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How to Become a Private Investigator – A Complete Guide

Do you want to learn what it takes to become a private investigator? If YES, here is a complete guide plus requirements needed to become a private investigator.

The world we live in and the people we come across in our daily activities, as well as the experiences of others around us, have taught us that sometimes it is always safe to give people the benefit of doubt, no matter how truthful or sincere they appear or behave.

A lot of people have fallen prey to scams and fraudulent activities of people and organizations that they have at one time or the other trusted, only to discover that the claims and sometimes, identities of such persons or groups are non-existent or fake. Thus people have taken measures to avoid the reoccurrence of such horrific experiences that they have suffered or learnt from others.

Hence, the need for expert opinion and assistance from private investigators, to reduce and eliminate the risks, gather factual information and evidence, and offer professional advice especially when the threats involve individual lives and companies. Private investigators make research and help to gather evidence on any subject you want them to cover. It is actually better to be safe than have regrets.

There are a number of reasons why people employ the services of private investigators and detectives. Whatever reason it is however, it all starts from a growing suspicion about the behavioral character or appearance of the person(s) or organization(s) being investigated. Some of the reasons for hiring a private investigator include:

Why People Hire Private Investigators

  • Infidelity or investigating a cheating spouse
  • Locating a lost or missing relative or child
  • Judicial struggle to win the custody of a child
  • Harassment and stalking
  • Background check on a business before investment
  • Background check on would-be employees
  • Social and welfare investigation
  • Embezzlement, fraud and bribery claims
  • Criminal investigations
  • Document verifications
  • Dating and romance scam, especially online dating
  • Pre-marital check

Another term commonly used interchangeably for private investigator is ‘private detective’. A detective is an investigator, usually a member of a law enforcement agency. In some cases, they are private persons, and may be referred to as private investigators or “private eyes”.

A private detective examines and evaluates clues and personal records in order to uncover and unravel mysteries, and sometimes the identity and/or whereabouts of the criminals or persons being investigated.

Private investigation is a highly respected discipline that has evolved and grown significantly in the last decade. Private investigators now serve as contractors for even law enforcement agencies, cybercrime, surveillance and human resource teams among others. The services they render are broad ranging, and can include everything from investigations into marital infidelity and missing persons, to the use of computer forensics to solve cases related to financial fraud, extortion or exploitation.

Job Description and Duties of a Private Investigator

Private investigators and detectives work in many places, depending on the case. Some of them spend more time in offices online, engaging in computer searches; while others spend more time in the field conducting interviews and performing surveillance discreetly. Often times, they work irregular and odd hours.

Private investigators and detectives have to go to any length, legal and sometimes illegal, to get facts and analyze information about business, legal, financial, and personal matters. They offer many services, including verifying people’s backgrounds, finding missing persons, and investigating computer crimes.

A private investigator as an individual amongst other duties and responsibilities, typically carry out the following tasks for clients, towards ensuring that facts are gathered and secrets are unraveled:

  • They investigate crimes
  • They investigate the identity, business, occupation, character, etc., of a person or group of persons.
  • They investigate the location of lost or stolen properties.
  • They investigate the whereabouts of missing persons.
  • They investigate the cause of fires, losses, accidents, damage or injury.
  • They collect and secure evidences for use in court.
  • They conduct interview on people in order to gather information.
  • They search records to uncover clues and mysteries.
  • They Conduct surveillance on subject(s) being investigated, and people around them that might aid in the investigation.
  • They verify employment, income, and other facts about a person or group
  • Private investigators may also protect persons, if such services are incidental to an investigation.
  • They can also serve as personal escort on occasions, especially to celebrities.
  • They perform undercover operations, which may include evaluation of the performance or otherwise of employees.
  • Private investigators also make research on computer databases, public records, tax and legal filings, and other necessary resources, to compile information for investigation.
  • In cases where they work for law enforcement agencies, private investigators alert the appropriate personnel of suspects’ location.
  • They investigate organizations’ financial standings and help to identify embezzlement and fraud.
  • They relate with officials and personnel of security departments, police and other relevant bodies, to identify problems, offer solutions, and receive instructions when the need arise.
  • They assist during criminal and civil cases, insurance fraud, child protection and custody disputes.
  • They are often hired by people to investigate whether their spouses have committed infidelity.

