What is a Private Detective?

A Private Detective is a specialized type of Detective. Also known as: Private Investigator.

A private detective is someone who delves into things, finds facts, and analyzes information about legal, financial, and personal matters. They offer many services, including verifying people's backgrounds, tracing missing persons, investigating computer crimes, and working for celebrities.

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What does a Private Detective do?

Private detectives typically do the following:

  • Interview people to gather information
  • Do various types of searches, using computer or non-computerized records
  • Conduct surveillance (looking for, following, or watching a person without that person noticing)
  • Collect evidence to present in court
  • Verify employment, income, and facts on a person's background
  • Investigate computer crimes, such as identity theft and illegal downloads
  • Help in cases of criminal and civil liability, missing-persons cases, and insurance claims and fraud

Private detectives typically work for individuals, attorneys, or businesses. Some have their own investigative agency. Private detectives offer many services, based on clients' needs. They may perform pre-employment background checks, look into accusations that someone has been stealing money from a company, or prove/disprove infidelity in a divorce case.

Private detectives use a variety of tools when researching the facts in a case. Much of their work is done with a computer, which allows them to quickly get information, such as records of a person’s prior arrests, telephone numbers, social networking-site details, and emails. They make phone calls to verify facts, such as a person's income and place of employment. They also interview people when conducting a background investigation. Investigators may go undercover, pretending to be someone else to go unnoticed, to get information, or to observe a suspect.

Detectives also conduct surveillance when investigating a case. They may watch a site, such as the person's home or office, often from an inconspicuous location or a vehicle. Using photographic and video cameras, binoculars, and global positioning systems (GPS), detectives gather information on persons of interest.

Detectives and investigators must be mindful of the law when conducting investigations, and have a good understanding of federal and local laws, such as the privacy laws. However, as the legality of certain methods may be unclear, investigators and detectives must make use of good judgment when deciding how to pursue a case. They must collect evidence properly, so that it can be used legally in court.

What is the workplace of a Private Detective like?

Private detectives work in a wide variety of environments, depending on the case they are working on. Some spend more time in their offices conducting computer searches and making phone calls. Others spend more time in the field, conducting interviews or doing surveillance. Surveillance can be time consuming.

Investigators generally work alone, but they may work with others while conducting surveillance or following a subject. Some of the work involves confrontation, so the job can be stressful and dangerous. Some situations, such as certain bodyguard assignments for corporate or celebrity clients, call for the investigator to be armed. In most cases, however, a weapon is not necessary because the private detectives and investigators’ main purpose is information gathering, not law enforcement or criminal apprehension.

Owners of investigative agencies have the added stress of having to deal with demanding, and sometimes distraught, clients. Private detectives often work irregular hours because they need to conduct surveillance and to contact people outside of normal work hours. They may work early mornings, evenings, weekends, and holidays. In addition, they may have to work outdoors, or from a vehicle, in all kinds of weather.



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Further Reading

  • A Glimpse Into The Life Of A Private Eye

    Perhaps it was an impression created by reading Nancy Drew books as a child or watching Remington Steel reruns, but a career choice as a private investigator seems larger than life.

  • New York Private Eye Joe Mullen Reveals The Secrets Behind Some Of His Biggest Cases

    From being bodyguard to Judy Garland and tracing Fidel Castro's secret daughter to uncovering a Wall Street scandal and spying on Donald Trump's wives, investigator Joe Mullen has had a lot of fun during his 45-year career.

  • Want To Dig Up Dirt? Learn How To Be A Private Investigator

    From digging up dirt on a cheating partner to exposing the lies of an accident victim, Ali Wirsche and Marnie Milot were at the top of their game when they were wooed by Bow Valley College in Calgary to train budding private investigators...

  • Private Investigators FAQ's

    Frequently Asked Questions About Private Investigators

  • What Is A Private Investigator?

    A private investigator (who can also be known as a PI, private eye, or private detective) is a professional who is hired by law firms, corporations, insurance agencies, private individuals, or other entities to gather intelligence and confirm or disprove information.

  • How Private Investigators Work

    T­hanks to books, movies and TV shows, many people have a clear mental image of the stereotypical private investigator. But just how much of the P.I. lore is really true? How many of the events depicted in fiction are really possible -- or legal? In this article, we'll explore what it takes to become a private investigator and exactly what the job involves.

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