Author: Ellie St. Aubin
What does a Private Investigator really do?
When you hear the words “Private Investigator;” “P.I.;” “Private Detective;” or “Private Eye,” your head is bound to start spinning of fantastical ideas. What pops in your head first? Perhaps Sherlock Holmes, with the hat, a magnifying glass and a tobacco pipe? Or Thomas Magnum, with a gun, a cool car and a magnificent mustache? Or maybe even Scooby and Shaggy, who were obviously born to catch bad guys despite their intense fears?
While we may not all be as high-profile, glamorous or comical as any of these guys, our work sure is as interesting (at least in our own humble opinion). Sometimes the challenge lies in getting others to understand the reality of our jobs and what we can and cannot do for our cases.
When seeking out a Private Investigator, their ethical compliance and transparency should be top priority to you. Abusing privileges or taking advantage of others is not a part of our job description, and in fact, the exact opposite is what a good Investigator would pride themselves on. Our sole priorities are to ask questions, find answers, and present results in a comprehensive, factual, unbiased, and helpful manner.
So being that the investigation world seems so “private” to those who are not involved, we are here to bust a few common misconceptions about Private Investigating and provide some of the truths (since that’s what we’re best at!):
- Myth: Private Investigators are above the law, like the FBI, CIA or other secret agents!
Truth: If this were true, our jobs would be a whole lot easier! Not only do we have to adhere to all laws that regular citizens do, we are also subject to additional regulations pertaining to the information accessible to us. It is true that we are privy to certain databases and have permissions to access certain information, but only by way of consent, prevention of fraud, or similar reasoning related to our job and license.
Moreover, we are not allowed to trespass on private property or go inside someone’s house to find “clues,” like most T.V. shows and movies might have you believe. Although we do surveil individuals and video record their activities in public places, this is not an illegal practice, so long as we are not trespassing, threatening, or assaulting anyone.
- Myth: Private Investigators can “bust” criminals.
Truth: As a Private Investigator, we have no right or authority to arrest somebody, even if we observe them participating in an illegal activity! Even when we find incriminating information, it is not our position to assume someone’s guilt or innocence. Prejudice, biases, and assumptions are something Investigators really have to throw out the window to get their jobs done correctly. Our job is to present the facts, not our opinions! However, some investigators work on criminal cases in conjunction with law enforcement agencies to help serve justice.
- Myth: Private Investigators are hired to catch cheaters and/or dangerous criminals.
Truth: Quite the contrary for us at Subrosa. Some Private Investigators focus on domestic cases, such as following suspicious husbands and wives but not all.
What often times people don’t realize is that there are various fields of investigative work available, some of which include transactional backgrounds (consented, friendly investigations for investment or business purposes), personal injury (insurance and workers’ compensation fraud), pre-employment background screenings, deep-dive background screening on companies or high-profile individuals, missing persons cases/locating individuals such as clients, family members, witnesses, etc., surveillance/tracking; copyright infringement, interviewing…. The list really goes on and on and it is almost always a good decision to use a licensed Investigator when making any sort of important financial decision or dealing with a legal matter.
- Myth: Private Investigators can hack into computer systems, bank accounts, or social media profiles.
Truth: Maybe some can… but they should NOT! Licensed Private Investigators do not “hack” any programs, including an individual’s social media profile. In fact, under most state laws Investigators are not permitted to request to be any Subject’s friend on social media, especially under false pretenses. If an Investigator is attempting to locate a witness, heir, client, or some other legitimate business purpose and they are upfront with the reasons for the contact, then that is permitted. If the individual is represented by an attorney, an Investigator is prohibited under law from contacting that individual. Contact must be made through the individual’s attorney first.
But keep in mind…. A lot of records that you might think would be private are actually not! You would be surprised what records are available through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). For example, although medical records are not obtainable due to HIPPA laws, there are legal ways to find out if someone has received care at a medical facility and, in certain counties, if they owe money to a medical facility. Incarceration records; copies of recreational licenses; driving records; government employee’s personnel file; and more can be available through FOIA request. The important thing to remember is that these rules and regulations differ by country, state and sometimes even county.
- Myth: Private Investigators provide all computer-generated results when it comes to research.
Truth: Unfortunately, this could be true in some cases, which is why it is so important to do your research on an Investigator before hiring them. There are dozens of online search engines out there now, where you plug in a name and receive an address, phone number, relatives’ names, criminal history… you name it.
However, it is important to know that these search engines often produce false hits and dated information, and there is no human reconciliation on the other end. Any Investigator can tell you a time when he/she has gotten results back for a “Mike Johnson” and saw a criminal charge in a place he never lived, for a guy with a different birthday! Often, these online tools can be a good place to start, but it is absolutely crucial to cross-reference all records and have a trained Investigator analyze the information being reported. Consumer, be warned!