Have you ever wondered whether someone is following you?
Whether someone is secretly watching you work?
Yes, there probably is.
There are two types of corporate spies: your competitors that spy on you, and “unfriendlies” that spy on your clients. As a business owner, you must guard against both types from violating your security protocol.
Knowing your rights, as well as the spy’s, and following a number of simple procedures will help turn the tables on at least one type of spy, your competitor.
Confirm your worst nightmares. If you fear someone is watching or following the companies that dispose of your documents, confirm your suspicions. Before you start though, remember this: surreptitious activities rely on deception and subterfuge, and neither is necessarily illegal. First, find out why someone is watching you, and then who he or she is. However, be prepared, because the news could be shocking. Your “stalker” is often not who you’d likely first suspect.
With shredding now in the headlines, you might be dealing with a reporter.
Often, it’s an existing client’s corporate security department performing a routine audit.
In addition, and unbelievably, tails can be a good thing; prospects routinely follow prospective shredding contractors just to verify your service claims.
Your “tail” might be either a professional investigator, or more likely, a rank amateur.
Moreover, it might not even be the competitor you suspect who’s gathering intelligence about your company, but someone who wants you to think it is? Remember: subterfuge is part of the game.
Use law enforcement to confirm whom you are dealing with. Police officers are usually required to investigate and report who the parties are, or minimally, who they are not. Advise your drivers to be alert to unusual contacts, but to take no action unless their safety and security are threatened. Finally, never make any wild accusations, even when they are true.
Seek professional advice. Immediately inform your attorney of the facts and request counsel. There is a difference between illegal stalking/intimidation and authentic market research. Simply following your trucks around is not a crime. In fact, tailing a competitor constitutes legitimate intelligence gathering. Know the difference.
For example, overly aggressive surveillance can easily lead to something called “tortious interference,” especially when contracts are involved. Report every legitimate infraction to the authorities – no matter how minor. The accumulation of official complaints (tailgating, speeding, endangerment, obscene gestures, statutory noise violations, illegal parking, staring, obstruction, harassment, defamation, misrepresentation, any impediment, or action creating a hazard etc.) elevates the seriousness of penalties eventually imposed against violators.
Your attorney will know what to do. Generally, a series of “knock-it-off” letters whose theme becomes increasingly hostile will do the trick, that is, motivate the spying party to obey the law. In rare cases (usually involving amateurs), misdemeanor, and even felony complaints are actionable.
Disappear. Park your trucks elsewhere for a while – a secure diesel shop, for example, or your recycler. Even spot your trucks in customer parking lots, or anywhere else it makes sense. Spies sleep. They get up and go to work. You just don’t need to tell them where to go!
Also, occasionally rent unmarked box trucks and perform container swaps instead of shredding onsite. Take your client to the shred truck and make sure he knows why – point out the spy parked across the street. Show your client the police reports and the stack of letters from your attorney. Make sure the spy knows he’s the topic of discussion.
Remember: intimidation is a two-way street.
Disorient them. Change your schedule. Start an hour early. Schedule on Saturdays, or evenings. Lure the spy to follow you to one-time, daylong death-by-boredom purges. Alternatively, take them for a long drive out into the country.
In addition, there’s this wonderful tactic. Rent a storage unit in a public storage park, but make sure it has two exits. Gated communities and apartment complexes work, too. Enter at one end and depart from the other. The spy can’t follow you in. At the end of the workday, return and leave from where you entered.
In addition, speaking of intimidation, hire an off-duty police officer to ride (in uniform) with you for a day. Disrupting the spy’s presumption of predictability and vulnerability is critical to maintaining your security protocol.
Embarrass them. In some cases, you may want to inform your customer’s corporate security department of the surveillance activity, which will literally destroy the spy’s chances of ever entering the account again as a vendor if he is a competitor shredder.
Also, consider using a public relations firm to help the spying outfit shoot their foot completely off. The power of the media can be amazing. The glare of their cameras is like sunlight to Dracula.
