Episode 47 – I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

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Shadowy black and white figure standing in a room | New Direction Family Law

Ex-It Strategy
Podcast Episode 47


Elizabeth Stephenson, Sarah Hink, Ashley Oldham, Jen Bordeaux

Elizabeth: Hi, everyone, it’s Elizabeth Stephenson. 

Sarah: And Sarah Hink. And also, Ashley Oldham over there. 

Elizabeth: We have three legal minds here today. 

Sarah: Three attorneys, three partners from New Direction Family Law. We’re talking about an exciting but scary topic today. And it can be very scary. 

Elizabeth: Yeah, somebody following you, spying on you, looking at your emails, checking your phone. 

Sarah: In reference to maybe your spouse or your boyfriend when it comes to family law.  Or even sometimes, some people think that maybe the other woman or the other man is out there spying on them, too. 

Elizabeth: That’s right. Exactly. 

Sarah: I’ve had cases where there’s just all kinds of people out there watching and listening. 

Ashley: A stalker in a domestic violence case.  

Sarah: Yes for sure. So first of all, if you are married, why would someone spy on you? Why would your spouse spy on you? 

Elizabeth: Mainly because they might think you’re having an affair or seeing someone else. Which could be an element or an issue if you might be entitled to alimony. And if they can prove that you would not get alimony. 

Sarah: Yes. That’s a good reason to spy on someone if you’re the one doing the spying. 

Ashley: Yes. Or if you suspect they have a substance abuse problem. I’ve had a few cases with that, with spouses buying drugs and texting.    

Sarah: Yeah. And that’s typically a hidden habit. Anyhow, if it’s hidden, then you’re going to take action, right? When you find out, typically.

Elizabeth: Because somebody or you just asked that question the other day, about how you used to be able to go to Harris Teeter and get the little cards and you could subpoena and see what they’re buying. Can you do that anymore?

Sarah: I heard that they don’t do that anymore. They used to keep them. If you see someone spent $50 at Food Lion but you don’t know what they spent it on, you used to go and subpoena the VIP records, the very important person. And then you can see what they bought. You can see their actual register type, itemized purchases, and what qualified for the reduction, cost and all of that. So I haven’t done it in a while, so I don’t know if it still works. 

Ashley: I don’t know. But I always tell people you can do your own spying. We’ll talk about hiring people to do that, but look and take pictures of the trash, the recycler you, look at the refrigerator mark and models. All those sorts of things that we’re talking about. 

Sarah: Alcohol. 

Elizabeth: Yeah, for sure. 

Sarah: And we’ll have people come to you and say, “I think my spouse is spying on me.” How would they be spying on them? And what forms?

Elizabeth: Having someone follow you. And I’ve had a case like that. My client went out and knocked on the car window. “Hello. Can I help you? Are you with the city?” Seeing somebody parked across the street in a car two or three times makes you go, “why is that person out there?” 

Sarah: Yeah, who is that? And then, you know, audio recordings, video recordings from the houses, we got ring cameras, house cameras all the time. And now I’m running into a lot of issues where a spouse moves out and they think that they still have access to those security cameras on the house. And how do you prove that those cameras are still being accessed by the former spouse? So it’s complicated. It’s a lot above our heads as attorneys. And we have to go seek outside support. 

Elizabeth: Absolutely. And they can figure out if you have a password, maybe they’re a tech person. They can figure out how to go around some things, get in your emails, get in your phone, share a phone plan. They know exactly where you are and what you’re doing at all times. So that’s another way. 

Sarah: And on your car, people can put trackers on your vehicle. 

Elizabeth: Let’s talk about that. Can you do that? 

Sarah: It depends. It’s always, if you’re still living together in the same house and married, then that’s marital property and you’re still together then yeah, you can.

Elizabeth: Right. Let’s say you separate?

Sarah: No. That’s my understanding. 

Ashley: But if you get a PI… 

Sarah: They have a license and there are certain privileges to being a private investigator and things that they can do. I’ve had a DVPO filed and they got the protective order because the spouse, the separated spouse, they weren’t living together anymore, put a tracker on the car. And they found that to be harassment and there was a protective order issued.

Ashley: The other new thing is air tags.  

Elizabeth: Oh, yeah. Exactly. 

Sarah: You can literally just throw that in a book bag and stick it on something.

Elizabeth: People are getting smart though. I’ve had some people, especially with a kid, put it into their backpack. 

