Sam Spade. Jim Rockford, Thomas Magnum, Dan Tanna, Mike Hammer. These and dozens of other names from the popular media conjure up a particular image of the private investigator (PI) – tough, smart, working on the mean streets on the edge of society where it seems to be raining all the time, and where danger lurks in the shadows around every corner.
While that makes for entertaining television or a gripping novel, the reality for most PIs is considerably more mundane. Rather than clandestine meetings in out-of-the-way nightclubs with ladies in red, or back alley conversations with underworld sources who turn up missing shortly thereafter, much of their time is spent in offices performing research on the Internet, making calls and checking facts.
Although a fair amount of field work is still involved – particularly when investigating the fidelity of significant others or interviewing witnesses on behalf of attorneys before a trial – it doesn’t quite have the same “film noir romance” most people might expect. It’s more like sitting in one place for hours on-end, waiting and observing, or having rather ordinary conversations with rather ordinary citizens.
What the job does share with the popular images from the media, however, is the need for immediacy and privacy of the information that is discovered. Whether it’s the telephone number for a long-lost relative, a background check on a new boyfriend/girlfriend, or a report on the credibility of a potential witness to an automobile accident, once the information is ready it needs to get into the hands of the person requesting it. And, given the confidential nature of that information, it needs to be transmitted as securely as possible. In the world of PIs, that means sending it by fax.
Aurora, Colorado-based Ruby Moon Investigations was founded in 2006 by lead investigator Tan Smyth after her move into the area. The company provides a variety of investigation-related services for individuals and other businesses, including locates (looking for people living their normal daily lives but whom others have lost track of), skips (people who don’t want to be found, often because they owe money to creditors), due diligence (businesses checking out other businesses before entering a partnership), boyfriend/girlfriend background checks, research and general investigation. The majority of the company’s work involves witness interviews on behalf of attorneys to assure that witnesses are credible and can be called upon if needed. The agency is a member of the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado.
When Tan Smyth first moved into the Aurora area she was looking for a career change and thought the private investigation field would suit her. At first, she was looking for secretarial work at an established agency. But the more she looked, the more she realized modern PIs tend to be one-person offices. What she also came to realize, however, was that she had the native ability to become a PI herself. So, after spending some time learning the business, Smyth started Ruby Moon Investigations.
One of the first lessons she learned was the importance of security for the final delivered information.
“We are dealing with peoples’ lives with many of the things we do,” Smyth says. “You don’t want to leave that to chance. It’s important for our own reputation, and sometimes for the safety of our clients, that the information be protected as much as possible from prying eyes.”
Smyth discovered that when documents cannot be hand-delivered, the industry’s preferred method of electronic transmission is faxing. Unlike email, which can be intercepted and read relatively easily, faxes are far more secure due to the technical mechanics behind them. By her own estimate, Smyth typically faxes 50 pages per month, although she expects that number to go up significantly after she launches a new marketing campaign.
The reliance on faxes, however, created a new concern for the start-up business: Smyth did not want to incur the expense of purchasing a fax machine (or a bulky all-in-one printer/fax/copier/scanner), nor the regular monthly cost of maintaining a fax line and keeping a machine supplied with paper and toner. She was also looking to differentiate her new agency with superior customer service, and as such didn’t want to make a client wait until she got back to the office before sending critical information.
Smyth was already familiar with the concept of an Internet fax service that allows users to send and receive faxes through an email account or secure online server anywhere they can get an Internet connection. She knew it was the answer; now the question was which service to choose? Using her hard-won investigation skills she began looking into various options. After asking some tough questions, a clear winner emerged.
It didn’t take long for Smyth to land on the MyFax Internet fax service.
“MyFax had the best reputation for quality and reliability among my fellow investigators,” Smyth says. “It also had the lowest price. That made the choice easy.”
So did the toll-free phone number Smyth was able to obtain. She feels that offering clients a toll-free instead of local number helped her present a more established, larger-than-life image during the critical launch phase. It was also more convenient for them when they needed to send information to her. That thinking has continued to serve her well as the business has grown.
From a technical standpoint, one of the main requirements Smyth had was the ability to send faxes as a PDF document. PDF is one of 178 file formats MyFax enables.
“When I send a document it needs to be in a format anyone can open, but no one can change,” she says. “A PDF works perfectly for me.”
The ability to send faxes directly to a client’s email account was another important consideration. While faxes are valued for their security, not every client has a fax machine, nor would they want faxes sent to a machine that sits in a common area. By faxing to an email account, Smyth leverages the enhanced security provided by the faxing mechanism (as well as the encryption MyFax itself provides) while assuring confidential delivery.
Often, Smyth finds herself sending the faxes directly from the field using a wireless Internet connection.
“Sending a report from the field makes my business look good,” she states. “The attorneys I work with can start planning their cases earlier when they know right away whether a witness’ story and background check out.”
The online access comes into play as well with MyFax’s ability to store sent and received faxes for up to one year. Smyth says if she’s on the road and someone needs her to resend a fax, or send it to another email address, she can do it without having to return to the office or find a fax machine. It’s a capability, she says,
the phone and cable companies don’t offer.
When asked about quantifiable results, Smyth immediately points out the cost savings for MyFax versus a fax machine. “Most fax lines I’ve run across cost roughly $25 per month to maintain,” she says. “MyFax costs just $10 per month. You do the math. In addition, I’m saving on the cost of paper and toner. For a small business like mine, every nickel saved is a nickel that goes against the bottom line.”
Ultimately, however, it comes back to speed of delivery and security.
“Many of the investigations we perform get into some very touchy and time-sensitive areas,” Smyth says. “Whether someone is looking for their long-lost cousin, trying to decide whether the new person he/she met last week is all he/she appears to be, determining whether a business partner is viable or checking up on a spouse, they need to know sooner rather than later – and they usually don’t want anyone else to know they’re doing it. MyFax helps us fulfill both of those requirements as well as our promise of discretion and confidentiality. It’s definitely an important tool in our business.