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Five Things a Private Investigator Should Not Do for You

download (3)A Private Investigator has an interesting niche. Categorized as neither police nor entirely civilian, a PI can do certain things that police and civilians can’t. Let’s explore some of the things your PI should NOT be doing for you. If you find that he or she is, get out of your contract with them as quickly as you can and terminate the relationship.

1. A Private Investigator Can’t Break the Law.

For many people who believe everything they see on TV, a PI is a mysterious character who can take great liberties with the law in their country or jurisdiction. You’ve probably seen PI’s kidnap, hold people by force, beat up people to get them to talk, bribe officers, break into buildings, impersonate persons of authority to get others to talk, break into windows, photograph records without a warrant, etc. Basically, if it’s against the law, a PI can’t do it, even though there are certain privileges in some countries that come with being a PI.

2. A Private Investigator Can’t Wiretap and Is Not a Spy.

It’s illegal to record phone calls and conversations without informing the person being recorded, especially in environments where the person has a legal expectation of privacy. A PI might be more likely to be in a place where he can overhear certain conversations, because a PI can be on private property listening in as long as it’s not in violation of the law. If your PI is told to leave the property, either verbally or by a “No Trespassing” sign, and ignores that request, your PI is violating the trespassing laws. If you find out that your PI is recording people without their knowledge and you’re paying the investigator, terminate the contract immediately.

3. It’s Illegal for a Private Investigator to Impersonate.

If your investigator goes into a hospital, dons surgical scrubs, parades into a patient’s room, and proceeds to read the patient’s chart, that PI has just broken the law. Sure, you’ve seen it on TV shows, but that doesn’t make it legal and (hopefully) you won’t see any behavior like this in real life. Besides, it’s usually much easier to simply go to the hospital room, strike up a conversation with the patient, and get permission to glance at the chart. In real life, there’s almost always an easier, less dramatic way to get things done.

4. Your PI Must Not Trespass.

As stated above, your PI can’t break and enter, ignore “Keep Out” signs, steal evidence from any location, or just generally act sleazy. It only works in TV and movies.

5. Your PI Must Not Commit Battery.

If your PI grabs someone by the arm and tries to detain him or her, your PI is committing battery. Your PI will not get into nearly the number of fights you might expect him to. Your PI will use powers of observation and communication, not force.

With all these restrictions, you might wonder how much of the intelligence is gathered. It can be at the library, or via a series of interviews, talking with informants, and plain old surveillance. A PI usually tries to stay low profile, so communication skills are a must.

What CAN a Private Investigator Do?

1. In some countries, an officer cannot approach a private residence without reason.

That’s not true of a PI. The PI is certainly welcome to stroll up to the door just like any citizen, which makes it much easier for that PI to overhear certain conversations. While he might not be able to record them, it’s certainly okay to take notes. But the minute he’s detected and asked to leave, he must comply.

2. A PI Has Access to Certain Records that the Public Can’t Get.

This does depend on the country but in some cases a PI can access certain databases of banks, cell phones, property, and background checks that the general public can’t see. The only restriction is that the access needs to relate to a case that the PI is currently investigating. The PI is not a sworn officer, but there are some areas of trust that come if there is licensing.

3. A PI Can Stay Neutral in a Partnership.

Whether it’s a business or marriage partnership, a PI can be hired by one of the partners to investigate the other. There is no legal obligation to be loyal to both.

I hope this has been a fun glimpse into the life of a PI and what the PI can and shouldn’t do to help you with your case.