Sarah: Yes. 

Elizabeth: And the other parents have the kids and will look in their backpack and go, “what is that?”

Ashley: Yes. I had one client put one in the diaper bag. 

Sarah: Oh, the diaper bags, smart. 

Elizabeth: Even seen some sew it in the backpack and the other parent finds it. 

Sarah: But there’s some issues with that. 

Elizabeth: Tracking your own kid?

Sarah: So it depends on the context of everything, right? If you’re trying to get evidence because—

Elizabeth: But the kids, it’s so you can find out where they are and make sure they’re where they’re supposed to be. 

Sarah: But what if there’s also evidence that the spouse that’s air tagging and following the kid around, also has some issues with mom being single.  

Elizabeth: Oh, I agree with that. Yeah.

Sarah: As with all things being legal, it depends on these other issues going on in a case.

Elizabeth: It could be harassment.

Sarah: Yes for sure. 

Joe Woolworth: So we use AirTags in our house, my daughter has one and my wife has one on her keys and any time they leave their keys in my car and I leave, I get a notification from Apple that somebody is following me. 

Sarah: That’s what it says?

Elizabeth: Really?

Joe Woolworth: Yeah. And it tells me the name of the person’s AirTag, and it says their AirTag is with you. 

Sarah: Good. I guess they’re trying.

Joe Woolworth: They’re trying to make it so you can’t just drop one in your kid’s backpack. Now, if you gave your kid one as a gift, then it would be tied to their account and wouldn’t give them that warning sign. 

Sarah: What if your wife with her air tag is driving behind me?

Joe Woolworth: Yeah, well if somebody is following you down the Greenway and they follow you for long enough, it’ll be like, “Hey, this person’s air tag is following behind you.” 

Sarah: How does it tell me? 

Joe Woolworth: It tells you their name and—

Sarah: But what tells me?

Elizabeth: It’ll pop up on your phone.  

Joe Woolworth: Find Your Phone tells you. 

Sarah: Does it parachute down, like a letter? (laughing) 

Joe Woolworth: Yeah. (laughing) Apple will deliver a handwritten letter. 

Sarah: I’m like, how will I know, who’s going to tell me? The Airtag talks? 

Sarah: I don’t have experience with Airtags personally, obviously. 

Elizabeth: I don’t know how any of that. That’s why we have professionals do that sort of thing.

Sarah: We do. I’ve had plenty of people come to me and say, “I think that my house is bugged. I think that they’re listening. I think that they are hacking into my emails. 

Elizabeth: Right

Sarah: And it’s a slippery slope there because I’ve had cases where there’s mental health concerns with the people who are telling me these things. You really do have to ask some follow up questions, engage. Is this a realistic threat? Is this actually happening? And I think for a long time, we were biased to think that someone who thinks someone is following them all the time might be a little crazy. But obviously now it can happen so easily to you electronically with how things are being more sophisticated, 

Elizabeth: So if you suspect that’s happening, what are some things you can do? 

Sarah: Well talk to your attorney and that attorney should hopefully have some resources out there to take your computer and your device, your phone to a specialist that can scan it and look for any access from people outside your home, third-party access, that sort of thing.

Ashley: Yeah. That’s beyond my pay grade. We can have trained folks look at your computer, look at your phone, too to see if something’s happening.

Sarah: If you think there are trackers on your car, take it to a car place and they’ll put it up on the lift and look at it. 

Elizabeth: I tell a lot of folks to do that. 

Joe Woolworth: This is interesting. So, I was looking at the air tag notification I got. So my daughter has one in her backpack, and I went and picked her up from school. And it says this person’s air tag started following you at this time. They showed me where it went around town and drew a map. And then it let me play the sound from their air tag or disable it. 

Sarah: That’s creepy. 

Elizabeth: Oh, that’s creepy. 

Sarah: Watch out for these air tags. Apparently you’ll know if someone’s following you, maybe. 

Sarah: A lot of people think that someone has access to their email. A lot of times, I always tell my clients to change your email password, change your password to your bank accounts and what have you. 

Elizabeth: Right. Set up another email, get a burner phone, all sorts of things to go around that if you can do it.

Ashley: Check your iCloud sharing. 

Elizabeth: Yeah, absolutely. 

Sarah: You always forget about that pesky little iCloud family, iCloud sharing, and everything with all your pictures. But also, if you’re having an affair, your pictures might get uploaded to that ICloud. I’ve had cases where that happens. 

