A Surveillance Suspicion

I received this case by email this morning and I’m posting it here because I’m sure my answer will help others as well. Thank you to the person who sent me his/her story. It often takes courage to share disability experiences and I want to acknowledge how important you are to others and to the process.

I am a huge fan of your blog, whose guidance has proved invaluable during my horrific adventure with long-term disability.
My concern over the past couple of months or so is that I feel as if every one of my visits to the gym has been monitored, either by someone taking video with a cellphone or with a wristwatch phone, or more recently someone simply watching me and then taking a surreptitious photo of me with a cellphone at the end of the workout.
I only go to the gym for classes and to swim. My disability is a serious mental health issue for which my psychiatrist “prescribes” in addition to medication and psychotherapy, a regular exercise routine. So I’m not doing anything that I shouldn’t be doing. But it is extremely unnerving to feel as if I am being watched and videographed/photographed every single time I go to the gym.
Now my therapist, pushing back against my paranoia, tells me that I’m just not that important for the insurance company to have me surveilled for such a long period of time. Before you agree, let me lay out a theory.
My theory is that the insurance company has contracted surveillance from a boutique private investigator who specializes in surveilling this particular gym network (only about a half dozen gyms within a tight geographic area). He spends a lot of time at the gym and coordinates with free-lancers, all of whom have gym memberships, and they are conducting surveillance not just on me but on a number of people on disability.
This spreads out the cost and because the focus is on the gym, you don’t have to worry about the high-cost, high-risk undertaking of following people one by one. It’s more like shooting fish in a barrel.
If this is true — and I fully embrace the possibility that I am just being paranoid, because, well, paranoia is a feature of my illness — it is especially creepy because you are always under surveillance (not just over a three-day or seven-day period) and you are being surveilled by your fellow gym members (and I suspect a handful of gym employees who are helping out).
The way this appears to work is that the person(s) doing the surveilling will arrive late to the class (after you have claimed your spot). They take water breaks at odd moments, spending a suspicious amount of time with their phones or holding their Apple watch at just the right angle while you continue your workout. Then when the workout is over, they will follow you out with their phone/camera. My strategy is to wait to be the last one out and it is always a waiting contest with the suspected surveillance gatherer, who waits until she can’t wait any longer.
Although this is an ingenious system, if true, I feel it is a huge violation of my privacy. Indeed, the fitness manager assured me about a year ago, in writing, that it was against gym policy for members to take video of other members without their express permission.
It’s even more a violation because the gym network is affiliated with a hospital and offers physical therapy and nurse checkups as part of the membership. It specifically markets to people with injuries/disabilities!
I have become afraid to go the gym and when I do go I feel so stressed out that I end up feeling worse rather than better after a workout.
Do you have clients who have expressed a similar concern or do you think I am simply being paranoid? I don’t feel that everyone is surveilling me. There is a group of about six people who are consistently behaving suspiciously.
I noticed somewhere on your site that you offer a minibook on surveillance to your clients. Alas, I am already paying a (wonderful) lawyer and can’t afford to hire you as a consultant in addition. Is there anyway you can offer your surveillance book for sale?
Thanks in advance for any advice you can give. If you want to publish my letter in part or whole you have my permission but please do not provide any identifying information about me (i.e., my email moniker, etc.).

Again, thank you for sharing your experiences with me. Although I usually defer people back to their attorneys for information when they have one, I’m choosing to answer your concerns anyway because your story could easily be someone else’s.
To begin, insurance companies are all about the money. A three-day surveillance team might charge from $1,500-$2,500 for each surveillance request. The constant surveillance you suggest would require that you are receiving more than $5,000/month benefit. This doesn’t mean that your insurer has not conducted surveillance, but it does mean that I question whether any insurance company would incur the high costs of surveillance for non-wealthy claims.
In the normal course of using surveillance, insurance companies request a three-day surveillance, usually Thursday, Friday and Saturday for the “quick hit” to back-up an otherwise weak denial. Placing investigators under cover in a particular gym suggests that the insurance company is seeking far more information than it really needs to deny a claim. And again, it would be pretty expensive to do this kind of thing.
Insurance companies do not have the means, nor the wherewithall to install permanent investigators in a particular gym. Insurers are not the CIA and they don’t conduct covert operations per se. It’s not that your claim is unimportant, it’s that insurers do not spend the kind of money it would require to set up under cover investigators at a particular location.
The fact that you have a behavioral claim rather than a “physical one” also tells me that your therapist has an excellent opportunity to document the fact that regular exercise at a recommended gym is part of his/her treatment plan to return you to health. It can be documented in patient notes and recorded on the update forms you return to your insurer. You do not have to be afraid if you are following through with your therapist’s treatment plan and recommendations. In fact, your psychiatrist can actually write out a prescription for you to exercise in a certain way at a gym.
Bottom line, insurers will not spend the kind of money you are suggesting here to permanently hire surveillance at a particular location, nor are they likely to engage in surveillance for more than three days. I’m not suggesting insurers only conduct surveillance once, but they do it in different intervals of time.
I encourage you to speak with your psychiatrist about documenting your exercise regime into the patient record and also including it in a written treatment plan. In addition, remember that your time in the gym is in fact a mental health requirement and that any insurance company would find it very hard to deny your claim when your provider is recommending that you do it.
I really can’t provide copies of my proprietary material to those who are not clients, particularly those with attorney representation. However, if you consider the above answer I think you will know how to handle your time in the gym medically, and present it to the insurance company as a credible part of your treatment.
Thank you again for sharing your case history with me and about 800 daily readers of Lindanee’s blog. If you have any other questions please feel free to contact me.

Filed under: Case Stories