Private Investigator and Detective

Private detectives and investigators provide private investigative services to collect information. Private detectives analyze information to solve mysteries and uncover facts. Private detectives and investigators offer protection services, pre-employment screening, and investigate peoples' backgrounds. Some investigate identity theft, cyber harassment, and copyright violations. They assist during criminal and civil cases, insurance fraud, missing persons investigations, and child protection and custody disputes. They are often hired by people to investigate whether their spouses have committed infidelity. Private detectives utilize many investigative methods. They generally use computers to find documents, locate deleted emails, and conduct database searches. Investigators utilize computers to find information about criminal records, telephone numbers, court judgments, and motor vehicle registration.

Detectives and investigators also conduct surveillance. Investigators make phone calls to verify, for example, someone's income or location of employment. While conducting missing persons or background checks, detectives conduct interviews to collect information. Sometimes investigators conduct undercover work to monitor people without being identified.

Most private detectives and investigators understand how to conduct physical surveillance while some specialize in using technology for surveillance. Sometimes private detectives conduct surveillance from a car or a location where they will not be noticed. Using video cameras, mobile phones, and binoculars private detectives conduct time consuming surveillance.

The duties of private detectives are dependent on clients' requests. For example, if a private detective were investigating workers' compensation fraud, he or she might monitor the person suspecting of committing fraud to determine whether it is being committed. If the person is defrauding workers' compensation, the investigator would document it by taking pictures and report the person to authorities.

Detectives and investigators must obey all laws while conducting investigations. They must stay updated about privacy laws, as well as other federal and state laws affecting their work. Often private detectives must make judgment calls when the legality of certain surveillance methods is unclear. They must collect evidence legally, so it will be admissible in court.



Many private detectives and investigators become specialists. For example, those specializing in intellectual property theft investigate piracy and provide information to be used in law suits. Other investigators specialize in finance, usually assigned to search for missing financial assets. They collect information through interviews, surveillance, research, and the examination of public documents.

The following are private investigative specialists:

  • Computer forensic investigators retrieve and examine deleted data from computers often used while conducting fraud investigations. They determine how computer networks become compromised, retrieve encrypted and deleted data, and retrieve deleted emails and passwords.

  • Legal investigators assist attorneys preparing for litigation, find witnesses, interview law enforcement personnel, collect and analyze important evidence, and serve court documents. Legal investigators are frequently asked to gather information about parties participating in litigation, assemble evidence and write reports used in court, take pictures, and testify on the stand. Many lawyers and law firms staff their offices with legal investigators.

  • Corporate investigators conduct internal and external investigations for the companies employing them. Detectives conducting external investigations typically investigate theft and other crimes perpetuated by people outside the organization. Those conducting internal investigations investigate employee embezzling, drug use, and other employee infractions.

  • Financial investigators, typically licensed CPAs, are consulted by accounting firms or investment banks to locate hidden assets owed to them, typically after a court order has been issued.

  • Loss prevention agents, often referred to as store detectives, patrol stores and monitor shoppers from electronic surveillance centers. Shoplifters are often detained by store detectives. They also monitor employees and inspect stock rooms for signs of theft. Store detectives write reports after shoplifters are caught and testify at court. Hotel detectives protect hotel guests and prevent suspicious people from loitering at the hotel.

Work Environment
Some private detectives spend all day in their office doing computer work and making phone calls, but many detectives spend time out of the office interviewing people and conducting surveillance. When investigators are conducting investigations, they may spend their time in fancy corporate offices or rundown bars. Store and hotel detectives spend their days at the businesses they provide security for.

Investigators usually work alone, but sometimes while conducting surveillance or when trying to avoid being identified, they work in groups. Since detectives often confront people, their jobs can be dangerous and stressful. When investigators have bodyguard responsibilities they often carry firearms.

Investigators who run their own agencies must often deal with demanding and upset clients.

Since private detectives conduct surveillance and contact people not available during normal business hours, they often work nights, early mornings, and weekends.

Education and Training
Private investigators are typically not required to complete formal training, but many hold graduate degrees. Investigators who specialize typically hold bachelor's degrees and complete specialized training. Aspiring investigators should take classes in criminal justice and police science while in college to improve promotion opportunities. Even though relevant prior work experience is usually required, some private investigators begin their careers after earning a college degree, typically in police science or criminal justice. Companies and individuals that hire private investigators often prefer hiring investigators with law enforcement experience.

Corporate investigators are typically required to hold a bachelor's degree, usually in finance, accounting, business, or a related field. Many corporate investigators hold graduate degrees in accounting, law, finance, or business administration.

Aspiring computer forensics detectives should obtain accounting or computer science degrees instead of a criminal justice degree. In fact, studying accounting provides a solid background for investigating computer crimes. After earning a degree, aspiring computer forensics detectives can obtain specialized training or complete on-the-job training. Many vocational schools, universities, and colleges now administer professional certification programs in computer forensics, typically ranging between 15-21 credit hours. Current investigators and aspiring police officers and paralegals can benefit from these certification programs. Some schools now administer undergraduate and graduate degree programs in computer forensics. Computer forensic investigators and other investigators typically develop their skills while working as computer forensic analysts or police officers. People often work in law enforcement to develop specialized investigative skills and build good reputations before starting a private detective practice or working for a private detective agency.

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Licensure
Most U.S. states and the District of Columbia require anyone working as private investigators to become licensed. Licensing requirements differ by state. However, South Dakota, Wyoming, Mississippi, Idaho, Colorado, Alaska, and Alabama do not have specific licensing qualifications. Certain states have very detailed and specific licensing requirements, while others only have a few.

Employment Opportunities
During 2012, about 45,000 private detectives and investigators were employed throughout the United States. Nearly 21 percent of private investigators ran their own businesses, including many who conducted investigations as second jobs. Nearly 41 percent of these professionals were employed by investigative and private detective agencies. Other private investigators were employed by government agencies, department stores, law firms, banks and insurance companies, background check companies, and credit mediation agencies.

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