You have a sneaking suspicion that someone may have hired a private investigator to look into your personal life, business dealings, or other private matters. While people hire PIs for many legitimate reasons, having your privacy invaded can feel like a violation. If you want to find out who hired the PI and why, there are steps you can take to get answers. Here is an overview of how to identify it and what you can do.
1. Look for Red Flags
The first signs that a PI may be investigating you are often subtle or circumstantial. Pay attention to any of these common red flags:
- You notice signs of surveillance, like unfamiliar cars near your home or odd clicks on phone calls. Skilled PIs are masters of discreet monitoring, but they can still leave traces.
- Friends or colleagues mention being asked probing questions about you by a stranger.
- You find legal papers referring to details that only a dedicated investigator could uncover.
- You discover you’ve been under electronic surveillance, with spyware on your devices or accounts hacked.
- Sensitive personal or business documents have gone missing from your home or office.
If any of these occurrences make you suspect, don’t dismiss it. Plenty of illegal or unethical PI work does happen, despite regulations.
2. Think About Who Would Have a Motive
Make a list of who might have incentive to dig into your affairs. Consider:
- Estranged or ex-partners with grudges or custody disputes. Many spouses hire PIs during divorce proceedings.
- Business competitors who want trade secrets or leverage. Corporate espionage by PIs is common.
- Overbearing family members trying to control or monitor you.
- Law enforcement or regulators doing a hidden investigation.
- Private lenders checking your assets and credit.
- Aggressive journalists prying into your life for a story.
Knowing their possible incentives helps narrow the search. You don’t want to make unfair accusations, so only focus on those with reasonable cause to investigate you.
3. Check for Familiar PI Tactics
Professionals have standard tricks they use repeatedly in investigations. Look for these:
- You get emails trying to phish personal data out of you. Investigators use pretexting to gather intel.
- Your trash disappears then reappears. PI’s often rifle through it seeking clues.
- Official-looking but vague mail arrives for you. It may be from a PI front company.
- Cars, property records, or court files related to you have new lienholder entries involving investigator aliases.
- You’re tipped off by an informant or insider at a PI firm. They sometimes rat out unethical cases.
- PI databases show your name as a recent search subject. You can check some public records on request.
Spotting their typical methods in action suggests professional investigators are on the case.
4. Consult a Private Investigator Yourself
Fight fire with fire. Hire your own licensed PI through a reputable firm to uncover whether and why someone has been snooping on you. A pro knows exactly how to spot the tactics and trail of fellow PIs and identify who hired them. You can also have them run surveillance detection to find hidden devices or camera
Just be sure to choose a legitimate PI firm that follows professional rules. Meet to discuss retaining their services in person, not just online. And get references, verification of their PI license, and a written service contract before hiring them.
5. Set Traps to Flush Out Who’s Watching You
If you can’t afford your own PI, you can still lay traps to force the hidden investigator’s hand:
- Feed false information verbally or in writing to specific contacts. See if it ends up being used against you later.
- Leave enticing documents or objects accessible. If they go missing, it may implicate who wanted the info.
- Conduct fictional in-person or phone conversations within potential surveillance range. Wait to see if the details emerge somewhere else.
- Alter your routines and actions. Any reactions or schedule disruptions could signify someone is tracking you closely.
You’re essentially turning the tables on the PI by feeding them junk data. When it resurfaces, you’ll know who saw it.
6. Check Financial Records for Payments
Another way to identify if and who retained an investigator is by searching records for telltale payments:
- Subpoena and audit your suspect’s bank accounts and credit card statements. Large PI agency fees may appear.
- Ask PI firms you suspect directly if they received payments connected to you, either under your name or a cover one. Some will check records as a courtesy if asked.
- File open records requests for your suspects’ government expenditures. Public agencies usually need transparent PI hiring practices.
- Look for checks to fake businesses that sound like PI fronts. ‘Research Associates’, ‘Information Services’, etc.
- Cross reference dates when you first felt investigated with payments in their records. The timing could link it to hiring a PI.
Verification of financials covering when you were probed can reveal who funded it, even if under a different name.
7. Confront Them and Demand Answers
Once you gather evidence pointing to who is responsible, you can approach them directly. Of course, take care with any accusations and focus on facts. Avoid sounding paranoid or making emotional arguments.
Calmly outline the proof that makes you believe they hired an investigator against you. Gauge their reaction – do they fess up and apologize? Or deny it and act indignant themselves?
You can negotiate to settle the matter amicably. Try asking:
- Why did you feel the need to investigate me in secret?
- What were you trying to find out?
- How did the PI operate – did they conduct surveillance, access my accounts, etc?
- Will you agree to stop the investigation?
- Are you willing to destroy or anonymize any data collected about me and not use it further?
- Do you accept that this violated my privacy and autonomy? Will you apologize?
A reasonable, ethical person may own up to their actions and make amends. If they become hostile or continue lying about invading your privacy, you may need to take legal action.
8. Consult a Lawyer About Your Options
If your safety, finances, or reputation were put at serious risk by an unscrupulous PI, you may have legal recourse. Meet with a lawyer to discuss whether your case qualifies as:
- Tortious invasion of privacy – the investigator intentionally intruded upon your solitude or private affairs.
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress – their extreme or outrageous conduct deliberately caused you mental anguish.
- Defamation – they spread harmful false statements about you.
- Misappropriation of trade secrets – your confidential business data was stolen and exploited.
- Trespassing – the PI entered your property without permission.
- Harassment – you were subject to repetitive unwanted intrusion.
A lawyer can advise if suing the client for hiring the PI, the actual agency, or both is warranted. They can also draft formal cease and desist orders.
9. File a Complaint With Regulators
If the PI obtained information about you illegally or violated codes of ethics, report them to oversight bodies:
- Your state licensing department or PI commission, if they have one.
- Professional associations like the National Association of Legal Investigators or Council of International Investigators.
- Local better business bureau.
- State attorney general’s office if they violated consumer laws.
The investigators risk losing their license, membership, or ranked reputation if your complaint shows misconduct toward you as a subject. This provides motivation to make things right if they don’t want censure.
10. Take Countermeasures to Prevent Further Intrusion
After exposing who hired the PI and taking available actions, take precautions to avoid continuing victimization:
- Install home security like cameras, alarms, and motion sensor lights to deter physical surveillance.
- Use encrypted communication tools and enable two-factor authentication for accounts to block electronic spying.
- Periodically search your name online and use Google Alerts to monitor anyone mentioning you publicly.
- Switch up your daily movements and habits to make tracking more difficult.
- Share only essential personal information with even close friends or colleagues in case it gets back to the PI through inquiry.
- Retain a lawyer on standby and immediately document any suspected repeat intrusions. Having early evidence will aid pursuing formal restraining orders if the PI persists.
With vigilance and the help of professionals, you can identify problematic investigators and prevent further privacy erosion. Don’t ignore warning signs that someone hired a PI against your wishes – take action to protect yourself.