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Say the word private investigator to anyone and most people envision the stereotypical fedora and trench coat wearing, wisecracking, cigar-chomping “old school” street detective. But technology advances have created a “new school” of investigators who mine data, the Internet and various database sources to gather information. Although every case is different, most situations need skilled investigators who have the best skills and experience in both types of investigative work to make the case successful.

The Old Gumshoe

We’ve all come across a private investigator we would consider to be an “old school” investigator. Like Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, or the esteemed members of Scooby-Doo’s Bloodhound Gang, these investigators know how to talk to people and extract the right information. Using their astute observations, logic, and deduction, they have the potential to break a case wide open. Many of them have worked in law enforcement or intelligence posts in the past and they have innumerable hours of interrogation, interview, and surveillance experience.

Old school investigators are extraordinarily useful in many types of cases, but they do have their limitations. Having boots on the ground can be expensive, increase the potential that the subject will be tipped off to the investigation, and without knowing the best questions to ask, clients can wind up with investigator who drifts into an ethical grey area.

New School Investigator

Members of this newest generation of investigators are intelligent, tech-savvy researchers who can pull together and analyze large amounts of information from online sources. As technology has allowed investigators to access more and more information online, clients have increasingly found that this type of investigation meets their due diligence and investigative needs. Online and remote investigations are discreet, economical, and can be extremely thorough. In many cases this is a good start and all a client will need, but in other cases, online and public records investigation will reveal a clear need for field work.

Can you really have it both ways?

Certainly! Any number of cases may benefit from a combination of both old school and new school techniques. It simply takes the right person or team to do it. While it may be hard to imagine Columbo shelving his interview techniques in favor of sitting at a computer terminal conducting a comprehensive background investigation on a witness, it’s easy to imagine a present-day Sherlock Holmes walking around with an iPhone and consulting Lexis-Nexis or checking out their Twitter account before heading to a witness interview.

There are a number of skilled investigators who have experience in both old school and new school tecniques. Some firms have decided to hire specialists in each of the areas and can assign investigators with various skills to a single case. Clients need to be able to communicate their needs and work with investigators who have the right skills to make the case successful.

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