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What Private Investigators Can Do/Can’t Do

Sources: What a Private Investigator Cannot Do | 101 Things a Private Investigator Can Do

Private Investigators Can Do

Public records are one of the most incredibly rich sources of information that most people either don’t think about or completely dismiss.

Private Investigators can help locate the phone number(s) for individuals or businesses that are difficult to track.

Private Investigators can help locate the address for individuals or businesses that are difficult to locate or do not want to be located.

Private Investigators can help locate the location of bank accounts associated with a specific individual.

Private Investigators Can’t Do

This prevents private investigators from misleading individuals about their association with government agencies.

According to federal law, private investigators are prohibited from wiretapping, or monitoring phone conversations, without consent.

Private investigators cannot enter a property, house, or building through illegal means, including breaking and entering.

Though a private investigator can identify the location of bank accounts associated with a specific individual, they do not have access to specific information about these accounts.

Five Types of Private Investigators

Source: Five Types of Private Investigators (Source)

General Private Investigators
Primary or general private investigators gather different types of information for clients with different needs. Private citizens may hire them to trace missing family members or to gather for information for child custody battle or a contentious divorce case. Business owners may need financial information about someone who refuses to pay a debt, or they may want help recovering stolen property. General private investigators use traditional techniques such as surveillance, background inquiries and online research to piece together answers for their clients. For cases that require special skills, a general investigator may oversee the investigation but also call in specialists to assist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, the median salary for private investigators was $42,870.

Legal Investigators
Private investigators sometimes are needed to help people prepare for court cases. They collect evidence through interviews, surveillance, and through background checks of other parties involved in the litigation. Investigators involved in trial preparation must understand the rules of evidence and court procedures to ensure that the information they gather is obtained legally and can be admitted in a court of law. According to the BLS, the average salary for legal investigators was $54,600 as of May 2011.

Corporate Investigators
Corporate or financial private investigators specialize in gathering information for business and industry. Corporate managers considering an acquisition or merger may ask an investigator to review the history, financial performance and past clients of the company in question. Business leaders rely on the information investigators uncover to protect their interests and investments. Businesses also use private investigators to conduct background checks on new employees. They may also be responsible for reviewing financial, computer and telephone records and conducting other types of internal investigations if there is a suspicion of employee fraud or theft. The BLS lists the average salary for management and business investigators as of May 2011 as $50,050.

Workman’s Compensation Investigators
Workplace injuries can be costly for insurance companies that pay claims, and for business owners who face steep premium hikes in the wake of an accident. Private investigators routinely check out workers compensation claims when there is a suspicion that an employee is faking or exaggerating an injury. Investigators may interview neighbors and acquaintances about a victim’s activity to see if his behavior contradicts any claim of disability. They may also conduct background checks looking for prior claims, medical history and financial problems that might have triggered a false claim. Surveillance and gathering photos and video of injury victims is typically part of the job. According to the BLS, the 2010 median salary of insurance investigators was $58,620.

Cyber Investigators
The digital age has opened the door to new types of conflicts and crimes, and some private investigators now specialize in cyber investigations. Cases can range from tracking the source of anonymous cyber bullying to solving an incident of identity theft. Cyber investigation requires technical training on tracking and retrieving information from computer hard drives, and many community colleges now offer certificate programs in computer forensics geared toward private investigators who must follow certain rules of evidence when gathering data. According to the BLS, cyber investigators earn an average salary of $72,860 as of May 2011.

Questions To Ask a Private Investigator

Source: Diligentia Group – Private Investigator 101 – Link

Are you licensed and insured?
Every state has different requirements for licensed private investigators and the scope of the work they may perform.

Both the client and investigator have a responsibility to be aware of the laws in the states where the investigation is to be performed. Investigators should also be able to provide proof of liability insurance.

Can you provide references and work samples?
Most experienced private investigators will be able to provide you with references and samples of several different types of cases.

It is important to understand that, due to client confidentiality, there is a good chance that work samples will have identifying information redacted or the facts of the case changed to protect the subjects’ identities.

However, samples are helpful to see the quality of the reports, the thoroughness of the investigation, and the various sources utilized by the investigator.

Who will handle my case?
In many cases, the experienced professional private investigator will manage the case and delegate lesser investigative tasks – or even the entire case – to other individuals.

It’s important that you know who will handle the case, and request information about their experience and background.

Request examples of their prior work and obtain an understanding of how closely the primary investigator will supervise the case.

As we’ve noted here previously, if there is an international component to the case, you need to ask your investigator detailed questions about the capabilities of the investigator’s international contacts.

Do you belong to any professional organizations?
Many investigators belong to membership organizations such as the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) or the National Council of Investigation and Security Services (NCISS).

These organizations offer rigorous training and certification for investigators, have codes of ethics, and other education and experience standards for membership.

Do you use questionable or unethical methods to obtain information?
Between a fully above board investigation and illegality lies a vast grey area.

Over the years, many clients have found themselves embroiled in scandal because of their investigators (e.g., HP , Anthony Pellicano, and others).

It is important to set parameters for your investigator at the outset – ideally through an engagement letter that explicitly outlines your expectations and requirements before.

Both you and your investigator should be aware of the laws in the jurisdiction where the investigation will occur.

Will our communications be privileged? Do I need to tell you everything?
Privilege laws for investigator-client communications also vary widely by state.

Clients and investigators should be familiar with the particular laws in their state.

When it is an attorney who retains the investigator, additional legal work product and communications privileges may apply.

Of course, an investigator does not need to be told every detail.

However, providing the investigator with adequate information before hiring a private investigator, and throughout as new developments occur, will increase the likelihood of an efficient, thorough, and successful case.