Hunted, TV Shows

Hunted Finale: A Primer on Surveillance Techniques that Worked

As Hunted prepares for its finale tonight, we’d like to take a quick moment to review the surveillance techniques used during the first season and how they led to some fugitives’ downfall. The show is about people who “go on the run” and try to evade the hunter law enforcement. This show is especially appropriate for Post Apocalyptic Media, since many post-apocalyptic scenarios involve evading authorities (hello alien invasion — looking at you!) Of course, some of these might happen before doomsday, since once technology’s gone, a lot of these won’t work. But that really depends on the post-apoc scenario, right? In a world where aliens have taken over, heeding the warnings from Hunted might make all the difference.

Want to avoid capture by enemies during an apocalypse? Here's what #Hunted taught us. Click to Tweet

Here are some of the top surveillance techniques used on the show. Are there any that concern you the most or seem the most interesting and you’d like to learn more about? Let us know in the comments below. (And if you’ve missed watching Hunted, you can stream the whole thing on Amazon here.)


Credit Card Tracking

The hunters get “pinged” every time a credit or debit card is used by someone they’re tracking. They can quickly see which ATM the fugitive used to get money or where the credit card was used, which helps them narrow down the person’s current location. The fugitives are at a disadvantage on this show, though, because they must use only one debit card, which the hunters already know. Some good workarounds in real life? Well, if you’re in a post-apocalyptic or pre-apocalyptic world where you’re evading the Illuminati or aliens, try using the barter system or maybe Bitcoin.

Evading aliens pre-apocalypse? Try Bitcoin or barter, not credit cards. Click to Tweet

CCTV & Surveillance Cameras

CCTV and surveillance cameras are truly a top method for tracking people and one of the main ones used on Hunted. For example, if a debit card is pinged at a gas station, the hunters can then pull up the surveillance cameras at that station and try to figure out the license plate number of the car being used. Once they get the license plate number, all bets are off unless the person being hunted can ditch the car.

One way the fugitives have overcome this is by leaving off the front license plate and driving into a gas station “front first,” then backing out, so the cameras never see the back license plate.


License Plate Readers

Today, license plate readers are truly everywhere. No longer just on toll roads, many cameras at intersections are set up to read license plates of the cars that pass through. So the hunters are frequently able to track down people if they know their license plate number. That’s how they caught David and Emiley, who were top contenders to win.

By the way, license plate recognition technology is REAL. Check out this article by The Hill from 2013, which was very pro-LPR, about how the ACLU was fighting it.

An LPR camera mounted on a police car can read a plate and instantly compare with an FBI database of plate numbers associated with criminal investigations or missing persons. The officer gets an immediate notice and can take appropriate action to solve a crime or save a life… The ACLU fears that historical LPR data might be used ‘by the police to track innocent people, or otherwise abused.’


Cash Rewards

This is a good one. The hunters would post “wanted” signs not only in real life, but on social media where the person was likely to frequent. They even posted wanted messages on Tindr for one duo who were hiding with random females they met on the street. One person actually did turn them in for the cash!

If the hunters can track down the location someone is likely in, they blanket that area’s social media with tons of wanted posts mentioning a cash reward. Here’s an example of one used for the UK show.

The moral of the story? Only hide with people you trust — people you know won’t turn you in for money!


Drones

Drones make it even tougher to hide now. One duo on Hunted was caught when they were hiding on a boat, but a drone spotted them. I feel like this one deserves an article all its own. Want some scary drone ideas? Watch Colony tomorrow night, a show about a post-apocalyptic world with alien drones tracking down and killing people. hun


Intercepting Calls

The hunters even used technology (such as stingrays) to intercept calls and listen in. They would sometimes use the old-fashioned method of just calling the fugitives’ family and friends and trying to determine if they were lying. They’d try to get them to say things that would give them clues, or spook them enough to make a mistake that would help them track down the fugitives. But the hunters also would sometimes listen in on calls, which is pretty creepy if you think about it.

Not familiar with stingray tech? Check out NPR’s article here.


Tracking Burner Phones

If they knew the area a “hunted” person was in and they figured they were trying to buy a burner phone, they would look for purchases in a specific vicinity, and then check the surveillance cameras. If they could track the purchase down, then they’d have the burner phone number. They’d also track burner phones by looking for brand new calls coming to associates from new phone numbers.


Mail Cover

One group was smart and sent letters to friends in the mail with instructions on how to contact them via email drafts from a new account. The only problem is that the hunters used a mail cover on all the fugitives. In other words, they monitored all letters sent to the fugitives’ contacts and took pictures of every piece of mail to give them clues.

Every card you put in the mail gets scanned by the USPS (read more here.) Law enforcement can request scans for suspects in felony or fugitive cases (a process known as “mail cover.”) This mail cover includes who the mail is being sent to, who it’s coming from, and the postmark. You don’t get to read the mail, but investigators can glean a lot from just this information.


Old Fashioned Trickery

Whenever the hunters figure out that someone is a potential contact for a fugitive, the hunters track them on social media for clues. Sometimes they even pay them a visit. One method they’ve used on multiple occasions is pretending to be a mutual friend who is trying to help the fugitive. This actually “kind of” worked on one person.

So all in all, it seems like the best strategies that the fugitives have used so far involved simply escaping into the woods and roughing it. On Hunted, contestants are at a disadvantage because they have to move five miles every couple days, which isn’t the case in real life (obviously). This leaves more opportunity for them to get caught. They also only have access to money on one debit card that the hunters know, so this makes it tougher for them to disappear too.

With all these constraints, the best strategies involved hiding with people they had a distant connection with, because they were tougher to track. But this still isn’t foolproof. It seems that roughing it and disappearing into the wild is the best option. (Although the show did hint that they might use dogs to try to track down the person based on scent, if they could figure out what location they were likely hiding in. They might also use drones to try to figure out where they were if they were hiding in a marsh/swamp/woods/campsite.)

Which strategies do you think are the best? Let us know in the comments below.

Like what you read? Join our email list to stay updated by clicking here and be sure to follow us on Twitter. And if you missed any episodes of Hunted, stream them on Amazon here.

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Stephanie Dwilson started Post Apocalyptic Media with her husband Derek. Her favorite shows of all-time are Battlestar Galactica and Lost, and she's always happy to talk about her cats. :) She sometimes posts stuff on her personal blog too.

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