There are many misconceptions about his profession, says Mr Lawrence Koh, the managing director of SK Investigation Services.
In popular imagination, the life of a private investigator (PI) is filled with equal amounts of excitement and sleaze – going undercover, setting up honey traps, even breaking the law – all to crack a case.
The reality, Mr Koh insists, is not so thrilling. The bulk of his cases involve trailing suspected cheating spouses, says the 43-year-old. People from of all walks of life visit his Guillemard Road office to engage his services.
“Interestingly, I’m seeing more male clients turn to us. Ten years ago, we had more women coming to us to trail their spouses,” he says with a wry laugh.
“Our job is to the relieve the doubts of our clients.”
Mr Koh has been a private investigator since 1988. He fell into the job, he says, after completing his full-time national service that year.
In 2004, he set up his own company and now employs 12 PIs – both men and women – to handle a variety of cases.
But this consultation does not come cheap, he says. Clients can expect to pay up to $5,000 for a week’s work on a cheating spouse case.
Mr Koh says that over the years, he has tailed people everywhere from the swankiest clubs to budget hotels in the red light district of Geylang.
If some people might wince at the thought of spending hours lurking among unsavoury characters in the dead of night, Mr Koh claims he is unfazed. It’s all part of the job.
During these stakeouts, he and his team of PIs employ the latest gadgets – anything from state-ofthe- art DSLR cameras to tiny spycams hidden inside key chains – to photograph his subjects.
But one thing this private investigator won’t do is break the law.
Mr Koh says he has been approached by wives and husbands hoping the agency would bait their partners with attractive “honey trappers”, but he declined such jobs.
He recounts how he was once approached by a man demanding that the PI plant a GPS device in his wife’s car to track her movements.
Mr Koh refused to do it because the man was not the owner of the vehicle.
But unreasonable requests from clients are part of the job. “I am running a business after all, so I will do my best to make the client happy ,” he says.
“Sometimes clients expect us to be like Superman and do anything just because they paid us cash.
“Once I had a woman scolding us for not beating a traffic light while we were tailing her husband. That kind of risk we will not take.”
Despite the difficulties, Mr Koh still loves his job.
“Working in a job where you see so many cases of infidelity, it’s not hard to get jaded,” he says.
“But I tell my employees to approach each job as if your own family members are involved. If they are that involved, I believe they can do a better job.”
Mr Koh has another rule for his PIs.
“I always tell them to mind their surroundings,” he says. This is something he learnt the hard way when he was still a rookie PI.
In 1993,Mr Koh was trailing a Malay man suspected of cheating on his wife.
“I eventually caught up with him at the Malay cemetery in Jalan Bahar and, being the only Chinese guy there, I was spotted immediately,”he recalls.
That taught him a lesson: Never get spotted.
These days, Mr Koh rarely goes for stakeouts in Singapore, though he occasionally travels to China to trail philandering husbands who have their trysts overseas.
But he says the jobs abroad are not any more glamourous. “The location may have changed, but the work is the same. I still spend hours staking out hotels when I am overseas.”
Does his family worry for his safety when he is on the job far away from home.
“Of course they do and the truth is it’s also hard for me to leave my family behind,” says the father of a seven-year-old boy.
“But luckily they are understanding. This is my job after all.”
SECRETS OF THE TRADE
1 Always mind your surroundings. Private investigators must know how to blend into any situation during the course of the job.
2 Think on your feet and never stick to routine, especially when surveilling a subject. The case is lost if you are exposed.
3 Discipline and commitment to the job is essential. The hours are irregular and a surveillance job can go on for hours, even days. Being able to focus on the task at hand is important.
This article was first published in The New Paper.