Private Detectives and Investigators
Private detectives and investigators find facts and analyze information about legal, financial and personal matters. They offer many services, including verifying people's backgrounds, tracing missing persons, investigating computer crimes and protecting celebrities. Private detectives and investigators typically work for individuals, attorneys and businesses. Some have their own investigative agency.
Private detectives and investigators offer many services, based on clients' needs. They may perform pre-employment background checks or look into a charge that someone has been stealing money from a company. They might be hired to prove or disprove infidelity in a divorce case. Private detectives and investigators use a variety of tools when researching the facts in a case. Much of their work is done with a computer, which allows them to quickly get information, such as records of a person’s prior arrests, telephone numbers, social networking-site details and emails. They make phone calls to verify facts, such as a person's income and place of employment. They also interview people when conducting a background investigation.
Investigators may go undercover, pretending to be someone else to go unnoticed, to get information or to observe a suspect. Detectives also conduct surveillance when investigating a case. They may watch a site, such as the person's home or office, often from an inconspicuous location or a vehicle. Using photographic and video cameras, binoculars, and global positioning systems (GPS), detectives gather information on persons of interest. Surveillance can be time consuming. Detectives and investigators must be mindful of the law when conducting investigations. They must have a good understanding of federal, state and local laws, such as privacy laws, and other legal issues affecting their work. However, as the legality of certain methods may be unclear, investigators and detectives must make use good judgment when deciding how to pursue a case. They must collect evidence properly, so that it can be used legally in court.
Private detectives and investigators work in a wide variety of environments, depending on the case that they are working on. Some spend more time in their offices conducting computer searches and making phone calls. Others spend more time in the field, conducting interviews or doing surveillance. Investigators generally work alone, but they may work with others while conducting surveillance or following a subject. Some of the work involves confrontation, so the job can be stressful and dangerous. Some situations, such as certain bodyguard assignments for corporate or celebrity clients, call for the investigator to be armed. In most cases, however, a weapon is not necessary because private detectives and investigators’ purpose is information gathering and not law enforcement or criminal apprehension. Owners of investigative agencies have the added stress of having to deal with demanding and, sometimes, distraught clients. Private detectives and investigators often work irregular hours because they need to conduct surveillance and to contact people outside of normal work hours. They may work early mornings, evenings, weekends, and holidays. In addition, they may have to work outdoors, or from a vehicle, in all kinds of weather.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of private detectives and investigators is expected to grow 21 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. Increased demand for private detectives and investigators will stem from heightened security concerns and the need to protect property and confidential information. Technological advances have led to an increase in cybercrimes, such as identity theft and spamming. Internet scams, as well as various other types of financial and insurance fraud, create demand for investigative services. Background checks will continue to be a source of work for many investigators, as both employers and personal contacts want to verify that people are credible. More individuals are investigating care facilities, such as childcare providers and hospitals.
For information on wages, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Career information courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook.