A Private Investigator or Private Eye is a civilian employed by a private company hired to investigate “subjects” by a customer. The “subject” is usually a person or persons but can also be a business. The customer can be an individual, corporation, and even a government agency.
The Private Investigator, or sometimes called Private Detective, can investigate a wide variety of things; however, Private Investigators mostly investigate insurance fraud for insurance companies. Private Detectives typically take on investigative cases that do not fall under the purview of a government agency, such as civil matters while government agencies will cover serious criminal cases. Because a Private Eye is just a normal civilian, they do not have any special investigative privileges. A Private Eye has the same authority of any civilian citizen with the exception that a PI is allowed to offer investigative services to customers.
The most common customers, usually called clients, for Private Eyes are insurance companies, law firms, and private corporations. Investigations conducted for these clients will frequently involve potential fraud. Other clients will want to obtain more detailed information in order to adjudicate or manage an insurance claim. Many of these cases are mitigated through the hiring of a Private Detective. 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. The Investigator’s clients can ask for investigations on a wide variety of topics such as,
Covert Video (CCTV) Installation & Monitoring
Counterfeit, Trademark, and Patent Investigations
Interviewing and Statement-Taking
TSCM (Technical Surveillance Countermeasures) - eavesdropping & bug detection
Network & Data Cyber Security
Accident Investigations & Reconstructions
Asset Recovery Investigations
Most people think that Private Eyes are granted extra provincial, state, or legislative powers; however, this is not entirely true. A PI is just a civilian but 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. For PIs, much of the time, is spent in establishing or verifying information.
Private Investigator Info by Country:
Investigating crime or more correctly, investigating serious crime is usually under the purview of government agencies. So, do Private Investigators ever investigative serious crime. Short answer no, long answer yes with a “but.” Private Investigators can and do investigate serious crime; however, it is very rare. What a Private Eye will investigate most in their career will be blue collar crimes such as insurance fraud. Furthermore, the few Private Investigators who have investigated serious crime have done so with large obstacles in their way.
Who would ask a Private Eye to investigate a serious crime? Typically, it is a family member or someone close to the victim or victims of a serious crime who was not satisfied with the police investigation. This is not to say that the police investigation was poorly executed, just that the client was not satisfied with the investigative outcome for whatever reason.
The obstacles that Private Investigators face when investigating serious crime are two-fold: the obvious first issue is access to evidence and the second, not so obvious, issue is economics. Private Investigators are not what you see portrayed on movies and television. We do not sit around a noir style office waiting for a serious crime file to be placed on our desk. This topic of “Private Investigator Misconceptions” is discussed in our 100-level Private Investigator course. Private Investigators need good constant revenue streams, investigating serious crime is not one of them. As mentioned before, our constant revenue stream comes from fraud investigations, at least for most Private Investigators. The issue of economics even makes it difficult for an individual to even find a Private Investigator who will investigate a serious crime.
So, who are the Private Investigators who specialize in investigating serious crime? There are non. Yes, there are PIs who have successfully investigated a serious crime or two, and became famous for it, but if you look into their career you will see that serious crime investigations makes up a miniscule portion of their history. A Private Investigator I worked with was famous for investigating cold case murder files. However, he had investigated two in a 40+ year career. This article is not to downplay Private Investigators who have investigated and solved serious crimes. A PI who has investigated and solved a serious crime should be proud. The ability to become a Private Eye who has garnered a reputation that will make clients confident that they can solve a serious crime is impressive. This article is more to illuminate what we as Private Investigators actually do.
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About the Author
Peter is an Instructor & Co-Founder of NDIL with over 14 years as a Professional Private Investigator. Peter has spent more than a decade conducting investigations and security operations throughout the world, primarily for corporations, law firms, and government agencies. Peter has assisted in the creation of numerous investigative & security training programs in various capacities.