If you’re considering a career as a private investigator (PI), you likely have a natural curiosity and passion for solving mysteries. But the job involves much more than sleuthing – PIs must be disciplined, diligent, and comfortable dealing with confrontation. The day-to-day work depends heavily on the specific position and specialty. Let’s take a detailed look at some of the most common PI jobs and what they entail.
Businesses often hire private investigators to conduct internal investigations related to security issues, theft, or other crimes. Responsibilities of a corporate investigator typically include:
- Investigating allegations of fraud committed by employees, vendors, clients, or competitors. This may involve reviewing financial records, surveillance, and cooperating with auditors and law enforcement.
- Performing background checks on potential new hires to screen for issues like criminal history or falsified credentials. Thorough pre-employment vetting reduces business risks.
- Investigating cases of workplace misconduct as dictated by company policy, such as sexual harassment complaints, code of conduct violations, or employee disputes. Their findings inform disciplinary and legal actions.
- Conducting cybersecurity investigations by gathering digital evidence and uncovering the source of data breaches, hacking attempts, identity theft, or computer misuse. Experience with IT forensics is valued.
- Looking into significant inventory losses to determine if they are due to sloppy record keeping or deliberate theft and fraud. This requires meticulous documentation review and interviews.
The environment tends to be more stable than other PI positions. You can expect mostly weekday hours in an office setting. Strong analytical and communication abilities are valued in corporate investigators. An accounting or business background is also beneficial.
Legal investigators assist lawyers and law firms with various aspects of civil and criminal cases. Typical duties include:
- Tracking down and interviewing witnesses to discover new information that supports a legal case. The PI must obtain unbiased and complete witness statements.
- Analyzing police reports, medical records, phone records, social media posts and other documents to identify relevant facts for attorneys. Keen attention to detail is critical.
- Researching legal precedents, verdicts in similar cases, and other information to support case arguments and strategies. Thorough legal research skills are required.
- Photographing and diagramming crime scenes or accident sites to provide visual documentation for court evidence.
- Obtaining criminal background checks on defendants and plaintiffs to uncover incriminating or impeaching evidence for lawyers.
- Serving subpoenas and legal notices ensuring proper procedures are followed so documents get admitted as evidence.
Legal investigators must closely follow attorney instructions and maintain confidentiality. Strong writing skills are valued since creating detailed reports for the legal team is essential.
Insurance companies hire PIs to investigate questionable or suspicious claims made by policyholders. Their duties include:
- Interviewing claimants, witnesses, physicians and other parties to gather statements. Identifying inconsistencies or red flags is key.
- Conducting background checks on claimants to uncover pre-existing conditions, financial problems, or evidence of fraud that may provide a motive for exaggerating claims.
- Performing surveillance on claimants to document physical abilities and daily activities. This may reveal exaggerated disability claims.
- Reviewing medical reports to ascertain the extent of injuries and determine if treatments and costs were reasonable. Knowledge of standard care costs is essential.
- Photographing damaged property and accident scenes to provide visual evidence to insurance company claims departments.
- Writing detailed reports summarizing the findings of their investigation and providing an opinion on the legitimacy of the claim.
Strong math skills, attention to detail, and skepticism are needed in this position. Investigators must determine actual damages and flag suspicious claims to avoid unnecessary payouts.
Missing Persons Investigator
PIs who specialize in missing persons cases perform a variety of duties aimed at locating lost or kidnapped individuals such as:
- Interviewing the friends, relatives, coworkers, neighbors, and associates of the missing person searching for leads. Establishing a timeline of their activities is crucial.
- Researching any public records related to the missing person such as passports, court documents, car registration, cell phone records, social media accounts, and financial statements.
- Contacting jails, hospitals, morgues, shelters, and other locations the missing person may have visited for possible sightings. Leaving flyers can generate leads.
- Monitoring social media platforms for any activity by the missing individual. Digital footprints often yield clues.
- Performing extensive public records research utilizing databases, genealogical records, and internet searches to uncover known associates or relatives of the missing person.
- Coordinating with law enforcement and assisting with procedures like obtaining subpoenas, setting up telephone taps, and organizing search parties or sweeps.
- Writing regular status reports detailing progress made, leads followed, locations searched, and next steps. Keeping families updated provides some reassurance.
