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Private Investigator Misconceptions

Updated: May 6

The private investigation industry is highly specialized and widely misunderstood. One of the biggest misconceptions is that Private Investigators mostly work on infidelity/matrimonial/domestic assignments or, as the general public might refer to them, cheating husbands/wives’ cases. This misconception could not be further from the truth. There are firms that specialize in these types of files, but these files represent about 1% of all investigative work.

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Other frequent Private Investigator misconceptions are that there is always a lot of excitement, there is no excitement, PIs are granted special power or rights by government, it is easy to become a Private Investigator, and PIs are not tech-savvy people, PIs only work surveillance.

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The most common clients for Private Investigators are insurance companies, law firms, and private corporations. Investigations conducted for these clients frequently involve potential fraud. Others seek to obtain more detailed information in order to adjudicate or manage a claim.

Many of these cases are mitigated through the hiring of an Investigator. They can include both surveillance and non-surveillance efforts. Investigations often obtain more information faster than legal processes such as discovery (the pretrial disclosure of relevant evidence), thus providing the Investigator’s clients more information for decision-making.

Two contrasting misconceptions are that the work of a Private Investigator is exciting and, at the opposite extreme, boring. The truth is somewhere in the middle. There will certainly be exciting days; however, not to the degree television depicts. On the other hand, an Investigator will have days with no excitement and little activity, but this should not occur often. A day without activity is usually a day where the client’s budget was used ineffectively or incorrectly. Professional Investigators work to maximize the efficient use of the client’s budget.

Another misconception is that Private Investigators are granted extra provincial, state, or legislative powers; however, this is not entirely accurate. A licensed Investigator has developed more tools than the general public and is more skilled and aware of how best to leverage those tools. Furthermore, in some jurisdictions, they legally have the right to conduct surveillance. This means an Investigator cannot be accused of loitering. Make no mistake, Investigators have legal means and methodologies that make them effective. In contrast, the police have access to vastly more verifiable information, such as nationwide data bases only accessible by law enforcement. Much of the time, for most investigations, is spent in establishing or verifying information.

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"It is easy to become a successful Private Investigator." This misconception is fueled by television shows, as well as people’s overestimation of their own abilities and rudimentary grasp of social media. Good Investigators have years of experience that have honed their skills. An average person might be able to follow someone once or twice. They definitely could not follow someone all day every day without being detected. An average person might be able to find one key piece of information on an individual’s social media account. An accomplished Investigator will find 100% of all key information and be able to do this with many different social media accounts. Even the most intelligent person cannot enter this industry and expect to consistently deliver good results in the beginning.

Anyone who wants to be successful as an Investigator must consider it to be a profession, not simply a job. In a profession, people continually increase their knowledge and skills, and this is especially true for dedicated Private Investigators.

Finally, the idea that Investigators are not tech-savvy is a misconception that is totally out of date. The world of technology is changing daily. As an Investigator, you will need to adapt and keep up with the use and effects of technology. Social media has evolved and will continue to do so. Unlike in years past, hiring a new Private Investigator for non-surveillance work is becoming more common. While technological skill is important, it cannot replace learning to think like an Investigator.

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