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Modern Private Investigator Tricks and Secrets

Almost everyone has seen a television show or movie about private investigators (PI). Many people think PI work is dangerous and that only roughnecks are employed as PIs. The PI is often believed to be a person who only follows husbands and wives possibly committing adultery. While there is some truth to all of this, there is much more to the private investigation than meets the eye.

With over 18 years of Federal and Military Investigation experience, I finally decided to use my background to become a private investigator. In subsequent articles, I am going to share with you some of the skills needed to be a PI, and I may even share some of the adventures I encounter. It is not a bad business, and I am getting about 20 inquiries per week for investigative work so you can make a pretty good living. In this particular article, I kick off the series by telling you exactly what I do as a private investigator.

In reality some PIs are very talented and experienced professionals like myself who come from various fields of employment. Many are former police officers or ex-military. Some come from jobs that dealt with collection and finance. Private investigation is needed for various situations, and many fields of expertise come in handy on the job. The most important thing is that a private investigator not be afraid of confrontation, open, assertive, patient and observant.

As a PI, I am authorized by the state to conduct investigations, mainly for private citizens, businesses, or organizations. I can work for attorneys in civil cases or criminal cases on behalf of a defense attorney or a client. I also do some work for insurance companies to investigate suspicious insurance claims. Another big piece of the pie is searching for evidence of adultery or other illegal conduct within a marriage to establish grounds for divorce or child custody. Although I don’t like it much, adultery or other “socially unexcitable behavior” are two of the most profitable activities investigators can undertake.

Some other things I do are conduct process serves, background checks, skip tracing, and locating missing persons. I am a generalist, but many agencies specialize in one particular field of expertise, such as skip tracing. Others may specialize in surveillance or in detecting, locating and disposing of bugs. Some of the other specialties a PI might have include Fraud Investigations, Personal Protection, Process Serving, and Computer Forensics, one of my other specialties.

One of the things I dislike about the job is that I can often work irregular hours due to of the needs of the case that require me to conduct surveillance and contact people who are not available during regular working hours. Working early in the morning, evenings, and on weekends and holidays is a common thing in my world.

If you like being in a nice cozy office, then this is not the work for you. Most of my work is done away from my office conducting interviews or surveillance, but there is office time conducting computer searches and making phone calls.

As I mentioned before, on television, being a PI is glamorized as either a grimy business filled with low lives or as exciting with gun battles every week. This could not be further from the truth. There is NOTHING glamorous about sitting on surveillance for 16 hours. Sometimes an investigation can require me to be armed, such as certain bodyguard assignments for corporate or celebrity clients. But most of the time you won’t need a gun because the purpose of the work is gathering information and not law enforcement or criminal apprehension like when I was an agent. In Maryland I would have to apply for a separate handgun permit to carry and being a PI does not give you any special carry privileges. You carry as a regular citizen, and you don’t have any police powers. I do carry a gun because I am authorized to carry anywhere in the US as a former law enforcement officer with over ten years of service.

Like here in Maryland, most states require PIs to be licensed. Some PIs are former law enforcement like myself, or former military, however, many PIS don’t have that kind of professional background. They come from such fields as finance, accounting, commercial credit, investigative reporting, insurance, law, etc. These individuals often can apply their prior work experience to conducting investigation. Some are even ex stay at home moms.

Many states have strict laws that govern and regulate the Private Investigation industry in their state. Seven states (Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, and South Dakota) have no statewide licensing requirements, so anyone can become a PI there. Other states have very few requirements, and many more states have very stringent regulations. A growing number of states are enacting mandatory training programs for private detectives and investigators. For example, the stat of Virginia requires private investigators to be 18 years of age or older, complete a 60-hour state approved investigations course and be a United States citizen or legal resident alien of the United States. However, no law enforcement experience is required. In Maryland, you must have five years prior law enforcement experience, and therefore you don’t need a 60-hour course.

Part of my job as a PI is to keep detailed notes and video for reports to give to my clients and conducting field surveillance. A background in subjects such as criminal justice and police science can be helpful if you are interested in PI work, but it’s really not necessary.

Like mine, most PI firms are small, with little room for advancement since there are only one to three PIs in the Firm. The only way to reward them is with increases in salary and assignment status. Many PIs begin their career working for detective agencies and after a few years, start their own agency once they have the necessary experience they need for licensing.

There is also a need for private investigation in the corporate world. Here are a few of the things that corporate PIs will do.

The bottom line is private citizens and businesses often find the need for a good PI at some point. There are always background checks on employees and business associates that need to be done. There are so many things a good PI can do for a business that it seems the list is endless.

I hope this article gave you insight into what I do as a PI. In later articles, I will share how I do it and how you can use some of my skills to conduct your own investigations.

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