To Catch a Thief

 Letters from a Private Investigator V

Men stealing money


A few weeks ago we had a call one Sunday afternoon. The client was in Japan and asked if we could get to the airport in Jakarta to observe an arrival and follow him to his next destination.

The client had flight details and could send pictures. The flight was due in just a few hours.

At this point we had only limited details as to why the client wanted this particular target followed. The client just said he needed help in recovering some stolen property.

Airport Surveillance

Surveillance and hooking arriving targets at airports can be a challenge and needs more resources than usual surveillance. Indonesia Private Investigation Agency will generally use two agents on regular surveillance, but at an airport it needs some detailed planning and preparation with at least three private investigators (depending on the airport).

People leave airports by three methods generally:

  • Taxi
  • Public transport
  • Pick up

Basically at airports the private investigation team will need to consists of:

  • Two agents around the arrival gate to identify the target upon arrival;
  • An agent at each possible exit;
  • Backup support agents along the exit roads.

When a target is identified at an airport the aim of the agents at the arrival gate is to get a positive identification and follow the target until they either get into the public transport system, or the target gets into another vehicle (such as a taxi).

If the target does get into public transport then the agents that hooked them at the arrival gate should keep with them in the transport system. Normally Indonesia Private Investigation Agency prefers to use a man and a woman as the two agents carrying out surveillance at the arrival gate (one has a little luggage). We do this in case surveillance is needed into a public transport system – a man and woman blend inconspicuously on an airport train or bus especially if one has luggage with a flight tag on it.

If the target gets into a taxi or other vehicle (as in the case if they are picked up by someone) the first set of agents need to identify the vehicle details and try to establish which exit they appear to be moving towards.

As soon as they have these details the agent needs to radio the agent at the identified exit points with the details and the support agents.

Target Tracked

Jakarta airport is not overly complicated as far as airports go and our two agents at arrivals were able to identify the target. As the target joined the taxi queue we were also able to get a picture over to the client to confirm we had the right person.

The taxi details were then radioed to IPIA’s third and fourth agents at the exit point and on the road.

These two agents were able to follow the target onto his destination – a hotel.  IPIA has standard procedures for following on a road (we do this for foot surveillance also). The aim (where possible) is for the two agents to switch positions every five or ten minutes. So agent A follows the target and agent B follows agent A. Then they keep switching.

Spooking the Thief

Now we knew the hotel the target was in and had pictures, we has a conference call with client.

The client explained that the target had stolen over $1 million from his company.

For the next step the client wanted one of IPIA’s private investigators to get a letter to the target and then for us to watch. The letter was from the client’s lawyer. He wanted this done immediately before the target slept (within two hours of the target arriving – and keep in mind the target had already flown about 16 hours).

So our agent would not be seen we had someone put the letter under the target’s door when we knew they were inside. IPIA’s private investigators waited in the hotel lobby and outside with a motorbike at the ready.

Within thirty minutes of delivering the letter the target arrived in the lobby with his bags and checked out. He then went back to the airport.

Nothing much happened at the airport. The target was on his phone a lot and went to a few sales counters. Then after a couple of hours he got a taxi.

The Thief Disappears in the Night

It does not matter how well you do your job or how many agents you have, there is always the chance that you will lose a target. There are many reasons, but the trick is to have a back up plan.

The target was lost in the horrendous Jakarta evening traffic.

Good connections with different people is essential for a private investigator. Having worked on over 400 cases Indonesia Private Investigation Agency has developed a range of relationships with organizations such as police, immigration, child protection services, hotels and ………taxi companies.

For a small fee we can give the taxi company the taxi number of the taxi the target was in. They were able to contact the driver for us and find where he dropped our target.

The Second Catch

The thief (or alleged thief) had checked into a very expensive hotel on the outskirts of Jakarta. Our job now was only to observe and follow and, if he left, which we guessed he would, find his next destination.

People tend to think surveillance is exciting. There are times when it gives you a real buzz but often it is boring and very hard work.

Surveillance work is not all about the target being active.For a Private Investigator surveillance is generally 90% inactivity and 10% activity.  So, for every ten hours of surveillance, you will spend 9 hours doing nothing but watching and waiting. Watching what? Nothing much – a door, a car, a hotel lobby.

At least for this case we were indoors in a comfortable and very nice hotel. We could sit in the lobby cafe and see all exit points and the hotel desk.

The Thief Makes a Move

The next day, after staying in his room all night, the target appeared at the check out counter. As we predicted he made his way to the airport.

The client wanted to us to find out where he was going next, and asked us to follow him through to the check in point to see which flight he was taking.

There are two problems with this.

The first problem is the fact that in Indonesia to get access into the check in area you need a valid flight ticket. It is not an open complex. With our contacts this is quite an easy obstacle to overcome.

The second problem however is more difficult to solve whatever airport you are in . Even seeing the counter a target checks in at will not necessarily tell you where someone is going. If for example I fly from the UK to Indonesia my first flight could be from London to Amsterdam or to Dubai, so I check in at these counters and then from Amsterdam or Dubai I go through transit.

Again knowing the right people can make all the difference for a Private Investigation Agency – we were able to get the target’s complete flight itinerary. The target was flying to Singapore (so in Jakarta he would have checked in at the Singapore check in counter) and then onto a Japan airline flight to Japan.


The target left and the client had time to make any arrangements needed in Japan. We reckon the client played a clever move with the letter. The letter, delivered when the target was probably exhausted and frightened but thinking he had escaped, showed him that the client knew where he was and had him tracked. The letter gave the target an escape route – come back now and the consequences will be minimal compared to what they will be if you try and run (and if you do run we will catch you).

The target did meet with our client in Japan. We are not sure what happened to him but we do know the client got the $1 million back (probably minus a few flight costs and the luxurious hotel costs in Jakarta).

Disclaimer: this case history is true. However, we have changed a few details such as flight destinations for reasons of confidentiality. IPIA would also stress that whilst the target in this article is often described as “the thief” this is done purely for as a convenience for retelling this case. The target had not been convicted of the alleged crime when IPIA carried out this case.


About the Author

IPIA's Director of Investigations is an Indonesian national with a Diploma in PI work (with distinction) from the UK and an Australian Government accredited Certificate in Investigative Services. She has worked on over 400 cases for private and business clients.