They’re private eyes in the skies.
Investigators are taking drones to new heights — using the remote-controlled aircraft to catch New Yorkers cheating on spouses, lying about disabilities and endangering their kids.
“People want you to believe there’s all this negativity associated with drones . . . but they could be a very helpful tool,” said Olwyn Triggs, a gumshoe for 23 years and president of Professional Investigators Network Inc. in Glen Cove, LI.
Triggs recently used a drone to find an upstate man suspected of insurance fraud. Signs on his rural property warned that trespassers would be shot, so she sent in her 2-pound, foot-long Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter, which costs about $1,000.
“He was supposedly fully disabled,” she said. “We knew he was active but couldn’t prove it because of the layout of the property. I couldn’t risk being shot.”
So, as a drone hovered above, snapping images of the man chopping wood, Triggs manned the controls from behind a vehicle about 1,000 feet away.
“You need to think outside the box when someone’s acutely aware,” she said, adding the fraudster pretended to walk with a cane. “That’s when you’ll consider using a drone.”
Still, the legality of piloting drones is a gray area.
The Federal Aviation Administration deems it illegal to fly them for commercial use, including film and television.
But since a federal judge dismissed a $10,000 fine against a commercial drone user in March, many businesses are going ahead and flying them anyway.
“A lot of PIs bought drones [after the ruling],” Triggs said. “But before you use a drone, you’re calling everyone you know just to be sure.”
PIs are also using drones to catch cheating spouses.
Matthew Seifer recently pretended to test-fly a drone in Central Park. He was actually recording a husband fooling around with a female coworker from 100 feet away.
“Sometimes the best thing is to be right there in plain sight,” said Seifer, president of Long Island- based Executive Investigations.
“We had to get in and get out real quick,” he added. “We deployed a drone for eight minutes and got five minutes’ worth of video. That was the closure our client was looking for.”
Seifer operates several Phantom models, including the Phantom 2 Vision, and said drones are a “selling point” for clients.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com