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I once heard an attorney describe a private investigator as an “expensive Google search.”

And I frequently hear clients ask, “What do you have access to that I can’t find on the Internet?”

The fact of the matter is that investigators and an “Average Joe” are not all that different. Despite what most people think, private investigators don’t have access to private, nonpublic information such as your FBI file, your medical records or your Internet and email history. They don’t have any police powers, and they can’t tap your telephone either (legally, of course).

But there are a few things that make private investigators different.

Access to Information

Licensed private investigators have access to databases that are not available to the public. These databases have millions of data points, including address history and individual identifiers such as dates of birth and Social Security numbers, as well as a variety of public information including criminal records and civil lawsuits.

While there are scores of consumer investigative databases that provide access to similar information, these databases are not nearly as comprehensive, accurate or up to date.

Know-How and Experience

Most people could easily do their own taxes, but they use an accountant every year for their expertise in finding those sneaky deductions. You could also represent yourself in a lawsuit, pro se, but that’s probably not the best idea when there is a lot on the line.

Private investigators do this kind of stuff every day. They have experience digging for information and know where to find it. Knowing the tricks of the trade, understanding the limitations of what you can do and having experience handling a multitude of cases just can’t be duplicated.

Network of Sources

I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about the investigative business. Physical surveillance, cybersecurity, forensic accounting and fraud examination are all specialties that are developed over years of practice.

But after more than 10 years in this business I have developed a network of contacts who probably do know, whom I can call on a moment’s notice.

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4 replies
  1. Debbie Hudson
    Debbie Hudson says:

    Thank you for all the great information. I just received my license this year and I have learned a great deal from your newsletters. I just wish I had you as a mentor!!!!

    What databases do you recommend? I really appreciate your help.

    • Brian Willingham
      Brian Willingham says:

      Thanks for the nice words Debbie. As far as the databases, I use a number of them. For a variety of reasons, I think it’s necessary to use a number of databases with overlapping coverage including IRB, TLO, Merlin, Courtlink, Factiva and Lexis Nexis. Those are the ones I use most often.

  2. Bill Steward
    Bill Steward says:

    So far, you are the best…..I really enjoy all your efforts and peg you as a true pro in the field. I am an old pre-electronic PI, sold my agency in 1984. I am consulting now but more in spy-gear etc. The work in your chosen profession will continue on the rest of your life ,if your healthy. You don’t retire the work is so interesting how can you?? Thanks for reading this Bill

    • Brian Willingham
      Brian Willingham says:

      Thanks for your kind comments Bill. I truly enjoy being in this business and look forward to many more years in it!

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