Tools of the Trade for a Private Investigator

Private investigation requires being detailed and leaving no stone unturned. Hence, preparation for just about anything is the name of the game when conducting surveillance. The different types of surveillance may however require more preparation than other types, but regardless of whatever type it is, there are many basic items that every private investigator should have in their gear or vehicle.

Over the years, the field of private investigation has evolved and several modern tools and equipment are employed in the process of gathering facts and drawing factual conclusions.

For instance, private investigators are experienced in using proven interview and questioning techniques in order to achieve exceptional results when obtaining factual information from individuals or groups. This intelligence can be compiled into a brief of evidence with any supporting documentation that allows the clients to make informed decisions and take appropriate action when required.

Spy gear, also referred to as spy equipment or spy gadgets, is considered to be any electronic equipment or device used to perform various types of investigations and surveillance. This equipment is used by private investigators to perform surveillance, which involves observing the behavior of a particular target.

It is also used to conduct counter-surveillance to monitor for bugging devices or to prevent others from observing the behavior of the person or persons under investigation, or to conduct covert investigations. The gadgets are used most often by private investigators, police officers, bounty hunters and even the military.

In many cases, private investigators and detectives use spy equipment without the knowledge of the subjects being observed. This is usually done to gather information from a subject, such as photographs or videos of their activity and movement. In addition, this equipment is becoming an important part of both personal and home security, with the use of security cameras, hidden surveillance and wireless cams.

Private investigators employ the use of several spy equipment, ranging from basic to advanced security and surveillance equipment. They make use of gadgets and electronics such as audio recorders, electronic bug detectors, digital cameras, GPS tracking devices, listening devices, night vision goggles, self-defense products, and other apparatus. Some of this equipment can be categorized into:

  • Audio Listening and Recording: This tool analyses and modifies audio voice such as voice stress analyzers, voice changers and transformers for use with telephones and cell phones.
  • Audio Amplifiers: This is a sound amplification tools for listening to people from a distance. It comes in handy for surveillance missions.
  • Bulletproof Vests: These include bulletproof vests, bullet-resistant vests and other body armor designed for protection in the line of duty.
  • Computer Hardware and Software Tools: Hardware and software programs for spying on computers, hacking, recording internet surfing activity, logging keystrokes, catching a cheating spouse, etc
  • Digital Voice Recorders / Audio Recorders: These are audio recording instruments including digital voice recorders, telephone and tape recorders. They are useful for taking witness statements, recording notes about a case and more.
  • Electronic Bug Detectors: These bug detection devices are useful for performing basic countermeasure checks either for personal home security or as a security service to the clients. Electronic bug detectors help detect and locate all major types of electronic surveillance devices including room, phone, body bugs, microphones, video transmitters, and tape recorders.
  • GPS Tracking Devices: Secret GPS vehicle tracking devices for monitoring the travel activities of company, fleet and private vehicles, especially of the subject under investigation. This has to be done covertly.
  • Hidden Cameras: Spy security cameras are covert and easily concealed hidden security devices, wireless security cameras, stealth cameras for hats, covert glasses, pen, wrist watch, hidden camera buttons, and more.
  • Listening Devices: These are sound recording materials and covert listening devices. Sound amplifiers and amplified microphones allow private investigators to hear sound from a distance.
  • Binoculars: This also includes night vision goggles, binoculars, and weapons sights. Useful for night time surveillance and security.
  • DC to AC Power Inverter: This is a device that plugs into the cigarette lighter and allows the detective to plug in things like laptop computer, cell phone, or anything else that needs to charge with a traditional household plug
  • Video Systems: These are visual recording instruments which include packaged camera systems, charger, backup battery, CCTV and DVR monitors.
  • Video Recorders: These are video surveillance kits for recording subject activity (at home and at work, or any other location), video recording mechanisms and other spy equipment.

