A cop questions your "suspicious behavior: filling out reports in your car...

Pseudo Scenario: If you were sitting in your car, filling out paperwork, and a police officer pulled up next to you, saying your car looks suspicious, just sitting there and started asking you questions:tongue sticking out smiley.........

Cop: "What are you doing?"

Me: "Filling out assignments."

Cop: "What assignments? Let me see your paperwork."

Me: "Sorry, I can't do that."

Cop: "You are not cooperating in this investigation I am conducting, and you are going to jail, if you don't let me see what you are doing there."

Me: "Sorry, I can't show you my paperwork. I am a mystery shopper and I can't discuss the specifics of these assignments."

Cop: "Place your hands behind your back. You are going to jail."

Me: 'You need to shoot me first. I am not going to jail, for a mystery shopping company smilingsmiling smiley"

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How would you handle being questioned if it ever came to that, by either law enforcement or officials regarding your mystery shopping?

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I have been questioned before.

I had six mall location assignments at the same time, and texted myself cryptic shorthand notes in between. When I left the mall, I pulled into a gas station/convenience store parking lot to fill out more thorough notes, while my shorthand texts still jogged fuller, more detailed memories. Anyway, a cop came up and tapped my window, and asked if I was having car/phone trouble, as he'd been parked there as well and noticed that I'd pulled in, parked, and been there for about fifteen minutes without getting out. I told him no, I'd just finished a client evaluation (true) and was filling out notes while things were fresh in my mind. (Also true), and that I planned on grabbing a coffee inside when I was done. (Again, true) He noted my contractor's clipboard, and actually complimented me on doing this in a well-lit parking lot.

I later learned (months later) that this gas station was somewhat notorious as a drug-dealing parking lot... "Customers" would pull up and meet with their drug dealers in the bathroom or in the parking lot.

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Plan the work. Work the plan.
First, I think your scenario is a bit far-fetched, but for the sake of argument, here's my take on it, based on years of experience with law enforcement and emergency management personnel.

1-Avoid a confrontational approach, which the scenario, as you stated it, is full of.

2-I always have a copy of the email and/or assignment guidelines available so if there is a question, I have something to show that gives a degree of legitimacy to what I'm doing.

3-Cooperate as much as possible with the police. 95% plus aren't looking for a confrontation. If they're asking you questions it's quite likely because someone called and they are checking out the call. Right or wrong, the police have the power of the law behind them. If I were to be involved in such an encounter, I would be as cooperative as possible, even to the point of possibly violating my ICA and showing them the documents. I strongly suspect that no MSC is going to fault you for showing the documents to a law enforcement officer to keep from going to jail...although it would be interesting to hear what schedulers and MSC owners would have to say about this.

4-It all boils down to discretion. I rarely fill out reports in my car. If I'm doing a bank route [or any route where I can use my cheat sheet], I've got a cheat sheet that I can fill out in 15-20 seconds at a stop light and my DVR has a recording of any notes I may need to add to the reports. If I've assembled 5-7 shops, and I'm ahead of schedule, I'll pull into a fast food place and eat in, working on my reports while I eat.

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Have PV-500 & willing to travel.
"Answers are easy. It's asking the right questions which is hard." (The Fourth Doctor, The Face of Evil, 1977)

"Somedays you're the pigeon, somedays you're the statue.” J. Andrew Taylor

"I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him." Galileo Galilei
I don't understand why you would need to provide all of this information to an officer if you were approached. People stop all of the time and sit in their cars. How about just saying you stopped to talk or text with someone rather than drive and do it? Where are you stopping to do reports where it is so unusual to stop and sit in your car? How about I am early for an appointment and thought I would get some work done while I was waiting. I don't think it is abnormal at all and unless you are stopping where there is known illegal activity happening I don't think you would need to provide detailed information why you are there. If a police officer wanted details about my paperwork or what I am doing on my phone or iPad I would ask if he thought the area was unsafe for me to be stopped in and thank him for informing me it was and ask him to suggest a safer spot.

Last time I checked we still don't live in a police state - your scenario is over the top.

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"We are all worms. But I believe that I am a glow-worm."

- Winston Churchill

β€œDon't tell me the sky's the limit when there are footprints on the moon.”

- Paul Brandt
I have parked along the side of the road to fill out paperwork or read paperwork between shops... Many times State Police or local police have pulled up next to me to see if everything is okay....

More problematic is the use of debit cards.....


Me: Why isn't my card working?

Bank: You have suspicious activity on your account.

Me: What is the suspicious activity?

Bank: There are six purchases on your debit card within a short span of time Friday evening. Three are small purchases of gas, which are less than $5, and also three purchases inside the store location. These gas stations are all located on Main Street, USA..... The computer flagged your account with suspicious activity.

