What does a Private Investigator do?

how to become a private investigator

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A private detective and investigator searches for clues to gather evidence for court cases or private clients. They interview people, verify information, conduct surveillance, find missing persons, and gather vital facts for cases. Depending on their area of expertise, they might be hired to investigate computer crimes or corporate to help solve a case.

Watch a video to learn what a private investigator does:

How to Become a Private Investigator

Education requirements vary greatly from position to position. Work experience is a must in addition to a high school diploma. Most employers prefer previous police or military service. However, others may require an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or police science. According to O*NET OnLine, almost 40% of the private detectives surveyed held at least a bachelor’s degree. Many states require a license to perform investigation tasks and duties, therefore it may be pertinent to check local and state requirements before pursuing employment in the career field.

Job Description of a Private Investigator

A private detective and investigator is expected to find and analyze facts in a variety of case situations such as personal, legal, and financial concerns. They also provide expertise in the areas of verification of people’s backgrounds, insurance fraud, and could even investigate investment groups to protect a client against fraud. A private detective and investigator are often used to deliver summons or subpoenas in a legal case or tracking down they owe unpaid debt.

Many agencies may specialize in a particular field such as surveillance which would investigate cases in espionage. Others may specialize in corporate matters like trade secrets, computer forensics, or copyright infringement. Much of the work for a private detective or investigator is done on a computer. This is used to obtain phone numbers, records of a person’s prior arrest, or social networking.

It may be necessary for an investigator to go undercover in order to better observe and obtain information on a suspect. They use tools like GPS tracking devices, video cameras, and other useful equipment and technology. They may also be licensed to carry a concealed weapon. A private detective and investigator must have knowledge of privacy laws, state and federal laws, and local laws because operate on the authority of a private citizen not a police officer. Being educated in these laws is vital to the collection of evidence in a case to ensure all data and information will be valid in a court case and can be used.

Due to the nature of the work of a private detective and investigator their work hours are irregular and may require more than 40 hours a week. Most work in an office setting and alone unless they are performing surveillance. Here is when they may work in teams and may be exposed to a variety of weather elements or sometimes possible confrontation (though rare). During surveillances they may interview individuals and gather evidence out in the field. This work can be demanding and cause emotional stress at times.

Private Detective Career Video Transcript

Movies and TV can make the work of private detectives and investigators look pretty glamorous, but the modern P.I. is more researcher than an action hero. As an investigator, you might search for missing persons or proof of marital infidelity, but most work for stores, hotels, or security companies to investigate theft, fraud, and other crimes involving money. Their tools are computers, phones, and cameras along with a persuasive manner and a knack for thinking creatively. You’ll need to be persistent and resourceful to gather the information your clients need and discreet enough to do it without being noticed. Investigators and private detectives have responsibilities as varied as court record searches, accident reconstruction, and surveillance.

Legal investigators usually work for law firms to help prepare criminal defenses. Hours may fluctuate dramatically when you need to contact people outside of normal work hours. Requirements for entering this career depend on the area of specialization, from a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, computer science, or finance, to a high school diploma and on-the-job-training. A background in the military or law enforcement is common. Most states require a professional license. Many investigators are willing to put up with the long hours and drudgery in exchange for those moments of excitement and discovery. In this field being nosey is a virtue.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Private Detectives and Investigators.

National Center for O*NET Development. 33-9021.00. O*NET OnLine.

The video is Public Domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

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