What Is a Private Investigator?
A private investigator, an investigator, or private detective, is someone who may be employed by people, associations or NGOs to undertake investigative surveillance activities. Private investigators also work for lawyers in criminal and civil cases. Most private investigators start out as private contractors. However, they can also work for government departments as well. They may be appointed as a permanent staff or on a contractual basis.
The scope of private investigators’ work depends on their qualifications, their experience and their objectives. For example, some specialize in forensic pathology, trace criminal records, perform corporate security, develop alternative energy, protect endangered species, monitor the public, and perform background checks on potential employees. Others provide investigative services for financial and insurance industries, the legal and medical profession, the military and intelligence agencies, and the charity and human rights sectors. The latter private investigators specialize in niche areas of law enforcement and intelligence, forensic counseling, corporate security, surveillance, communications, risk management, and homeland security.
Generally, private investigators offer a wide range of investigative services that have specific elements. These include intelligence and surveillance, computer forensics, background check services, investigative interviewing, document acquisition and recovery, consultation and expert witness services, witness protection and bail services, and syndicated investigations (extracting testimony). They also provide secretarial services. Many private investigators specialize in particular areas. For example, some specialize in financial crime (office crimes), intelligence crimes, and intellectual property theft. Some specialize in child pornography offenses, white collar criminal defense, and offshore tax crimes.
The goal of private investigators is to gather facts and evidence that will enable them to present their case to court. In order to gather information, many private investigators use a variety of methods, including computer forensics, secret observations, and physical surveillance. Computer forensics involves investigations such as illicit transfer of data from remote computer systems. Physical surveillance involves activities such as following suspects, bug monitoring, phone records tracking, and tailing vehicles.
Computer-based investigative methods are increasingly used to address white collar crime. There are many private investigators that perform background checks, fingerprint searches, and public records searches. In addition, they can perform surveillance on suspects using video and/or audio recording devices, video surveillance, and GPS tracking. They can also serve as legal counsel to clients, coordinate investigations with police and other law enforcement agencies, and prepare litigation papers.
Most private investigators are not licensed by state law enforcement agencies. This is because most states require their private investigators to be licensed through special organizations that represent the interests of creditors and lenders on behalf of their clients. In some states, however, private investigators are not required to be licensed by local police departments. Private detectives may work for the government but they usually retain a life long license as an investigator and are exempt from state licensure requirement.
As more people depend on the Internet for conducting day-to-day business activities, many private investigators may work online investigating individuals. Many private investigators specialize in Internet crimes, such as identity theft, fraud, fraudulency, and child pornography. They conduct surveillance, interview witnesses, and collect evidence from a computer server. Sometimes they communicate with law enforcement officials on a discreet basis. Others communicate with individuals directly over the telephone or Internet.
Private Investigators may be licensed by the local, state, or federal government. To obtain a private investigator license, applicants must pass the investigator examination administered by the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI). Applicants may also be required to successfully complete a related test, which covers written and oral investigation skills. In order to become licensed NALI investigators must adhere to the state’s investigative licensing requirements. Each state has its own licensing requirements. Prior to obtaining a license, an applicant must first be fingerprinted and pass a background check.