Me: No... That's not suspicious activity for me. I made all those purchases. There was a reason for stopping at the different locations on the same street. I just need to know that my card won't be suspended for making small purchases at gas stations. Free feel to suspend my account when the purchases are large purchases. Can you put a note on my account not to suspend the account without calling me?
Ms. Baker, I had the same problem using my bank's debit card. Now I use a free, no-fee prepaid debit card (American Express Bluebird) for gas routes. You can set your security settings as lax as you'd like.

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Plan the work. Work the plan.
Just tell him it's top secret and if you tell him
it could put his life in danger.

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There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots
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When you try to please everybody, you end up pleasing nobody
When I first purchased my now old car the maual said I should use a minimum of 89 octane. The stations mostly sell either 87 or 91. A friend told me he pulls up and puts a half tank of each in his car every time so it mixes to 89. I went and tried once with my 11 gallon gas tank. When I got home I got a call from my credit card company about suspicious activity. Rather than being annoyed I was pleased they were watching and making sure my card was not stolen.
I agree with those above who advise to be courteous to police. And I would never put my life on the line for a mystery shop company....I have seen how suspicious police act and would never test them to see how far they would go for the sake of a $10 job.
I was in the courthouse the other day, where I do background checks, when a deputy who knows me approached me, smiling, and said, "I have a question. . . . I saw you the other day in Walmart taking pictures. I was just wondering." I laughed and told her I am a merchandiser. I don't know if she knows exactly what a merchandiser is but she was satisfied with the answer.

A few years ago, I decided to go to a card shop to get a card for my husband's birthday. When I walked in with the children, they noticed that the shop was burning a scented candle. One of them gets migraines from things like that. I told them that they could sit outside the shop where I could see them through the picture window. As I was paying for the card, I noticed a policeman talking to them. He wanted to know why they were there.

Another time, the children and I stopped at a Luby's Cafeteria. An *off-duty police officer* asked the children, not me, while we were all in line, why they were at the cafeteria on a school day. It was an inquiry, not a friendly gesture. I was not happy. I did not, however, mention my feelings. Suppose we had been to a doctor's appointment. As it was, we were homeschooling and had just come from a group meeting.

While none of the above have to do with mystery shopping, I would rather have a police officer be curious. Just not nosy. When I was in college, there were some police in my night classes. This was when the government had decided that all police officers have to be college educated so they were catching up. You would think that an educated and intelligent police officer would not bother people for no reason.

I would suggest to anyone who has to do paperwork not do it at a convenience store which has short visits and a reputation for being robbed. Don't do it at a bank, either. An inside guard once asked why I was writing something while waiting. I told him that I was making my grocery list. He told me that I could write outside but not inside. Anyway, waiting at a grocery store is good, especially if it gets heavy traffic. You could probably sleep in your car and no one would notice. Many people wait in the vehicle while family members are shopping.

This was a mystery shop. I was once asked to go to a pharmacy not in my geographic area, give a fake name and address (that were similar to my real name and address), and see if they asked for my ID. If I remember correctly, they did not and I had to ship the package to the MSC. (It was not something, or at least it didn't appear to be something, that could be used for ulterior purposes.) I certainly had all my permission paperwork with me in case they called the police.
I had a cop ask what I was doing, when I pulled into a hotel parking lot once, to stop and take my asthma inhaler. I'd started wheezing/coughing while driving, so pulled off at the nearest opportunity to do my inhaler and just sit a few. Of course it was some higher-end hotel parking lot. And they wanted to know what I was doing. There was no problem once they knew.

As for being asked about sitting there doing MS reports? I could see that. Depending on where you are sitting/parking to do it, of course. We have this dude who regularly parks in the neighborhood, sits in his car for 15 to 20 minutes, then leaves. We've called the (non-emergency) police to report him, because it's just weird. But only because it's in a residential neighborhood.

If it was in a large retail complex parking lot, I can't imagine anyone being concerned. Or even noticing, really. Now, if it's just some small shops and they're worried you're casing them, I suppose they might be. Or if it's an area with known and ongoing nefarious activity.

But if I ever was asked? I'd have no problem showing a cop the paperwork, if they asked. The whole ICA thing is for entirely different reasons.

But yeah ~ unlikely to happen in the first place, if you're not parking in too weird of places. smiling smiley

Happiness is merely life's way of keeping you off-balance.
A few years ago I was shopping an Arby's. I completed the dine-in and parked down the street to take notes. The street was a residential one and someone called the police. I did not know this and had returned to the restaurant to complete my drive-thru evaluation when an officer pulled into the parking lot and stopped me. The nosy neighbor also drove into the lot and said I was casing their house. Fortunately I kept my cool, showed the officer my receipts and paperwork, and was on my way. If law enforcement wants to know what I am doing, I'm not going to risk escalating a situation by not disclosing exactly what it is I am working on.

