The power of television and the big screen has entrenched numerous misconceptions about private investigators.

It’s certainly fun to play along with some of these misconceptions at a cocktail party, but it’s not so fun to play along with potential clients who assume private investigators can do things that they can’t.

Here are some common misconceptions about private investigators.

1) Private investigators know everything about you.

If you believe everything you watch on television and the movies, you might just believe that private investigators can know pretty much anything about you with the press of a button. Or you may think that we know everything about you since you visited this website (we don’t, for the record). While this would be nice, it’s just fantasy. There is plenty of information that can be found out about you or anyone else, but it’s not as simple as most people think.

2) Private investigators have superpowers.

OK, so superpowers might be a stretch. But there does seem to be some misconception that private investigators have police powers, arrest powers or other powers that other normal citizens don’t. While most states require a private investigator to get a license, that doesn’t give investigators the right to go on private property, access nonpublic information or carry a concealed weapon.

3) Private investigators have access to private and nonpublic information.

Many private investigators claim that they have “sources” that have access to bank records, telephone records, medical records, cell phone records, credit reports and emails. Unfortunately, they are breaking the law. It’s called “private” and “nonpublic” for a reason. Some investigators like to play the cloak and dagger card about their secret “sources” of information. Sure, all investigators have sources who can obtain information. But secret sources create problems because the authenticity of the information can’t always be verified. Open sources and public records, on the other hand, can be fact checked in multiple ways.

4) In order to become a private investigator, you must be a former law enforcement officer.

While it’s true that many former law enforcement officers end up in a career as a private investigator, a growing cadre of investigators has had no law enforcement experience. Over the last 30 years, the investigative business has matured from an image of the “private eye” hanging out in seedy hotels to a more corporate business, hired by white collar law firms and Fortune 500 firms. While former law enforcement experience can be helpful in certain cases, for the type of work that we do and for many corporate and legal investigations, such experience is not necessary.

5) Private investigators only do surveillance.

There are many firms that specialize in conducting surveillance, but surveillance is only a small part of what an investigator does. In fact, only a small portion of our cases ever call for surveillance.

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2 replies
  1. andrei
    andrei says:

    Private Investigators really have a keen sense of observation. And that makes them superior compare to us common people. That is why they should spend more time on using their observation skill in solving problems rather than wasting it on doing report that is where tech writing software comes in. It makes their life faster and easier especially in making reports.

  2. Thai-Spy Thailand Private Investigators
    Thai-Spy Thailand Private Investigators says:

    A quibble about the third item if you don’t mind. Yes, many types of records are off-limits by any channel. But others that you might think are exclusively confidential can in fact be subpoenaed in many jurisdictions.

    The trade off for the client is one that the PI with non-judicial access to these records should present clearly: pay me a lower amount to go to an “insider” and get documentation that you can use for negotiating leverage but not present to a court, or pay a larger sum to a lawyer to subpoena a record with provenance which may not contain the data that would make a difference.

    It’s important to be very direct with the client and make them understand that any record which is brought out the back door has only limited utility; it’s data but it’s not evidence in the legal sense.

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