What Does a Private Investigator do

01:57 Shreyansh Jain 0 Comments

Everyone who finds out that I am a private investigator as well as an author asks me two things:

What Does a Private Investigator Actually do


Assist attorneys in preparing court cases. In civil cases, we might work for either side. In criminal cases, PIs almost always work for the defense. (The police have their own investigators on staff; they are called detectives.) We locate participants, document alleged crime scenes, and interview witnesses. In short, we do anything that’s needed for the case. And by the way, it’s our job to be impartial, not to advocate for any side. Sometimes we end up delivering bad news about witnesses or evidence to our attorney clients; it’s the attorney’s job to decide what to do with the court case.
Child custody cases, where we determine who is actually caring for the children and if they are in a safe and healthy environment.
Cases of business fraud, where we document shady behavior such as secret meetings with competitors and sales of “exclusive” franchises to multiple buyers in the same areas.
Insurance fraud cases, where we sleuth out the “disabled” who claim they are too physically injured to work but can still miraculously go snowboarding or load cases of beer into their trucks.
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Counterfeit merchandise or stolen merchandise cases, where we often pose as buyers to document the transactions and get the physical evidence.
Locations of individuals for a multitude of reasons, often happy reasons like inheritance or long-lost friends or relatives. We always check out the client carefully in locate cases, because we do not want to facilitate a stalker; and while we are happy to pass on the client’s contact information and relay any message back, we will not deliver the located person’s contact information to the client without permission from the located person.
Workplace investigations, where we do our best to document internal theft, lack of security, or harassment issues within companies.
Difficult process service, where the individual to be served court papers has been evading normal service. I won’t reveal our secrets here, but my partner Molly is a positive wizard at serving nearly anyone.
Deal with paranoid schizophrenics. Sadly, some potential clients who call us for help soon reveal themselves to be mentally ill and are usually off their medications. In these cases, we try to reassure them that government agents are not camped out in their back yards, aliens are not beaming x-rays at their heads, and/or their neighbors are not breaking into their apartments at all hours of the day and night. We recognize that these individuals are truly frightened. We also try to find a relative, medical professional, or appropriate social service to help get the person back into proper care.
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And yes, we do occasionally surveil suspected cheating spouses and domestic partners, but only in cases where there is no history whatsoever of violence or threats between the two parties. Just like locates, we carefully check out the client because we do not want to facilitate a stalker or promote aggression. Some of these cases have to do with divorcing spouses suspecting the other of hiding assets prior to a divorce being finalized. And I’m happy to report that in many cases, we find the person in question to be innocent of the accusation.
Unlike PIs on television, in real life private investigators have no special powers. We cannot legally break into buildings, trespass on private property (except in certain cases of process serving), or threaten or intimidate anyone, and we certainly don’t run around shooting guns, although some PIs carry weapons for protection. In general, we have to be even more careful than the average citizen not to break any laws, because we are more likely to be sued or prosecuted for any violations. I wrote more about what the life is really like in my newest little ebook, SO YOU WANT TO BE A PI?

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Follow Colt Ledger Is investigation work fun? Well, no, not generally speaking, unless you consider reading endless documents, writing reports, and sitting in a cold car for hours on end to be a real hoot.

Is it dangerous? Yes, sometimes it can be a little creepy, but a smart investigator always has a cell phone handy and meets shady characters in coffee shops, not in dark alleys.

Is it interesting? Most of the time, yes. Even if I don’t care about the outcome of a case, I always meet colorful characters along the way. Investigation work is a great sideline to my other job and true avocation: mystery author.