Shopping since 1995; full-time since 2009. Blogging about shopping on www.myfrugalmiser.com.
I had a cop pull up to me at a mall after hours where I was sitting. My shop could not be started until a certain time and I got there earlier than that and had to wait. They were cool with it whe n I explained what I was doing. Killed the five minutes and pulled over to the restaraunt. Cop swung by again and nodded as he drove by, I nodded back.
I highly respect law enforcementsmiling smiley My pseudo scenario is mostly based on this:

I was parked in a medical office parking lot on a Saturday. It was closed. It was blazing hot out, over 105 degrees so I spotted a shady tree.... I parked under the tree and filled out one report and killing time to the next assignment. While I was sitting there all alone, a dark SUV pulled up right next to me. There were many more spots but he chose right next to where I was parked.

I thought what the heck? He sat there. He did not get out either. He was either a mystery shopper (lol) or was concerned about why I was sitting there. (or)--he wanted a shady tree to sit under... I figured what if the police were called because I was sitting there? Which got me wondering... what would happen and what I would say if I were questioned by the officer?

Just my "what if" imagination folks smiling smiley
Ooo... I've had *that* happen, too. I pull into some random spot, way out in a huge lot, where there's tons of empty spaces. Then, some other person comes along, and parks *right* by me, or in front (nose to nose). I'm always like, "Really?! All of this space and you have to be right next to me?!"

I usually move shortly thereafter. smiling smiley

Happiness is merely life's way of keeping you off-balance.
I was sitting in my car filling out my cheatsheet for a gas station when I had a tap on my window. I was so engrossed in my camera downloading into my computer and the subsequent reviewing of the photos and the cheatsheet that I did not notice the police car pull up next to me.

I trembled a bit (in my native country, often, uniformed men were feared a bit). I rolled down the window and was questioned by a police officer.

"Hello, I'm Sgt Handsome Guy, What is your name and what are you doing?" he asked.
"Tatjana, I'm filling out my report, sir" I stammered.
"I noticed you taking photos of this gas station," he replied. "May I see your driver's license?"
"Yes, they're for my report, sir." I fumbled through my purse and produced my license.
"Who do you work for, Tatjana?"
"CORI," I replied, my accent becoming more noticeable and I was becoming teary-eyed.
"What is that," he smiled as he asked. He had blue eyes that sparkled.
"It is an auditing company for this gas station company," I produced the LOA and showed it to him.
He read it and then grinned. "Okay, I just noticed you taking the photos," he reiterated, "and it seemed rather odd. So, you audit them, eh? Well, they're good people and everyone likes this station and the owners." His blues were sparkling. He handed my license back and said, "so you are Tatjana? That is a pretty name."
He was looking in my car and saw the little bags of chips and candy, the laptop and my file folder along with my Wellingtons and a small packet of tampons that had fallen out of the Walgreen's bag (I saw that later).

I straightened up and said, "I must do the report as instructed by the company and must be objective. But, I have not seen any infractions." I endeavoured to act professional.

He leaned on his car and then made small talk, keeping me there for another 10 minutes. (I would like to think he was chatting me up.

Then, he left. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Afterwards, when I told my hubby, he laughed and said that more than likely, they were running my information. That was the reason for chatting me up.

I can still see the scenario quite vividly. Since then, I've always made sure to carry some type of identification of the shop I was performing.

I always tie the bag now for my Walgreen purchases.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/29/2014 12:51PM by Tatjana.
You would think cops have better things to do than harass someone who is sitting their car.... Can't say I've ever been through that even as a person of colour. Most police here are out arresting drug dealers or other more important things. Whenever a cop talks to you, never have an attitude just answer their questions as simply as possible.

Silver Certified ~ Shopping all of Toronto and beyond
dixiewhiskey Wrote:
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> You would think cops have better things to do than
> harass someone who is sitting their car....

It's being proactive. Doing field interview reports on people who would appear to a reasonably prudent person to be suspicious due to their actions in that place/at that time have prevented crimes, as well as led to the solution of crimes. It's just good, basic police work - the boring part, to most cops. However, it's a vital part of policing in order to help suppress crime.

There are two types of people in this world: Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data.
I would just tell the cop that instead of texting while driving, I am writing a letter to be mailed out later. LOL.
He would book you on spy charges if you tell them you are a secret shopper. HAHA
Yeah it is but most cops here don't go talking to people sitting with a clipboard in their car at a gas station. Unless something happened at the location.. Usually if you are getting questioned at some point, they mention "Oh I'm looking into such and such that happened here at blah blah." It didn't really sound like that was the case in what I was reading. Maybe I missed it smiling smiley

LJ Wrote:
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> dixiewhiskey Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > You would think cops have better things to do
> than
> > harass someone who is sitting their car....
>
> It's being proactive. Doing field interview
> reports on people who would appear to a reasonably
> prudent person to be suspicious due to their
> actions in that place/at that time have prevented
> crimes, as well as led to the solution of crimes.
> It's just good, basic police work - the boring
> part, to most cops. However, it's a vital part of
> policing in order to help suppress crime.

