What it’s really like to be a private investigator

Anna Jeffs (46) is the woman behind Fox Private Investigators.

I became a private investigator after I found out someone was cheating on me. It was quite traumatic. It dawned on me there would be a lot of other people in a similar situation – I had a legal background, so becoming a private investigator was really a natural progression.

In my case, I had concerns about his behaviour – there were extreme excuses, a lack of availability and sometimes I wouldn’t be able to see him. There were excuses relating to work or family drama and I never met all of his friends. They’re classic red flags, but until you’re in that situation, you’re often not immediately aware of them.

People will often doubt themselves – they’ll think maybe it’s not happening or that they’re wrong. But I was correct and most of my clients are as well. By the time they come to me, 99.9 per cent of the time, something is going on. People are clever at disguising things and women, particularly, tend to give people the benefit of doubt.

I trained as a lawyer in Wales and moved to New Zealand at the end of 1999. Initially, I worked in legal aid before joining the Auckland crown solicitors in 2006, where I was with the criminal jury trial administration team alongside police, prosecution lawyers and defence counsel too.

Services my company offers include surveillance, locating missing family members, bug sweeping and undercover employment work, plus we provide ongoing support for clients with self-esteem workshops and confidence building networks.

In a sense, technology has made it easier for people to have affairs, plus there are dating websites. As a result, we do a lot of infidelity surveillance.

Of course, the whole idea of surveillance is that the person doesn’t see us, so it’s really important that we are able to blend in to any environment. You don’t know where you might end up, so we have to be ready for anything at any time.

I don’t use wigs – we women can change our appearances quite easily and quickly. You might be watching somebody all day in a work environment who then goes to a restaurant at night. You’ll be wearing covert clothing in the daytime, and for the evening clipping on earrings and putting on lipstick.

Online scams are becoming more common and we work quite closely with police and forensic experts on those. People who get involved in those situations are often vulnerable, particularly when it comes to romance. I had a client recently who met someone online who’d said they had a house in Queenstown, three daughters and a successful company. None of that was true.

He was living with someone, not in Queenstown, had one daughter (not the three he’d provided photographs of), he lied about a death in the family and he didn’t own a company.

Internationally, I’m dealing with a woman in Scotland who was scammed by a female – originally from New Zealand – out of thousands of pounds.

My five-year-old niece thinks I’m a spy. The public image that we have is that it’s all very glamorous and full of mystery, intrigue and excitement. It is, but the other side is we’re in our vehicles on surveillance for 12 hours a day with no air conditioning and nothing happens – until a vehicle comes out of a driveway, and then it’s all on!

A lot of PI firms are named after people, but I couldn’t call it Jeffs Investigations otherwise people would assume I was a man named Jeff.

I became a fox hunt Saboteur in the UK when I was 18 as I felt strongly – and still do – that it’s a cruel activity. I wanted the name to reflect what I was passionate about – a sense of justice and fairness in all walks of life.

It’s a male-dominated industry and that could be to do with the amount of time required. It is 24/7, 365 days a year. You can have your day planned out and next minute you’re driving up to Whangarei, or you’re at home watching the final of MasterChef when your phone rings and you’ve got to get to the airport.

The hours are very unsocial. But I feel very privileged being able to help people.

I can think of a case recently where someone overseas was trying to locate a missing family member. I found her working here as a prostitute and on drugs, but we were able to successfully get her back to the UK to be with family. That was emotional and quite heart-wrenching.”

As told to Julie Jacobson

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