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Ever wonder what a private investigator might not be telling you?

1We utilize lots of public records, which are easily accessible by you

As you might imagine, public records are accessible by anyone. However, just because they are accessible by just about anyone does not minimize their importance. Public records are an incredibly important resource, but understanding and navigating the maze of public records in the U.S. is skill that takes years of practice.

2Our results are going to be mixed

Our job is to collect facts, but sometimes those facts don’t line up with what the client is looking for. Investigators can certainly make things up or break the law to get what the client is looking for, but that doesn’t really help anyone.

3We rarely find that “smoking gun”

You’ve seen it before. That smoking-gun piece of evidence that cracks the case wide open. It’s usually right after the commercial break and just before the top of the hour. The smoking gun makes for great TV, but it doesn’t come up all that often in real life.

4We don’t have any special powers

Years of television may lead you to believe that private investigators drive Ferraris, have law enforcement powers and have access to secret government records; in addition, you may believe that you are required to talk to a private investigator. While some investigators may drive Ferraris, the rest of it is not true. In fact, in most cases, a private investigator does not have any more power than the average person.

5We hire subcontractors to do most of the work

There are independent investigators everywhere, many of whom do subcontract work for other firms. It’s the nature of the business, in part because investigators rarely have a steady, normal workload. Hiring subcontractors makes companies nimble, and it allows companies to hire outside experts who they wouldn’t be able to keep on staff or investigators in areas where they don’t have any coverage.

6Our work is really boring

The vast majority of the time private investigation is about as exciting as stenography or watching paint dry. Sure, there are times that it’s really exciting, but other times, not so much. Spend a few days staring at years of telephone records and you will see what I mean. Of course, I think I have the best job in the world … but don’t tell anybody.

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16 replies
  1. Lynn Gratrix
    Lynn Gratrix says:

    Thank you for this great site. I am a newly licensed Private Investigator. I live in Edmonton, Alberta and the course was great, but there was no information how to use the equipment that is needed. Are there any places where we can take courses on using GPS, surveillance, and locating individuals. My question is, are there any training centres for Private Investigators to learn and use all tools needed for our trade? If not are there any sites that could help us learn? Please help..

  2. Carlos r Lorenzo jr
    Carlos r Lorenzo jr says:

    If your naibor is hacking into your tv and seeing private pictures and information that has nothing to do with him and to make is worse in telling everyone in town about your privesy life can i pring him to court even tho he’s not an office law of the

  3. Sasha Gates
    Sasha Gates says:

    I recently found out that someone is using my drivers license and getting tickets and things like that. Can a private investigator find out who this person is? If so, how much would an investigation like this cost? I’m in the nyc area. They are using my license all over in different states.

  4. Dawn Jackso.
    Dawn Jackso. says:

    Can a pi arrest someone because they don’t or can’t give up info on whatever the case may be? Example if he says I’ll give you till Monday to have the info I ask or the item I’ve asked for..can someone be arrested if they don’t have that info or the item in qiestion? Thank you

  5. Millie
    Millie says:

    I was wondering if you can use information obtained from a P.I in a custody battle? Say if the person was doing something illegal and you needed to prove it?

    • Brian Willingham
      Brian Willingham says:

      Unless you have a court order or are the owner of the phone, you can not get phone records legally. We don’t do illegal work and don’t refer people who do it either.

  6. Chris, Ops Manager
    Chris, Ops Manager says:

    Brian –

    1. Private Investigators certainly use a mix of public and paid for information – they would be poor investigators if they didn’t. They are a bit like mechanics: A mechanic can look and listen to your car, lean in, hit it with a hammer and fix the problem than charge then charge you a hundred dollars – $5 for the hit, $95 for knowing where to hit!
    2. No Private Investigator can ever guarantee the result at the start of the process – no crystal balls available – and the result may well be mixed, however, breaking laws to obtain information is useless for court purposes. That said some clients clients objectives can at times be a request to simply prove or disprove a suspicion – this may involve more creative investigative practices to answer the question.
    3. ‘Smoking Guns’ really do happen at times in criminal defence investigations – where you can show through a provable timeline something could not have happened, or at times even find and obtain an signed affidavit from the person who actually committed the offence (and yes, we’ve done it).
    4. A Private Investigators best power may be the power of persuasion (to get someone to talk to you) or the power of observation. For some surveillance operatives their greatest power is the fact they think ‘sneaky’!
    5. The Private Investigation Companies greatest asset is their contact list of people with specialist skills or who work in a particular area. Most investigators work for a number of companies to keep a steady flow of work coming in. People forget they are paying for the person, the advertising, the supervisor, the administration staff, the licenses and fees, the support systems, plus the field operative who actually does the work.
    6. In case you haven’t noticed most jobs, no matter how good they look from the outside become boring after a while! Surveillance sometimes requires someone with the patience of a saint! Weeks waiting for 5 seconds of footage, without falling asleep, you see some activity, you fire everything up, you wait, and just as something happens the video camera enters ‘sleep’ mode! LOL It has happened!

    You know you haven’t led a boring life when what you see as normal everyone else sees as exciting, when the quiet life your moving towards everyone else is moving away from because they see their life as boring??!

    Chris, Ops Manager, The Private Group Pty Ltd

    • Brian Willingham
      Brian Willingham says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment Chris. Frankly, I can’t argue with anything that you wrote.

  7. Tim Duncan
    Tim Duncan says:

    PI’s in most cases like to do investigations. I just don’t get why everyone thinks that all of this is so investigative or hard to find. Everything one gets is public records. PI’s use databases to cut down on their time. Most people don’t have a criminal record & it is the 90% that pay for it. Reality is the 10% could be caught at interview if they were put through a good interview. Most PI’s have really never hired many people if any. If one wants a true background check with today’s technology & sources, don’t use a PI. PI’s are good, no they are terrific in surveillance & investigations but not in background checks.

    • Brian Willingham
      Brian Willingham says:

      Sounds like you may have had a bad experience with a private investigator, but that doesn’t mean you should be casting darts at an entire industry and making broad statements which have no factual backing.

      While you may think that pre-employment background checks are the only type of “background check” out there, you are wrong. They are utilized by investors, banks, private equity firms, fund-of-funds and other industries to protect themselves. They don’t have the luxury of a “interview” and they are not just looking at criminal records. They are looking at a wide range of records to help make a better decision on what and who they are with; not checking off a box on whether someone has a criminal record or not.

  8. Brian Willingham
    Brian Willingham says:

    Thanks for your comment Dom. In no way am I minimizing what a private investigator can do. The post was aimed at breaking some common misconceptions.

  9. Dom
    Dom says:

    Hello good post here. Most of its true but not so sure with some. What Private Investigators do is very hard work and takes alot of time. Most people dont have the hours, will power and dedication to find things. Also you need to be very up to date on the Data-Protection laws which most people arent, so this is another reason why they hire PI’S to undertake work which yeh most people can do but are not skilled and have enough knowledge about.
    Dukeries Detective Agency Ltd

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