Tenacity and creativity are required when hunting for elusive missing persons. The unpredictable schedule, long hours, and emotional conversations with distraught loved ones can take a toll. But successfully closing these difficult cases is extremely rewarding.
Process servers deliver legal documents like summons, subpoenas, warrants, court orders or other notifications. Responsibilities include:
- Locating correct home and business addresses for parties using skip tracing methods and public records.
- Traveling to meet defendants/witnesses and legally serve notice while avoiding confrontation. Careful documentation ensures proper procedures are followed.
- Preparing affidavits of service describing delivery details to provide to attorneys as certificate of service.
- Attempting re-service when subjects avoid initial delivery and coordinating with law enforcement if necessary to enforce legal orders.
- Testifying in court regarding service if legal disputes over delivery arise.
Agility, resourcefulness and diligence are needed to track down elusive subjects avoiding service. Strong communication skills allow servers to defuse tense situations.
Surveillance is a common task for many PIs who must discreetly observe subjects such as:
- Insurance claimants to document physical abilities and daily activities.
- Workers’ compensation recipients to identify fraud.
- Spouses suspected of infidelity to gather proof for divorce cases.
- Custodial parents to confirm child care arrangements and safety.
- Accident victims to verify legitimate injuries.
- Criminals and suspects at the request of attorneys or law enforcement.
- Performing stationary surveillance by blending into environments near the subject’s location. Notes, photos and videos discreetly document observations.
- Conducting mobile surveillance by following a subject while driving. Staying undetected requires excellent driving skills and situational awareness.
- Implementing various methods for tracking subjects like GPS devices on vehicles or monitoring social media check-ins to maintain proximity.
- Writing detailed reports of surveillance findings including location logs, activity timelines, and any incriminating evidence gathered through observation.
- Testifying in court regarding surveillance procedures, notes, photos/videos if required.
Patience and alertness are crucial during lengthy stakeouts and tails. Strong writing skills allow investigators to vividly convey observed behaviors.
Undercover investigators adopt false personas to gain insider access without detection. Responsibilities include:
- Assuming an alternate identity and backstory that cannot be linked to the investigator’s real identity, background, or affiliations.
- Gaining employment at or joining organizations and groups under investigation to document illegal or improper activities from the inside.
- Record conversations using surveillance devices and cameras without being detected. These provide evidence of wrongdoing.
- Convincingly play their undercover role while under pressure and dangerous conditions. Any slip up could blow their cover.
- Documenting detailed written reports of discoveries made while undercover including transcripts of conversations, photos/videos, names of participants, dates and more.
- Testifying in court regarding their undercover activities if required.
Undercover work requires extreme discipline, caution, and the ability to think quickly on your feet. Stress and isolation come with constantly living a lie. But bringing down corrupt organizations makes the risks worthwhile.
Seasoned private investigators are often hired by law firms as subject matter experts and consultants on cases. Responsibilities include:
- Providing expert opinions on evidence based on many years of professional investigative work and experience in specialty areas.
- Educating lawyers on investigative procedures, techniques, resources, technology, and equipment so they can cross-examine witnesses more effectively.
- Reviewing case files and discovery materials to create reports identifying investigative flaws or new leads to pursue. Seeing things others missed can solve cases.
- Teaching best practices for evidence gathering, documentation, reporting, and testimony to law enforcement or junior investigators. Mentorship is valued.
- Serving as an expert witness providing testimony on investigative standards, protocol, and methodology. Their seasoned perspective carries weight.
- Staying up to date on the latest laws, technology tools, and methods through continuing education to maintain expert status.
Success requires stellar communication skills, poise under pressure, and the ability to clearly explain complex concepts to attorneys and juries.
Choosing Your Specialty
This overview highlights the diversity of PI positions. To determine which specialty suits you best, consider your skills, interests and personality. Are you persuasive and eloquent? Surveillance work leverages your patience and sharp observational abilities. Do you love puzzles and connecting dots? Insurance fraud or missing persons cases allow you to utilize your research talents and tenacity. Are you wired for excitement and risk? Undercover assignments provide plenty of adrenaline. Finding your niche is key to being fulfilled in your PI career.
The private investigator profession offers endless variety. With so many critical roles to choose from, you can find the position that perfectly matches your strengths and passions. Once licensed, the path you take is up to you. So pursue the specialty that speaks to your unique talents and interests. Then get out there and start investigating!