the same way.

AI Assistant
I see ChatGPT as having an assistant–an AI assistant. It’s an additional tool I have in my pocket. I use it on my cell phone when I am out in the field. I was out at an accident reconstruction investigation earlier this week and I started asking ChatGPT questions about reaction time. I was investigating a traffic collision, measuring tire marks, and trying to figure out how fast the defendant was traveling.

So I asked ChatGPT, “What is the perception reaction time the driver would have to be able to stop in time?” And it did all the math for me. It told me the exact distance the person would need to stop at a given speed, how many feet the person would need. This gave me an idea of how far away the driver was, and depending on the speed, how much time the defendant had to swerve out of the way. In this initial part of the investigation, I used ChatGPT to help me with the math and formulas, and I reversed engineered the information. We don’t have to do all that math alone anymore.

Basically, I now have an assistant who can give me a convenient and efficient way to access information and perform tasks. I’m convinced that as technology continues to advance, we will see more and more applications of ChatGPT and other AI-powered assistants in various aspects of our lives.

While ChatGPT can be incredibly useful and save you a lot of time, you will still need to verify the information it gives you. Just like you wouldn’t give a client a phone number or other information without verifying it first, you need to make your best effort to verify the information ChatGPT delivers to you. Sometimes that’s as simple as calling the phone number it gives you, and so on.

You shouldn’t solely rely on ChatGPT and never use it for legal advice! But instead use it as a compliment. Treat it like your assistant. Any good investigator can do reverse engineering on it as well. It helps get me thinking quicker on where I need to be looking and what agencies I need to reach out to. I can cross-reference the data as well. ChatGPT is not without its flaws, but it is an extra tool in the toolbox.

Complement, Not Replace
One question that I have been asked recently is: Should PIs be worried about AI replacing them or taking work from them? The answer is no! AI will never replace investigators because such a big part of what we do is being the eyes, ears, and feet of our clients. AI lives in a computer. A big part of what we do requires a person. Taking work away from us is a possibility, but only if we don’t learn how to use AI to keep the work. That’s why it’s important for us to get ahead of it. We shouldn’t fear it taking work away from us if we learn how to use AI to keep the work.

AI is going to be an asset—a foundational tool for investigators. If we learn how to use it, we’re going to be able to keep the work and serve our clients more efficiently too.

We are in a period of unprecedented technological growth. AI tools are growing and improving exponentially. And yet, I know it will take five to 10 years for most people to catch on to it and start using it in their everyday lives. Think about the adoption of Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, Outlook; or Adobe Acrobat and PDF technology. People held tight to their typewriters and there was even negative press about it. People said it was going to steal jobs.

What happened to the people who learned to use these tools before everyone jumped on the bandwagon? They had a decade head start and out-produced the ones who refused new technologies. Lawyers and consultants may be some of the first ones to adopt AI and find ways to work with it. Private investigators should join the race.

In the future, I think the use of AI tools will be super normal. People that do marketing, people that do real estate—we will see it across the professional spectrum. It is important for private investigators to get ahead of it now. If we don’t get ahead of it, someone else will.

I love to be on the cutting edge of technology and finding ways to deliver better results for my clients and leverage the tools available to me. One of my driving motivations is to improve myself, so I can help others improve. A rising tide lifts all boats. Feel free to reach out to me if I can be of service.

You can check out ChatGPT online here: https://chat.openai.com/chat.

About the Author
Jay Paulino is an in-house investigator at Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield, LLP. In 2022, the California Association of Licensed Investigators (CALI) awarded him Investigator of the Year. Paulino is a California state-licensed private investigator, certified professional investigator, and a remote pilot for small unmanned aircraft systems. He has over 15 years of experience handling investigations for law firms and insurance companies.

We’re always listening: Send your story submission/idea to the Editor: kendra@orep.org.

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