There are other advanced equipment used by private investigators including digital camcorders, voice recorders and devices, portable receiving and recording surveillance systems, auto voice recorder and note pad, digital binoculars, jacket camera, covert video systems, bug detection kits, undercover jackets, flashlight, and watch voice recorders.

The choice of surveillance vehicle is equally important to private investigators. In addition to these, private investigators employ the use of investigation apps, computer software and online search tools for database searches, proper background checks, case management and other needful operations.

How to Become a Private Investigator – A Complete Guide

The Labour Market Situation for Private Investigators

  • In the United States

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook has projected that the total number of private security officers in the United States across all industries over time and the number of officers employed by contract firms has increased. Ten sources have tracked either the total number of private security officers in the United States or the number of security officers employed by contract firms.

From 1980 to 2010 for both total employment and employment within contract firms, there was an increase of about 80% in the number of employees. However, most of this growth occurred during the 1980s and 1990s, with limited to no growth over the past 10 years. Moreover, since 1997 about 60% of private investigators have been employed by a contract security firm. This implies that the remaining 40% are proprietary security officers.

Although these trends in private security employment have been consistent, the estimates for each type of employment (i.e., total in the United States and contract) have varied by about 200,000 employees in a given year. This variation is likely due to three primary factors.

According to a population survey (BLS, 2010b), 16.2% of private investigators work part time in 2004 and 16.1% work part time in 2008. Therefore, while the percentage of private investigators who worked part time was historically higher than the national average, it has decreased to the same level as the national average in recent years.

The Private Detectives industry comprises a large number of smaller companies and organizations, with the average operator employing eight people. As a result, market share concentration within the industry is low, with the top four companies accounting for less than 5.0% of total industry revenue.

Industry player All State Investigations, Inc. employs over 600 detectives, which invariably is significantly more, than the average company, but still only controls an estimated 1.5% of the market. The industry is also highly fragmented and so the majority of operators serve a specific geographic area leading to no single operator controlling a significant portion of the business.

Employment of private investigators and detectives is projected to have a growth of 11 percent from the year 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for private investigators and detectives will stem from security concerns and the need to protect confidential information. Strong competition can be expected for jobs available for private investigators.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is predicting robust demand for private investigators and detectives in the coming years. According to the BLS, from 2010 to 2020 the field will experience a job growth rate of 21% – well above the average rate of 14% for all occupations – mainly because of increased security demands and the growing need to protect sensitive information. The popularity of the Internet has created a haven for cyber criminals, spammers and identity thieves, which will also fuel demand for investigators.

In May 2011, there were about 26,000 private detectives and investigators nationwide, earning an average annual salary of $48,610, the BLS reported. Salary potential, like job prospects, varies based on regional market conditions and an individual’s educational level and employment history.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) records for May 2014 show that private detectives and investigators held approximately 30,000 jobs, mostly with private detective agencies. Employment in this field is predicted to grow much faster than the average for all occupations, but competition is expected to increase. Increased security concerns in the public and private sector will boost demand for private detectives and investigators.

According to the BLS, private detectives and investigators earned a median yearly salary of $44,570 in May 2014. The middle 50% earned between $34,530 and $63,370, while the lowest 10% had a yearly income of $27,000 or less. The highest 10% earned upwards of $85,560 annually.

In the United States, states like New York, Florida, California and Pennsylvania have the highest levels of employment in the field, which is usually competitive because it attracts a variety of qualified applicants, including law enforcement retirees.

Labour Market Situation in the U.K, Australia and Canada

Similarly in other countries like the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, the job of a private investigator is both enviable and demanding. Private investigators have to work long hours, sometimes working late, in order to meet clients’ demands and time frame, and obtain facts, necessary for drawing conclusions on their investigations.

However, the number of private investigators in the UK, Canada, and Australia cannot be compared to that of the United States. This might be due to the number of crime rate in the country and the profitability of the field. So, there will always be a demand for highly skilled experts trained in specific investigative fields. This is further evidence that private investigation is not a dying industry. Fields such as forensic accounting, wrongful death, and infidelity investigations are always in demand.

