5 Surprising Myths About Private Investigators

When you hear the words “private investigator,” what do you picture? You may envision a dark and mysterious figure in a trench coat, lurking in the shadows with a pipe in one hand and binoculars in the other (although, at Stealth Advise, we do in fact smoke real tobacco pipes). Or maybe you imagine a James Bond type character that travels to exotic locations and can find out anything about anyone at the drop of a hat. You would be surprised to know that private investigators perform a number of less than thrilling job tasks and that some days it can be outright boring. The following five myths will change your perception of private investigators. Some might surprise you!

A day in the life of a private investigator is action-packed

A private investigator spends most of his or her time waiting, be it sitting at a desk or in a car performing surveillance. For the average investigator, about 50 percent of his or her day is spent at their desk alone doing background checks, paperwork (a LOT of paperwork), and backing up/transferring data. The investigator spends a lot of time gathering and analyzing information for their clients, most of which is obtained from a computer at said desk, or from evidence gathered during previous surveillance. About 50 percent of his or her day is spent waiting in a car doing surveillance. It is a solitary activity, with the private investigator anxiously waiting for the right moment to capture the person in question.

PIs have similar authority as police officers

­­­­A private investigator has the same law enforcement authority that any civilian has. He or she can make citizen arrests (as the general public can do), but cannot arrest individuals in the same manner that a police officer can. Nor can an investigator get away with activities that police are forbidden from engaging in. Harassing a person or forcing someone to do something is out of the question. He or she also can’t trespass onto other people’s property, bribe someone, or hack into their computer to obtain information. Doesn’t sound so exciting now, huh?

About the Author:

Adam Quirk is a licensed private investigator and the Principal Owner of Stealth Advise, LLC in Green Bay, WI. Adam has over 15 years of experience conducting criminal and regulatory investigations for the federal government, as well as the private sector.

Private investigators dress mysteriously and appear elusive

If you noticed a person in a long coat and sunglasses following you around, wouldn’t you be suspicious? Private investigators need to blend into their surroundings and need to look like the average woman or man. If an investigator is following someone in a financial district, he or she may wear dress pants and a nice shirt. On the other hand if the subject is at a football game, then the investigator will wear jeans and a t-shirt. 

Investigators can wiretap phones to obtain evidence

Due to federal law, private investigators are prohibited from wiretapping without consent from at least one of the individuals engaged in the phone conversation. One party MUST know that they are being recorded. There are currently thirty-eight states that have the one party consent statute; the other twelve states require consent from ALL parties involved. And that’s not all; in most cases the investigator will need a warrant to legally tap the phone, which can be obtained from local law enforcement. 

PIs can obtain protected information

As explained in the previous myth, private investigators are not above the law. This also means that they cannot gain access to federal or state protected information without consent of the subject or by obtaining a subpoena. This restricted information includes bank accounts, phone records, credit reports, court documents, and criminal records.

Bank Accounts: A private investigator can’t just log into someone’s bank account or gain access to a bank’s system; permission is first needed from the account holder or through a granted court order, search warrant, or a subpoena. It possible, however, for him or her to identify the location of bank accounts but again they cannot easily access the valuable information within the account.

Phone Records: Just like a bank account, a private investigator needs a subpoena or a court order to access private phone records. However, he or she can easily find out what carrier a person is using or if a person is associated with a particular phone number. That is because that information is not private or protected, and pretty much anyone can find out this information if motivated enough to do so.

Credit Checks: Also considered private information, attaining a credit check requires permission from the subject. And if the investigator does get consent, there must be a legitimate legal purpose for doing so. Don’t get this confused with background checks, which investigators are legally allowed to do without consent!

Criminal Records and Court Documents: Private investigators must follow legal investigative methods when trying to find more information on potential criminal records and/or any court documents. For example, no one can gain access to a case file that has been sealed. In all honesty, private investigators have access to what the public has access to in regard to criminal records and court documents.  However, unlike the public, most are skilled at using that information to find the answers they are looking for.