What is a Private Investigator?

Private InvestigatorPrivate investigators are often referred to as PIs or private detectives. Because of media stereotypes, most people don’t realize that private investigators are professionals who specialize in research, surveillance and investigation. While most work independently, some private investigators are full-time employees of attorneys and corporations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What are the Regular Duties?

Many private investigators help attorneys prepare for court cases. In civil cases, they work for either legal side, but private investigators usually work for the defense in criminal cases. Private investigators interview witnesses, locate persons of interest and document alleged crimes. When involved in child custody cases, they discretely observe to determine which parent is safely caring for the children. In cases of business fraud, they observe questionable business behaviors, such as clandestine meetings with competitors. Private investigators sometimes assist retail companies with stolen merchandise cases by posing as legitimate buyers to document the transactions and obtain property evidence. When involved in insurance fraud cases, they covertly watch and document individuals who are suspected of claiming false injuries or disabilities. Private investigators locate individuals for many reasons, such as serving court papers or locating long-lost relatives.

What are the Irregular Duties?

One reason private investigators enjoy their jobs is because every day brings unique and sometimes strange requests. For example, they may be asked to locate birth, death, divorce, marriage or bankruptcy records. They may be asked to identify mortgage information, related party property transactions or research historical property holdings. Private investigators are sometimes asked to retrieve local, state and federal arrest records and mug shots. They may gather business intelligence, identifying corporate relationships and obtain corporate records. They are asked to locate addresses and cell phone numbers as well as identify inappropriate personal and business relationships. Researching family genealogy, finding hidden foreign assets and locating disciplinary records for professional licenses are all random tasks that private investigators perform.

How to Become a Private Investigator?

First, research the local job requirements because almost all states require private investigators to have certain education or experience in order to earn a private investigator license. A criminal history with felonies are automatic disqualifications. Over half of private investigators have previous legal, military and law enforcement employment experience. Private investigators must have excellent observation and quick decision-making skills. Aspiring private eyes must be proficient with online research and surveillance technologies. Private investigators must have the ability to handle sensitive information and deescalate emotionally intense situations with potential risk of physical harm. Being a private investigator is mentally mundane and physically demanding.

What Education is Recommended?

Although most states do not require a four-year degree, it is highly recommended for students to complete at least a relevant two-year degree related to criminal law or law enforcement science. The most common degree titles for private investigators is criminal justice with some students concentrating in crime analysis, security management and criminal justice administration. These degrees will include classes on report writing, legal procedures, forensic criminology and the laws of evidence. Students will most likely study social psychology, law enforcement operations and interrogation and undercover techniques.

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Students serious about becoming a private investigator should inquire with their state’s Department of Public Safety, which usually handles the exams and licenses.