  • Impact of Internet Technology on Private Investigation

When television sets began to be mass produced in the early 1950’s there was some concern in Hollywood that television would spell the end of the motion picture industry. Likewise, it has been suggested that the advent of security cameras was supposed to discontinue the need for security officers and, to some extent, private investigators that specialize in insurance fraud. That hasn’t happened.

This is a similar situation when it comes to the issue of the social media. Cheap commercially available tracking devices and outdated “information providers” on the internet have furthered the ability for the average person to find at least some information. Many private investigators bemoan the fact that the internet has made it easier for clients to bypass private investigators altogether and find the information they’re looking for themselves.

The reality is that social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others have been of immense benefit to the Private investigation industry. According to a couple of studies at the University of Missouri, excessive use of social media has actually increased the opportunities for affairs or dalliances with old high school boyfriends or college girlfriends. Enter the private eye.

Furthermore, courts and government agencies at all levels of government – local, state, and federal – are increasingly making public records available on web sites. Some jurisdictions are just beginning, while others have done so since the mid-1990s.

There are two ways public records are accessible electronically. Some jurisdictions post them on their government web sites, thereby providing free or low-cost access to records. Government agencies and courts also sell their public files to commercial data compilers and information brokers. They in turn make them available on a fee basis, either via web sites or by special network hookups.

With over 90% of the world’s business documents being drafted on computers and the relentless use of e-mail, instant messaging and internet business by nearly everyone, much of today’s civil litigation evidence can be derived from computers. Private investigators can locate and recover any and all relevant information that may exist on a computer or any storage device. This includes recovering items such as e-mails viewed but not “saved”, websites visited, deleted documents, uninstalled software, etc.

The great news about this type of data is that unlike a piece of paper which only shows what can be seen, electric data can have information about its creation, multiple versions of that information, who it was transmitted to, history of its use, etc. If a piece of information exists on a computer or storage device, it can be located and produced for inclusion in evidence.

Although, there are significant negative consequences to individuals when public records containing personally identifiable information are widely available on the Internet or via proprietary fee-based systems, it does not in any way limit the importance or scope of assignment of private investigators.

Career Ideas Related to the Private Investigator Niche

A range of career paths are open to private investigators and detectives, including in law, government, business and security. They may be employed as loss prevention agents in stores or as corporate investigators who look into issues such as expense account abuse or workplace drug use.

Many attorneys use private investigators to gather information for civil or criminal trial defense cases. In divorce cases, family law attorneys engage private investigators to verify marital infidelity. In addition, Private investigators are employed to conduct background checks on job applicants on behalf of employers, protect celebrities or corporate heads, etc. Related fields and jobs include:

  • Border Force Officer
  • Intelligence Analyst
  • Police Officer – State
  • Security Officer
  • Accountants and Auditors
  • Bill and Account Collectors
  • Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators
  • Financial Analysts
  • Financial Examiners
  • Personal Financial Advisors
  • Police and Detectives
  • Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers
  • Criminologist
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Penologist
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Accounting Forensics
  • ATF(Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) Agent
  • ATF Investigator
  • ATF Technician/Professional
  • Border Patrol Agent
  • CIA Agent
  • Coast Guard
  • Compliance Officer
  • Computer Forensics
  • Counter Terrorism expert
  • Crime Laboratory Analyst
  • Crime Scene Investigator
  • Customs Agent
  • DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) Agent
  • Diplomatic Security
  • FBI Agent
  • Federal Air Marshal
  • Federal Protective Service
  • Forensic Engineer
  • Forensic Odontologist
  • Forensic Psychologist
  • Fraud Investigator
  • Homeland Security
  • Immigration Agent
  • Information Security Expert
  • IRS Special Agent
  • NSA Police Officer
  • Private Security
  • Police Detective
  • Police Officer
  • Psychological Profiler
  • Secret Service Agent
  • Surveillance Officer

To be a successful private investigator, a certain level of professionalism is required. This is acquired as a result of training and experiences gathered in the course of carrying out investigations. In addition, a private investigator must belong to professional bodies.