Elizabeth: Oops.

Ashley: Oops. I’ve had a case where the vibrator where you don’t have to be in the same place if you’re at a long distance that he bought for his girlfriend showed up on the ICloud. (All laughing) 

Sarah: Oh my gosh.

Elizabeth: Love that. So if you’re being followed, if you’re always got your head in your phone, or you’re sitting in a car, be aware of your surroundings. See and look around, and these are really good things. If you’re driving, slow down and notice if a car is behind you. If you’re walking, stop and suddenly turn around like you’re taking a selfie to see if somebody is back there to see if someone is following you.

Sarah: Yeah. Using your phone is really helpful, like pretending you’re on video or facetime or whatever. 

Elizabeth: Right.

Sarah: But as women, we all know that feeling of being out alone in a park. It could be bright daylight and you’re out walking your dog and there’s no one around and then suddenly a man, sorry, men, but any man behind you, fucking scares you. 

Ashely: I get scared. 

Sarah: And that’s just the world of being a female. But obviously, look into self-defense classes if you ever worried that there might be someone following you, harassing you. And talk to an attorney if you need to get a protective order, if there is someone out there. I just read in the news about this podcaster out in, I think it was Oregon, some mystery man from Texas drove up there and murdered her and her husband after stalking her for awhile. She took out a protective order on him. And we have to remember these protective orders while they’re helpful, they don’t build a fortress around you. 

Elizabeth: They’re just a piece of paper, basically. 

Sarah: Basically just a piece of paper. Then you have to get law enforcement involved and they don’t always respond very quickly or eloquently to threats of violence or harassment. And it’s important to take people seriously, so even if we get in our heads “okay, this person’s telling me that all this stuff is happening sounds a little crazy,” I take a second to believe them and look into it and see if this is actually happening. Because it might be. 

Elizabeth: Right. Let me ask this question, is it, I’ve never had this happen, but I don’t know if PIs can get no contact orders if it’s harassment, is it, if you’re following someone, is that a legitimate reason? If you’ve been hired to Follow that person? 

Sarah: I don’t know if you can get one against the private investigator, but maybe the person that’s hiring them if it’s excessive. 

Ashley: Yeah. I could certainly see how that could be abused. 

Elizabeth: Right. And then I had a case where there was a DVPO in place and sent a private detective out to sorta just survey and somebody drove up in the grass, didn’t go on the property, and that was considered a violation of the DVPO by sending out the PI. 

Sarah: I don’t know, I guess that was up to your judge. 

Elizabeth: I’ll give you some heads on who that might’ve been. (laughing)

Sarah: Yes. But in the world now that we live in, there’s a lot of ways to find people and attach yourself to them, like podcasts, and people putting themselves out there and TikTok. There are, I think, a lot more episodes of harassment and stalking because it’s so easy to find information out about people. And there’s also really helpful information on TikTok about what to do as someone who is a female and protecting yourself out there. And so check that out too. I listened to my favorite murder podcast and their slogan is “Stay sexy. Don’t get murdered.” So don’t. Stay sexy.

Elizabeth: I don’t even know how that goes together. (laughing) 

Sarah: It makes sense. (laughing) So just protect yourself, and if you think that something’s going on, that there might be someone following you, look into it. And be careful. 

Elizabeth: I think people have pretty good intuition. And it’s not just about finding someone if they’re sleeping with somebody, but it can also come in custody cases to see where mom’s taken the child, or are they going to bars and sitting there, all those sort of things. 

Sarah: Or if there is some obsessive personality where they just want to see and if they’re a controlling spouse during the marriage. There’s a likelihood they’re going to be controlling outside of the marriage, and they’re still going to want to know what you’re doing, what you’re up to, and they’ll try to put it off as a custody thing. But it’s not, it’s still going to this person obsessing over their ex. 

Elizabeth: I think this is some good advice So just check with your attorney about what you’re getting ready to do to make sure that it’s legal. If you’re going to follow some money, have somebody follow or put something on somebody’s car or put a camera in the house, check and make sure that’s legal.

Sarah: And there’s criminal statutes out there that you might be violating if you’re not careful. 

Elizabeth: Yeah, like getting into somebody’s email without having their password is a federal offense.

Sarah: Yes. Yes. And North Carolina is a one party consent state when it comes to recording so you have to—

Elizabeth: You might be recording someone in Texas where it may not be legal.

