What Is A Private Investigator?
You've more than likely heard the term "private investigator" before, perhaps in the media or in a movie; but what exactly is one and what do they do? In this article we are going to shed some light on what is a private investigator for you.
Before hiring one or deciding to start a career as one, it's worth finding out what a private investigator is, how they become one, the licensing and training requirements, what they do and what types of investigators there are. By knowing this information you can get a clearer picture of what to look for if you want to hire one or what to expect if you want to become one.
So what is a private investigator? We define a private investigator as someone who - through professional training and experience - obtains information legitimately by observation, enquiry, careful and accurate examination in a logical manner. The information obtained is for the benefit and use of the client and which can be used to make informed decisions.
Generally, but not always, a private investigator or private detective will have a background in police, law enforcement, legal, or the military. Private investigation firms are privately owned businesses, usually employed to work for private paying clients. Private investigators are not public servants like police officers, or employed directly by the State or Government, although they do sometimes hire them.
Who Uses a Private Investigator?
Private investigators and detectives are usually hired and employed privately, offering investigative services to anyone that wants to hire them. There are no special requirements in employing their services and you will usually find they are hired within these four main categories:
- Private Individuals
- Corporate and Commercial Businesses
- Lawyers and Legal Bodies
- Insurance Companies
It's a fairly simple process to retain (hire) an investigator and very worthwhile, providing you know how to hire one and what to look for. When you hire one you are hiring a professional, usually with many years of training and experience, in their particular field of work.
What Should The Character Of A Private Investigator Be?
Becoming a private investigator requires certain individual characteristics, aside from the legal licensing and training. Here are some of the more important character-based requirements:
Ethical: A private investigator needs to be highly ethical, being able to act rationally in difficult situations and not be swayed into unethical, bad practices.
Inquisitive: A PI should have an enquiring mind and be able to sift through data logically, making sense of what they find.
Tenacious: An investigator has to be able to push through barriers that prevent ongoing investigation.
Resourceful: An investigator needs to be a solver, coming up with solutions where there seem to be none.
Further personal skills a private investigator should possess are:
- Excellent communication in both spoken and written form
- Excellent observation skills
- Strong analytical skills
- Highly confident
- Ability to work with others and alone
- Able to be patient and show empathy
If you find a private investigator you intend on hiring lacking these attributes, it would be advisable to keep looking.
What Is A Private Investigator's Training Like?
Depending on the country or state (where the private investigator operates) will dictate whether or not a license to operate is required. And depending on location will decide what the investigator training requirements are needed.
Before they can become a licensed investigator they usually need to show their work experience, and the completion of some type of education or pre-licensure training. So, you know that if you hire a private investigator with a license you can rest assure they know what they are doing.
Once qualified, private investigators are required to keep up-to-date on their training. Continued investigator training is obligatory for some states requiring a minimum number of hours in a given time period. A good investigator (whether obligatory or not) will always stay up-to-date on their own personal development within the industry.
What Skills Should A Private Investigator Have?
These are some basic investigator skills you can watch out for when you start to look at hiring an investigator. A private investigator in one country or state may need a different set of skills to operate with compared to another investigator in another area, but all investigators should have an understanding of these following basic skills:
- Able to drive – a private investigator is no good if they can’t drive, at least to follow someone.
- Basic computer skills – needed to conduct online investigations and write case reports.
- A knowledge of the law – keeping the investigation legal is a must if you don’t want to be faced with legal action; or if you plan to use the evidence in court.
- Able to advise on the viability and best course of action for your case – keeps your costs down, minimizes wasted time, and keeps it legal.
- Knowledge of County, State resources – the investigator can swiftly find information without wasting time and your money.
- Knowledge of and able to use investigative equipment – can provide clear evidence in photographic, video or audio formats that aids your case.
- Able to conduct interviews and written statements – can expertly elicit oral evidence from suspects or witnesses and document that evidence in written statement form.
- Conduct various aspects of surveillance – can blend in when following someone, whether on foot or in a vehicle, keeping the investigation going without alerting the subject(s) of the investigation.
- Skills to trace people – can track down runaways, debtors, witnesses, suspects, connected with your case.
- Carry out process serving (serving court documents) – can serve court documents on your behalf in accordance with legal procedures and legislation.
- Investigate sources of information and evaluate evidence – ensures the information uncovered is verified for its veracity and if it’s relevant to your case.
- Social awareness and ability to get on with people – can read people well, judge situations easily, and can warm-up to people (which aids in the ease of communication and flow of information from sources, related to your case).
- Able to present evidence in court as a professional witness – is confident in giving testimony about the facts uncovered relating to your case.
- Write accurate case reports for the client – your report should be detailed with dates, times, actions, findings, etc. in a way that is intelligible, so you can make reliable decisions based upon it.
What Does A Private Investigator Do?
In short, a private investigator is paid to find out information for their clients regarding the, who, where, when, what and how of a case that has been assigned them. Investigators are hired to investigate a wide range of cases including:
- Investigating individuals, such as a spouse suspected of cheating, someone suspected of insurance fraud, or simply an employee background check.
- Finding people for reasons of bringing lost relatives together, locating witnesses for legal purposes, finding fugitives, or people who have disappeared owing money.
- Locating objects, stolen property, and hidden assets.
- Investigating crimes, theft, fraud, drug abuse, copyright infringement.
- Case research for attorneys.
These examples are just the tip of the investigator's profession. There are many more reasons private investigators are hired, but this can give you some idea of what a private investigator does.
What Types of Private Investigators Are There?
Private investigation jobs cover many aspects of investigative work with some investigators specializing in certain skills. Besides the standard type of investigator there are also:
- Computer Forensics Specialists
- Forensics Investigators
- Technical Surveillance Countermeasures TSCM (De-bugging) Specialists
- Accident Reconstruction Investigators
- Insurance Fraud Examiners
- Polygraph (Lie Detector) Specialists
- Financial Investigators / Forensic Accountants
- Criminal Investigators
- Surveillance Investigator Specialists
- Undercover Investigators
Now, you should have a better understanding of what a private investigator is, making it easier for you in your hiring process and selection of one. Using this knowledge and knowing what questions to ask a private investigator before hiring one can help you make the right choices. If you want to hire a private investigator now, search our directory of investigators and detectives.