Professional Bodies That Exist in the Private Investigation Industry

In the United States

  • The National Council of Investigation and Security Services (NCISS)
  • American Polygraph Association (APA)
  • American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) Association of Certified Fraud Examiners – The ACFE is the world’s largest anti-fraud organization and premier provider of anti-fraud training and education.
  • Association of Christian Investigators (ACI)
  • Association of Consumer Reporting Agencies (NCRA)
  • Association of Forensic Document Examiners (AFDE)
  • Certified Investigative Professionals (CIPI).
  • High Technology Crime Investigation Association (HTCIA)
  • International Anti-counterfeiting Coalition.
  • International Association for the Study of Organized Crime (IASOC)
  • National Association of Certified Valuation Analysts (NACVA)
  • National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI)
  • National Association of Fraud Investigators.
  • National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI)
  • National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS)
  • National White Collar Crime Center
  • Pacific Northwest Association of Investigators.
  • United States Association of Professional Investigators – USAPI.
  • National Association of Code Enforcement Officers & Investigators.
  • International Homicide Investigators Association
  • National Association of Legal Investigators

In the United Kingdom

  • Association of British Investigators (ABI)
  • Security Industry Authority (SIA)
  • Institute of Professional Investigators
  • National Criminal Intelligence Service
  • Council of International Investigators
  • Institute of Professional Investigators
  • Scottish Association of Investigators
  • World Association of Detectives
  • World Association of Professional Investigators
  • Credit Services Association
  • International Association of Auto Theft Investigators UK Branch

In Canada

  • The Council of Private Investigators Ontario (CPIO)
  • The Canadian Association of Private Investigators (CAPI)
  • The Council of International Investigators (CII)
  • The Canadian Association of Special Investigation Units (CASIU)
  • The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE’s)
  • The Retail Council of Canada
  • The Ontario Insurance Adjusters Association (OIAA)
  • Retail Council Of Canada
  • Social Member Ontario Insurance Adjusters Association

In Australia

  • Australian Institute of Professional Investigators
  • Institute of Mercantile Agents
  • Licensing and Regulation Division, Victoria Police
  • Council of International Investigators
  • Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE)
  • The Australian Association of Investigators and Security Professionals AISP
  • The Australian & New Zealand Society of Criminology (ANZSOC)
  • The International Investigative Interviewing Research Group (IIIRG).
  • Association of Workplace Investigators
  • Australian Institute of Professional Investigators
  • Institute of Professional Investigators (AIPI).

Benefits of Becoming a Private Investigator

For anyone that wants to consider private investigation as a career, such a person must look at the pros and cons of the profession. The work of a private investigator is a challenging but desirable occupation.

a. The first and obvious advantage is that of being your own boss. This is the dream of many people, since it gives them the freedom to work the number of hours they choose and no-one can make them redundant. They are masters of their own time and destiny and the harder or longer they work, the more reward they get without the office politics and pressures of having a normal 9-5 boss.

They can choose to work part-time or full-time and also fit the work around other commitments such as children, family or studies. The entry risks are also low since the profession can be practiced part-time, while still gainfully employed and only when you are happy do you need to give up paid employment and go full-time. You may, of course, choose to remain employed and carry on part-time as a Private Investigator, using the new job to earn extra money.

b. Another advantage is that you have the choice to specialize in a particular type of investigation work, depending on your interests and skills. Some people choose a lucrative niche such as counter-espionage where a company suspects an employee of fraud or worse but they need evidence to support the termination of an employment contract or bring in the police for a formal investigation. These types of jobs require knowledge of the law and in particular what type of evidence is admissible in court and what is not.

c. Another advantage is that you can use existing skills to your advantage. If you have IT skills, for instance, you can use these to track down information and behavioral patterns that may have been deliberately hidden. Private Investigators have many different clients such as Government Agencies, banks and other Financial Institutions, Businesses (both large and small), Private Individuals, Lawyers and Paralegals, etc.

d. Another very important advantage is that you are always in high demand, especially if you are a professional in your field, with a proven track record. If you think about these clients, and consider the current financial environment, you will also understand that the demand for the services of a Private Investigator has never been higher. Governments are cracking down on cheats and frauds as they seek to reduce high levels of debt and provide cash for an ever increasing generation of pensioners.

e. In addition, in this profession, it does not matter what you currently do to make a living. While many Private Detectives have a law enforcement background, some do not and the best are the ones who have the personality and character traits that match this kind of work. If you are patient, logical, determined and can easily interact with other people, the chances are that you could be a perfect match to become a success as a Private Investigator.

