Let’s set the scene: You hire a private investigator to do some research on a competitor, maybe another company, and possibly another party. Then they come up with information; all good, right? Well, maybe not. Here’s a case where a large corporation, Impossible Foods, hired a private investigator to look into the activities of a competitor to ensure that their actions are legal. However, they were accused of misusing the private investigator in a patent fight with the competitor.
So, you might be thinking, “What’s the problem here?” They conducted an investigation with a licensed private investigator, and that investigator obtained information. Well, even at first glance, it doesn’t seem that bad. The competitor, Motif Food Works, claims that the investigators pretended to be potential partners and did not identify themselves as private investigators.
Now, some may imagine investigators can assume different identities. Perhaps they pretend to be a delivery person, knocking on the door to peek inside and gather information. Or maybe they act as customers, expressing interest in making a purchase. In this case, they attempted to gather information through deceptive means and fake identities. However, their actions have landed them in a courtroom battle. They are being sued for allegedly hiring private investigators who adopted fake identities to illicitly obtain information about Motif Food Works’ products during a patent dispute. This practice is commonly referred to as pretexting.
Pretexting might appear to be a routine practice for investigators, but strict federal laws govern its usage. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act specifically prohibits the use of pretexting to access private information that is otherwise considered secure. In this particular case, the plaintiff, Motif, informed the court that they were approached by individuals who claimed to be affiliated with a fast food supplier and a meal kit service, expressing interest in their product. Remarkably, these fraudulent buyers even went so far as to create a website that purportedly represented a legitimate meal kit product, aiming to establish themselves as a genuine potential customer.
It is crucial to remember that merely hiring a private investigator does not grant immunity against claims from the subject of the investigation. In the case of Impossible Foods versus Motif Food Works, the liability may extend not only to the investigator but also to the client. There are instances where the investigator’s actions may align with the law, but it is the client’s use of the obtained information that can pose legal problems.
Therefore, if you are considering the services of a private investigator, it is essential to be well-informed as a client and seek sound legal advice regarding the proper utilization of that information. Even if the information was obtained lawfully, its utilization for certain purposes may not be legal, ethical, or permissible, potentially exposing the company or individual to liabilities concerning the plaintiff or defendant involved in the case.