Sarah: Oh yeah. Yeah, you have to look into that, but at least in North Carolina, you have to be a party to that conversation if you’re going to be recording other people without their knowledge. 

Elizabeth: And if you record kids when they’re talking to the other parent.

Sarah: Yeah, like you physically can. 

Elizabeth: But what’s the case law when you’re doing that in question. 

Ashley: There is that one law and case, but I can’t remember the name of it, and it says if it’s in the best interest of the child, and you’re doing it to protect the child…

Sarah: It’s very vague. It depends on your judge. You might think in your brain, you might think that you’re protecting the child and you get in from the judge and the judge says, “No, ma’am. That’s not okay. 

Elizabeth: And you have to talk to your client too and get in their head and ask, “Why are you doing this?” Because our clients can have control issues, too.  

Sarah: Right. And I’ve had judges order that no one records the children. Because it goes on too much. And I can’t imagine as a child, a parent constantly sticking a phone in my face to record me, what that would feel like when you’re talking to the other parent. 

Elizabeth: It would feel terrible. 

Sarah: Yeah. So think about your children before you do that. Any other things we can think about?

Elizabeth: Um, it comes in handy because there are a lot of things that your client might not be able to testify to that a private investigator can: they can be tendered as an expert, they can enter a report, they can have photos and that sort of thing.

Sarah: Oh yeah. I had this case where we were trying to prove that the spouse was physically fit to work, because she was like, “Oh, I’m disabled. I can’t work.” She didn’t have any actual disability filings and didn’t collect disability. So we were like, “Okay. How disabled is she really?” We hired a private investigator and they recorded her out doing sports and running around, clearly physically able. So just like in a personal injury case where they say they can’t work anymore, or something like that, you can use them in that respect as well. So there’s healthy spying, and then there’s unhealthy spying. 

Joe Woolworth: What about ring cameras? You guys mentioned one-person consent. So let’s say you happen to catch your spouse doing something on the ring camera. And you know how you can scrub back and then record it. Like my kids do silly stuff every once in a while. And I pull it out and send it to them. But—

Sarah: Yeah. So it depends on if they know at that point, you have access to it. 

Ashley: But what can you record with the other person not knowing, can you audio record and not video record? Maybe I got it backwards. If you have video, you can’t have audio? 

Sarah: I do not. I do not know.

Ashley: That’s what, yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. That’s why when you see a PI video, you don’t hear any audio recording. But that goes back to your ring thing.

Sarah: If you both live there, and you both know that the other person has access to that—

Elizabeth: What if your boyfriend’s coming up there and he doesn’t know?

Sarah: My boyfriend’s coming over and he doesn’t know about my ring camera…I think now you have to have—

Ashley: You’re going to get caught. (laughing)

Sarah: So it’s like that reasonable expectation of privacy. I guess if someone asked to come over and they’re like, “Do you have a ring camera?” You got to tell them. (laughing) 

Elizabeth: I don’t think there’s any privacy anymore, our expectation of privacy.

Sarah: The police will come, and they will get your camera footage no matter if it’s relevant to what they’re investigating or not, like they can subpoena all that information. And these camera companies, Amazon, whatever, whatever camera device you have, they’re just going to hand it over, and it might not have anything to do with you. 

Elizabeth: So if you’re having an affair, don’t do it at your house.  

Sarah: And if you’re having an affair and your neighbor is like a drug dealer that might be investigated, you’re going to get caught. The police are gonna come after your cameras for the drug dealer and it’s caught by proxy.

Elizabeth: Good point. I never thought about that. 

Jen: Sounds like a Lifetime movie in the making.

(all laughing)

Sarah: I do a lot of weird thinking, clearly. 

Elizabeth: It does sound like a Lifetime movie.

Sarah: Yeah, I just read an article about some guy, and the problem was that this guy had the same cameras in his house, too. So when they came for the ring cameras, they came for all the cameras and they were like, “Why would you need my inside cameras when what you’re investigating has nothing to do with me?” And they still got it. 

Ashley: I hope he wasn’t having a girlfriend over.

Sarah: No, so that was not mentioned in the article. (laughing)

Elizabeth: So as we always say, check with your attorney before you do anything. 

Sarah: Yeah, so security cameras are good, but also be wary of all the things that can come with that. And you’re being watched. Ain’t that some shit. 

All: That’s some shit. 

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