Working independently, making many of your own decisions, solving problems using your own skills and not having someone constantly looking over your shoulder.

Factors Discouraging People from Becoming a Private Investigator

i. The private investigation profession also has its challenges, given the fact that it can be laborious, boring and dangerous. A major challenge is boredom. There are times when you have to sit in surveillance position for hours upon hours until something happens, if it ever happens at all.

In such a situation, you can’t read a book, or newspaper to relieve the boredom, because as soon as you do that, something is bound to happen, and you’ll miss it. You have to remain constantly vigilant nonetheless.

ii. Emerging obstacles like limited resources and the existence of large national firms with no license requirement and offering their services to individuals are making it more difficult for private investigators to complete their jobs thoroughly and creating expectations for clients that are unrealistic.

iii. Furthermore, some government regulations affect investigators, such as audio and video surveillance laws, which have a large effect on how investigators work. Some investigators believe stricture regulations and laws prevent them from conducting investigations efficiently and completing their jobs properly and quickly.

iv. Another major challenge is the high expectation of clients due to media driven image of investigators. Television series and movies about investigations have created standards that are literally impossible to meet. This makes it difficult for private investigators when clients have unrealistic expectations based off of fictional storylines and equipment that does not exist.

v. One major challenge is also the demanding work schedule. The hours required to be expended on the job can be varied and demanding. You may work long hours, sometimes at odd times, such as late at night, and early in the morning for long periods of time. Your client, the needs of the investigation and the subject’s schedule dictate your hours which can be tremendously difficult do adapt to.

vi. Also, like other jobs that require a significant amount of time on the road, it’s possible to get into a car accident. And, you don’t have the luxury of merely focusing on road safety. Multi-tasking while on the road has inherent risks. You need to effectively follow your subject, while navigating traffic and observe your subject and environment, while intermittently taking notes and videotaping.

vii. Private investigators also encounter harsh and stressful conditions that are detrimental to their health. This can lead to weight gain, back pain, depression, anxiety and obesity, asthma, and cardiovascular disease.

How Much Do Private Investigators Earn Monthly/Annually?

Private Investigators play different roles, while searching for information required by their clients. Different cases have different approaches and costs that are incurred in the process of finding accurate data. The fees charged by a private investigator vary, depending on the nature and type of the case.

  • In the United States

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports put the average Private Investigator salary as $41,760. When you consider that 10 percent of all Private Investigators earn less than $23,500 per year, it doesn’t sound so bad after all. Entry level private investigators earn between $12.00 and $16.00 an hour depending on the company. Experienced private investigators (2 years or more) can expect a starting salary as a field investigator of $17.00 to $21.00 an hour depending on the organization or client.

  • In the U.K

In the UK, surveillance rate per agent is between £40.00 – £45.00 per hour. Tracing and searching for People cost between £155.00 – £225.00 (depending on circumstances). Payment varies greatly. According to the Association of British Investigators, some investigators earn about £16,000 as a ballpark salary for domestic cases involving tracing work, surveillance and pre-nuptial investigation while experienced investigators in covert filming can earn £20,000 to £25,000, and a lot more if prepared to work unsocial hours. At the highest level, salaries can be £50,000 to £100,000.

  • In Canada

According to the pay scale site, a Private Detective or Investigator in Canada earns an average wage of $20.40 per hour depending on the difficulty and type of case, the client involved as well as other factors such as the amount of experience required for the job possessed by the investigator.

  • In Australia

In Australia, surveillance is charged at an hourly rate of $125 per operative used on the job. Some investigations need two and even more operatives and the costs rise consequently. Many assignments come in at a lesser charge, and some can go way over this average as well.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Private Investigator?