Silver Certified ~ Shopping all of Toronto and beyond
If I was just sitting in my car, parked legally, doing paperwork what business does a police officer have approaching me? I would be polite but don't they have better things to do than bother a law abiding citizen. What are we living in a police state now.
Since I am a person of color I get a bit offended being approached for no reason except how I look, gets me a bit defensive.
@ teriraia: With regard to my experience as I related, the officer noticed me taking photos, etc. That was his explanation for requesting information of my actions. I took no umbrage of it.

As for your life experience as a person of colour, there is no way that I could even imagine your personal life events that would could cause your apprehensions. Please do not think that I make light of it.

Indeed, each of us seems to carry the burden of our past that influences our own future.
teriraia Wrote:
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> Since I am a person of color I get a bit offended
> being approached for no reason except how I look,
> gets me a bit defensive.

I assume you live is the US.. I don't blame you for feeling that way. No one should ever feel that way sad smiley

Silver Certified ~ Shopping all of Toronto and beyond
Based on my years of experience with law enforcement and emergency management, I would suggest [based on the discussions in this thread] that shoppers should contact their local police department and ask about doing a ride along with a patrol officer. Or better yet, if your police department has a Citizens Police Academy, sign up. It will give you an entirely new perspective on police work...and maybe even some empathy for the officers.

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Have PV-500 & willing to travel.
"Answers are easy. It's asking the right questions which is hard." (The Fourth Doctor, The Face of Evil, 1977)

"Somedays you're the pigeon, somedays you're the statue.” J. Andrew Taylor

"I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him." Galileo Galilei
James Bond 007.5 Wrote:
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I would suggest that shoppers should contact their local
> police department and ask about doing a ride along
> with a patrol officer.


Excellent advice! What a great way to "walk a mile in another man's shoes."

There are two types of people in this world: Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data.
James Bond 007.5 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Based on my years of experience with law
> enforcement and emergency management, I would
> suggest that shoppers should contact their local
> police department and ask about doing a ride along
> with a patrol officer. Or better yet, if your
> police department has a Citizens Police Academy,
> sign up. It will give you an entirely new
> perspective on police work...and maybe even some
> empathy for the officers.

The Citizen Police Academy is a good suggestion. Also if your community has one look into your CERT team. They get run through the fire departments mostly but do interact with the police.
I have friends who are police officers (I took Police Studies before as well) and when I was a social worker, we worked together often. So I would say that I have an idea of what BS they have to deal with as well as that most officers do not approach people unless its necessary and relevant. We should be open minded to the fact that there are some police who unfortunately misuse their authority. And as such some folks have had bad experiences with a specific officer and may be sensitive to being approached. It is also natural to feel threatened if the officer does not reveal the purpose for questioning. I don't know any cops that have the time to let citizens ride in patrol cars. Do they do that in the US? That would be great if there are officers who can make time for that!

Silver Certified ~ Shopping all of Toronto and beyond
I personally know two police officers and I have a lot of respect for themsmiling smiley But not all officers might be understanding of someone that seems suspicious (at least to them).

Speaking of which, a typical day in the life of a shopper, doing multiple shops, might make someone wonder, if they were observing that shopper doing this:

1. Bank A.
2. Bank B. '
3. Adult Book Store
4. Lowes A
5. Lowes B
6. KFC
7. Arby's
8. McDonalds, both Drive Thru and Walk-in.

We take it for granted, as we go about our crazy, hectic days, doing one shop after the other and if someone "were" observing us, it might just be funny. tongue sticking out smiley

One day I did 4 fast food shops. To the casual observer: Who is THAT hungry? lol smiling smiley
Imagine if someone's husband suspected her of cheating because she'd started mystery shopping (to surprise him with something expensive)... and he noted suspicious purchases made at odd locations, and hired a private investigator to follow her.

PI would report back:

"She went to McDonald's, ate inside, but then went through the driveway too! I then followed her to a Dunkin Donuts a few blocks down, where she got another coffee, but she didn't meet anyone there. Then she went to a bank that you don't have an account at, was in there for about twenty minutes, then emerged. Then she went to another bank!! After leaving the bank, she went to a fitness center that you don't have a membership at, then stopped at four gas stations in a row, then went back to McDonald's, but a different one clear in another town! She ate inside and then went through the driveway there too!! Woman must LOVE McDonald's! She then went to a cell phone provider store, then ANOTHER gas station! Finally, she stopped at a grocery store, and then picked up the kids from school. I really don't know what to make of this, sir."

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Plan the work. Work the plan.
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