Get proof. With your attorney’s approval, video their activities. DO NOT RECORD SOUND. Also, ask your clients to come to your defense. Just remember, most people detest spies and will agree to support allegations of any wrongdoing by the boys in the black sedans.
Examine public records for past problems. Look for patterns of behavior that suggest restraint of trade or collusion with others. It’s not as unusual as you might think.
Remember, improperly interfering with someone’s ability to earn a living can be a Federal crime. Moreover, the corporate veil does not protect employees and officers from prosecution. The law holds them personally liable for actual and punitive damages.
Play hide ‘n’ seek. Change truck routes. Backtrack. Alter service frequencies and practices. For example, if servicing downtown, park your truck and depart on foot, cutting through buildings and alleys. After a while, when the coast is clear, have another driver dropped-off and move the shred truck to a different location. Rendezvous with the chauffeur and wave good-bye to your tail.
When you purchase a new truck, resist putting signage on it right away. Trucks are more difficult to tail than you’d think, and one without signage can seemingly evaporate on even a busy city street.
Turn the tables. Be seen! Magically appear at one of the spy’s witnessed shred jobs with a superior piece of equipment and stage a shred job. Bring material to the site and shred within plain view. The more-intelligent competitor will soon give his spying endeavors a second thought.
Become constructively paranoid. Avoid traveling on elevators with strangers, (especially first floor elevators) if possible, and exit on multiple random floors before arriving at your customer’s office.
Keep your shred bins locked at all times, even when they are empty.
Be wary of unusual or inappropriate questions. Usually they are innocent in nature, but not always. Every bribe offer begins with an innocent probe.
Restrict access to your plant and offices. A favorite tactic of spies is to get their picture taken inside a competitor’s supposedly secure plant.
For promotions, never sponsor a giveaway of clothing or gear bearing your company logo, especially caps and shirts. You are potentially outfitting an impersonator.
Wild goose chases, a\k\a\ Trojan Marketing. Perform “blank service” in public buildings where shredding service is unlikely. In other words, create a phony route (one where you have no customers) for the spy to watch. Have your security operator enter multiple buildings multiple times and then return to his or her truck with empty bins and simply shred air.
Disinformation keeps the spy off balance and busy checking-up on worthless leads. It can dramatically alter their marketing and sales efforts. You should have in your possession at all times a database of fictional customers. Conveniently lose it. Your spy will quickly discover it’s phony, but will begin to question the validity of his other intelligence gathering.
Trojan marketers cleverly use disinformation to convolute and disguise their pricing and marketing strategy. Many believe that 2001’s plague of security viruses, like the Sircam virus that released millions of sensitive documents onto the Internet, was ingeniously exploited by sophisticated Trojan Marketers to disseminate false information to their competitors.
Counterattack. If the spy is a competitor, hire a professional private investigator and perform counterespionage. When an angry competitor wastes his time watching you, and usually by employing amateurs, he is not watching the ball where and when it really counts – the customers he still has.
Contractors compelled to spy are unusually vulnerable to counterattack for substandard service. Take advantage of his aggression; it’s a sign of weakness somewhere in his business model. Find the flaw and exploit it.
Lead your spy to your investigator as a prospect. He will find out what they are saying about you. Truth or fiction? What are they offering? Moreover, in the end, your counterspy will plant defective information about your company.
Remember, though it’s considered by some distasteful, and is often infuriating, spying is legal.
The law tolerates, in fact encourages corporate espionage. Why? As always in these contrarians paradoxes, it’s the big picture – the economy, the capitalistic system.
Legal intelligence gathering accelerates the proliferation of superior technology and competition throughout the market, therefore ensuring greater efficiency and economic expansion.
Market advantages cannot, and will not, survive in a vacuum. All advantages eventually disseminate, and the more rapidly they diffuse, the stronger the economy. This is the cycle:
- Prosperity produces spying.
- Spying produces imitation.
- Imitation produces adaptation.
- Adaptation produces survival.
- Survival produces prosperity.
- Prosperity produces (you guessed it!) spying.
And, so it goes.