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What Is A Private Investigator?

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: the character and personality, skills and knowledge, what they actually do and what types 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.

A private investigator is: a civilian 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. They 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 used 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 what to look for and how to hire one. When you hire one you are hiring a professional, usually with many years of training and experience in their particular field of work.

What Is A Private Investigator's Character And Personality?

Becoming a private investigator requires certain individual characteristics and qualities, aside from the legal licensing and training. Here are some of the more important character-based requirements of a private investigator:

  • 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 qualities 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

What Skills And Knowledge Does A Private Investigator Have?

These are some basic skills and knowledge a private investigator has. An investigator in one country or state may need a different skill-set to operate compared to another investigator in another area, but all investigators should have the skills and practical understanding of these following subjects:

  • Able to drive – driving is a skill a private investigator needs to at least follow someone.
  • Basic computer skills – needed to conduct online investigations and write case reports.
  • A basic knowledge of the lawkeeping the investigation legal is a must to avoid being faced with prosecution and legal action; or, if any evidence discovered is to be used in court.
  • Able to advise on the viability and best course of action for a case – keeps the costs down, minimizes wasted time, and keeps it legal.
  • Knowledge of County and State public resources and records – the investigator can swiftly find information without wasting time and money.
  • Knowledge of and able to use investigative equipment – can provide clear evidence in photographic, video or audio formats that aids a 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 a case.
  • Carry out process serving (serving court documents) – can serve court documents 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 a 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 a case).
  • Able to present evidence in court as a professional witness – is confident in giving testimony about the facts uncovered relating to a case.
  • Write accurate case reports – factual reports detailed with dates, times, actions, findings, etc. in a way that is intelligible, so a client can make reliable decisions based upon it.

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 investigator training requirements are needed. Before an investigator can become licensed they usually need to show their work experience, and the completion of some type of education or pre-licensure training.

Once qualified, private investigators are usually required to keep up-to-date on their training. Continued investigator training is obligatory for some countries and 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 Does A Private Investigator Do?

In short, what a private investigator does is 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 handle 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 some of the cases a private investigator handles in their day-to-day activities. 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?

Generally, private investigators will cover many aspects of investigative work during their career but some investigators specialize in fields that need additional training and 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

What Now?

Now, if you want to hire one, you should have a better understanding of what a private investigator is, making it easier for you in your hiring process. Using this knowledge and knowing what questions to ask before hiring one can help you make the right choices.

If you are considering a career as a private investigator you should now at least have a basic understanding of what the purpose of a private investigator is and what they do. This will help you make your next step in becoming one.

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