Real Talk w/CJ: Photofax

Real Talk with CJ

Tue, Sept 17, 2013
2-3 P.M.
CJ Courtroom

John Todaro is the head recruiter for PhotoFax Inc., a nationally recognized leader in surveillance, compliance, and investigative services for the insurance industry.

John Todaro speaks to a student on the SHSU CJ Career Fair.
To detect fraud in the insurance industry, private investigators from PhotoFax work in some unusual places – in a van, at the grocery story, at the gym, at the bowling alley, in the woods – or even in the middle of a haystack.

For John Todaro, one of his biggest coupes was talking his way into the press box of a high school football game to capture a news cameraman – who claimed his injuries prevented him from doing his job – filming his local team.

PhotoFax, Inc. is a nationwide company that specializes in surveillance work in the insurance industry, mostly to document claimants in workman’s compensation, liability, or long term disability cases. The company includes about 125 investigators across the country who videotape the daily activities of people suspected of fraud in insurance cases. The company also occasionally handles background investigations, special investigations for accidents, or people traces, such as finding missing heirs in a will.

Workers on a construction site.“We film people wherever they are going throughout the day,” said Todaro, a recruiter at PhotoFax, which is based in the Chicago area. “We are an unbiased third party. We are out there to show their day-to-day activities and what they are doing on a daily basis.”

Todaro, who served as an investigator for three years before promoting to management, said he has filmed or managed some flagrant fraud, such as a woman who claimed total disability and received a wheelchair, wheelchair accessible van, and ramps and other modifications to her home who was caught strolling to her mailbox and neighbor’s home. There was also a transportation worker claiming total disability who traveled to another city to go to law school.

“Not only did we prevent him from getting fake benefits, we also prevented a dirty lawyer from getting his license,” Todaro said.

Various imaages of a button cameraThe company provides a 17-day training in the tricks of the trade, taught by an ex-Army drill sergeant who specialized in clandestine operations. Among the lessons learned are how to follow someone undetected; how to take good video; how to write reports; how to testify in court; how to ‘read’ a neighborhood and what to look for; and how to interview people to get information. Investigators are required to bring three changes of clothes to the job – attire to fit every occasion.

While the company provides each investigator with a camera and minivan – equipped with tinted windows, curtains and audio/visual equipment – they also have access to pinhole cameras, which can be attached to a bag, a button, a CD case, a cigarette pack or an MP3 player. In addition, smart phones have come in handy to capture claimants. “It looks like you’re texting, but you can be filming,” he said.

A minivan equipped for surveillance work.While investigators are educated on the skills of the job, they also learn the laws of surveillance, such as those against trespassing on private property or taking photos inside homes. The skills learned at Photofax are the same needed in many law enforcement careers, and several Sam Houston State University students have used the company as a springboard to federal careers.

“It is a nice buffer or stepping stone to get you to a federal agency or police officer job,” said Todaro.

For years, Todaro has participated in the Criminal Justice Career Fair held in the Spring at Sam Houston State University. Todaro said he has hired the College’s interns and graduates because SHSU students are interested in careers in law enforcement and are “very smart and educated in criminal justice.”

A photographer hiding in a haystackTodaro said the characteristics he looks for in candidates are honesty, competitiveness and flexibility, able to work at all hours of the day or night in pursuit of the truth.

“This is not a job, it’s a lifestyle,” said Todaro. “We put a lot of responsibility on our employees and we want someone who is competitive in nature. If someone is trying to beat the system, we want someone who wants to beat the person that is trying to beat the system.”

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