We’ve heard the age old adage “ambulance chasing” or “ambulance chaser”. When you hear that term, more often than not, people associate it with lawyers. Seedy lawyers. Shady lawyers. In its simplest form, ambulance chasing is seeking new clients at a disaster site. Approaching people at their most vulnerable time for monetary gain is an age old practice for attorneys that some deem reprehensible behavior. In some states, it is illegal. Texas has some of the strictest ambulance chasing laws in the country, making it a 3rd degree felony and renders contracts between the client and attorney void.
The same negative term can be applied to private investigators. All one has to do is open any newspaper or flip open your laptop to the day’s headlines and you discover a treasure trove of potential clients. Some PI’s use current leadlines to find leads and secure cases. Many have heard of the famed “Ashley Madison” case that was splashed everywhere in print and on television. Ashley Madison is a Canadian online dating service/social networking service marketed to people who are married or in relationships. Their famous slogan was “Life is short. Have an affair”.
According to a Washington Post article, their site was hacked in July of 2015, leaving millions of its customers and their private information exposed. Within months of the hack, many of the site’s members started receiving emails from a start-up company called Trustify. Trustify sent the user a warning that the information could be exposed and offered a link to its $67 an hour investigator service, where the site lured people in offering to hide the exposed details. The company built a search tool where anyone could enter an email address to see if was linked to Ashley Madison. They had 500 searches per SECOND from curious spouses, children, colleagues, etc. The backlash came quick, labeling Trustify as digital ambulance chasers who profited off of the misery of people. Spammers and hackers rarely (if ever) use stolen information for good and now legitimate businesses, including PI’s, are in the same business of using information to secure new clients.
The case of Ashley Madison is an extreme one, one many would argue was unethical. Is looking for clients in the headlines or current events unethical? Is it ambulance chasing if you reach out to a person who has been wronged or accused and offer a free consultation? There is nothing wrong with offering your opinion, ideas and giving them knowledge about what their next steps may be. Most people don’t have life experience dealing with situations which may require a lawyer or a private investigator. PI’s can get right on any given situation, secure evidence, secure witnesses and missed crime scene evidence that sometimes even the police may miss.
As long as you adhere to your local and state laws, adhere to your ethical standards and you aren’t exploiting the situation for profit and victimizing your client, there should be no reason you cannot contact someone and offer your help. Or is there?