S’porean private investigator reveals industry workings & more cases he’s handled
It takes a lot of patience actually.
James Loh, who is in his 40s, has been a private investigator (PI) for almost 17 years.
Some of the cases he’s worked on would make a good book, he’s been told:
Loh’s first company came about 12 years ago, after he met the requirements for starting his own firm.
About seven years later in 2014, Loh founded International Investigators, where he is currently the managing director.
A male-dominated industry?
At International Investigators, Loh has eight PIs working with him.
When questioned if it’s a male-dominated industry, the answer is not so straightforward — while there are definitely more males working as PIs, female PIs actually have an easier time going undercover.
Loh explains that this is because females are generally perceived to be relatively harmless and non-threatening, and thus have an easier time snooping around and making requests with service staff and such.
Out of the eight PIs at International Investigators, three of them are female — not a terribly unbalanced ratio.
“No results guaranteed”
Loh gets about 10 to 20 cases a month.
He does not accept every case that comes his way, though.
He used to do that when he just started out, he admits. As the years go by, the PI has learnt to be more discerning.
Now, Loh knows how to spots the signs for the cases to avoid: Clients who are unreasonable, have high demands, and even those with signs of paranoia.
“They want guaranteed result lah, the way they talk, potential troublemaker. At least now I can more or less filter out those unpleasant kind lah, so called.”
Some even think that random people in the coffee shop are talking about them, the PI says quite matter-of-factly.
Apparently, even dog owners involved in the Platinum Dogs Club saga have previously approached him in a group, asking Loh for assistance in tracking down the owner of the animal boarding house.
However, when I brought up a few names involved (more details on the saga had come to light by then), the PI shakes his head and indicates that he is not familiar with them.
It is likely that he did not take up the case, although he did not explicitly confirm this fact.
Regardless of the case, Loh makes sure to tell his clients: “No results guaranteed.”
This mantra is one he often repeats throughout our meeting.
A typical day for a PI
As manpower has to be deployed at least one day in advance, clients are served on a first-come-first-serve basis.
If all eight PIs are engaged on a requested date, the client will have to delay the investigation.
On the other hand, a typical day for a PI, ironically, is that there is no typical day.
According to Loh, there are no fixed hours, and it depends on what the individual PI is handling on that day.
Yet there is a pattern that correlates the type of cases and the day of the investigation.
For matrimonial affairs, investigation will usually take place on the weekends.
For corporate cases, however, investigations generally happen on weekdays.
One thing though: The PIs rarely return to the office, unless for the purpose of submitting a report.
As it is, there was no one else around on the day of my visit.
Occasionally, they will have to turn up in court to submit evidence, or even testify.
On the ground
Contrary to popular belief, not all is manageable on the job.
One needs more than stalking skills — stake-outs and surveillance, for example, require huge amounts of patience.
To illustrate this, Loh shares an example of staking out in a hotel.
If the breakfast buffet starts at 6.30am, Loh will have to be there on the dot and sit through the entire session, which may end at 10 or 11am.
This is to make sure that he witnesses his targets dining together, and perhaps gather photographic evidence.
Sometimes, his targets may even miss breakfast entirely, and Loh will have to leave the restaurant empty-handed.
“That is a solo operation lah. It will be a luxury if we have at least two PI,” he explains.
International network of PIs
Additionally, there are also potential run-ins with the law.
For instance, during his mission in Holland (the one he quoted S$35,000 for three nights on the case, in case you didn’t read the first part of our interview), the immigration officers were immediately suspicious of him.
One can see why: It was in the middle of winter, Loh was going all the way there for just three nights, and he had no family there.
When pressed by the officers, Loh simply retorts that he enjoys the destination.
The PI does not reveal his identity, unless as a last resort.
Interestingly, Loh also has overseas counterparts that he can call on for help in such cases.
This is because his company is part of something called the Council of International Investigators (CII) from the US and World Association of Professional Investigators (WAPI) from the UK.
“This association screen every member already. Make sure if of some standard then can be a member of their association. Even I source contact for foreign PI ah, I source from here.”
One can also think of it as an international network of PIs who are allies with one another.
If you thought the cases mentioned in the previously article were ludicrous, well, Loh has more of those.
Just slightly over a year ago in 2017, the firm handled a case where a coffee shop cleaner was cheating on his partner with a beer aunty.
He was caught red-handed at the void deck of a HDB in the wee hours of the morning.
“They did below the void deck ah,” Loh tells me.
“So they like, have sex at the void deck?” I asked.
Loh confirms that I did not misinterpret.
The PI even offered to showed me the video footage that they had captured, although he added the disclaimer that it was rather dark and unclear.
After briefly considering the offer, I declined (note that Loh covers the faces of the targets in the photos he shows me).
Although matrimonial cases are more common, Loh also has quite a number of corporate cases.
In one of the corporate cases Loh has handled before, a man had approached the PI in order to gather some information about his brother-turned-business-rival.
The duo was apparently in the same business doing imports and exports of electrical devices for the South African market, where they would get their goods from Shenzhen and re-export them to Africa.
Unfortunately, the brothers eventually split up due to unspecified differences.
However, one of siblings had allegedly copied the original packaging and tried to pass it off as the same thing, which courted a law suit from his brother.
However, one day before the plaintiff (also Loh’s client) was due for the final hearing in court, he suffered a fatal car crash in Malaysia and passed away.
“Before I think the final trial leh, his Porsche crashed in JB. We don’t know if someone did something to his car. Malaysia, nobody cares one. They said the weather everything very good. The ground is dry,” Loh said.
At the end of the interview, Loh shows me the number of interviews and mentions that he’s gotten from various media and organisations before showing me out the door.
Part I here.
Top image by Mandy How