It’s safe to say that many of us have read or watched the likes of Sherlock Holmes, CSI, or Magnum P.I. and become starry-eyed towards the private investigation profession. New investigators enter the field expecting car chases, gun fights, and heart-stopping action. But once they have been in the industry, many become burned out or disheartened to see that it’s not what they thought private investigation would be. As someone who is a licensed private investigator, I’ll try to bring you down slowly.
Surveillance is the most well-known service that private investigators provide, with the stereotype that we’re hiding out behind alleys and street corners in a trench coat, following your cheating partner or spouse. While there are still private investigators who specialize in doing infidelity cases, many private investigators (including myself) have moved away from being “cheater chasers.” Investigations are moving to the digital realm: with services including social media investigations, computer and phone forensics, and data acquisition. With that said, surveillance is still a valuable service and strategy: for example, using surveillance as a method in investigating and verifying a disability claim for a business or insurance company. As for being “stalkers”, keep in mind that a licensed and insured investigator knows how to follow the proper legal procedures that differentiate “surveillance” from “stalking.” (For example, a P.I. cannot illegally enter a property, home, or building, AKA breaking and entering. PINow has an excellent general guide on what private investigators can and cannot do.)
I have had countless cases come in with this mentality. When we do background checks or missing person/asset searches, we are not just Googling it. Any Private Investigator worth their salt are licensed professionals who have access to top-quality legal documentation and databases that are not available to the public and restricted to licensed private investigators. Period. We have numerous posts discussing why using online databases not only are not comprehensive, but inaccurate and not kept up-to-date. With that said, even with our databases, getting a full comprehensive report of information on an individual is not going to be achieved just by entering a name and state into a database search. We cross-check information and utilize various resources and strategies, (depending on the case, can include fieldwork such as surveillance and interviewing neighbors) which is not something you can achieve with just a Google search or a cheap online database search service.
Sorry kids, it’s (usually) not like the movies. Don’t get me wrong, I have had cases that have been exciting and taken twists and turns that I never anticipated or could have ever imagined. But to be honest, you will be spending the majority of your time in the office or a surveillance vehicle. To succeed in this field, it’s not just enough to be skilled in the physical work; You need to know how to gather intelligence, assess multiple streams of information, (most of which is digital) write top-notch comprehensive reports, (Reports are no joke and where you will easily spend most of your time. Regardless of what the client does with a report, it must be of a quality that is admissible in court) and conduct intake interviews.
As I mentioned in the last myth, our work can get exciting and we do get cases that move in directions we never expected to go from the start. However, don't expect us to share the details with the world. Legitimate private investigators can only succeed by operating on strict confidentiality practices on all cases to protect them and their clients. Failure to maintain confidentiality not only is unethical, but can put our licenses on the line. Which means no, we are not going to hash out the latest cases with you.
Matthew Seifer is the Lead Licensed Private Investigator at Radius Investigations, Registered Armed Guard, and NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services Certified Instructor. Seifer is a US Army veteran with over 26 years experience in the private sector. Matthew's specializes in corporate due diligence, TSCM bug sweeps, security services and assessments, and digital forensics