It takes about 4 to 5 years to become a licensed private investigator. However, the time frame for each country varies, and it also depends on the seriousness and urgency of certification by the investigator involved.

  • Educational Requirements for Private Investigators

For starters, no formal education is required. However, most private investigators possess a bachelor’s degree. Courses in criminal justice or law are extremely helpful in order to improve your prospects of becoming a proficient investigator. A background in a foreign language or information technology can also come in handy; since today’s investigative work mostly employs the use of computers.

A would be private investigator must possess a high school diploma or GED certificate, or a degree and have the knowledge of the legal system. Private investigators are typically not required to complete formal training, but many hold graduate degrees. Investigators who specialize typically hold bachelor’s degrees and complete specialized training. Aspiring investigators should take classes in criminal justice and police science while in college to improve promotion opportunities.

Is Professional Certification Needed to Become a Private Investigator?

Professional certification is highly required in the profession. To be eligible to apply for licensure as a private investigator in USA, the following requirements must be met:

  • Be 18 or older.
  • Undergo a criminal history background check through the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
  • Have at least three years (2,000 hours each year, totaling 6,000 hours) of compensated experience in investigative work; or
  • Have a law degree or completed a four year course in police science plus two years (4,000 hours) of experience; or
  • Have an associate’s degree in police science, criminal law, or justice and 2 and half years (5,000 hours) of experience.
  • Pass a two-hour multiple-choice examination covering laws and regulations, terminology, civil and criminal liability, evidence handling, undercover investigations and surveillance. (A copy of the Private Investigator Act will be sent to you; ) and
  • Be a citizen or legal resident
  • Have no felony convictions or other convictions involving crimes of moral turpitude
  • Have no dishonorable discharge from the U.S. military
  • Obtain mandatory firearms training
  • Upon notification that you have passed the examination, you must submit a licensing fee of $175 to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services.

In the UK, Private Investigator licenses and the requirement for a business license are still subject to ministerial approval, the momentum is there and a whole new world of regulation, inspection and bureaucracy is in view. To get the Security Industry Authority (S.I.A) Private Investigator license, the following are required:

  • You need to pass the, “Fit and Proper person” tests
  • Have successfully completed a, “Test of Competency”, such as The Association of British Investigators Training Academy: IQ Level 3 Award for Professional Investigators or the BTEC Professional Investigators, costing around: £300.00 – £400.00.
  • 18 years and above
  • Not have been convicted of a crime
  • Must be a resident

A typical S.I.A License costs-: £220.00 and lasts for 3 years.

In Canada, license procedures are:

  • You must be 18 years of age or older.
  • You must be eligible to work in Canada.
  • You must have a clean criminal record.
  • Take the security guard or private investigator basic training course.
  • Pass the security guard or private investigator basic test.
  • Once you have downloaded, completed and scanned your documents, you can apply for the license online. Applications are processed within 10 business days.
  • Apply for a license online. Cost is $80 for a security guard or private investigator license and $160 for a dual license.

In Australia, Eligibility requirements apply and applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • 18 years of age or above
  • Successfully completed a training course approved by the chief executive;
  • Must be an appropriate person to hold the license.
  • Birth certificate or extract
  • Citizenship certificate
  • Passport
  • A social security card
  • Any other official letter, card or statement listed on the application form

The license fee (as listed on the form) is

  • a criminal history check fee of $38.60
  • A fingerprinting fee of $100.

Processing time is 4 – 6 weeks.

Can You Become a Private Investigator by Taking Courses Online?

In order to meet the growing projected demands for private investigators, several private colleges offer courses for aspiring private investigators. Most courses last between six and twelve months, and can be taken online as well. These courses include instruction in areas such as criminal law, criminology, psychology, surveillance, photography and electronic surveillance.

The students are also taught about techniques relating to fraud investigation as well as interviewing and interrogation. Area of specialization such as internet investigation, computer forensics, insurance investigation, industrial espionage and crime prevention and financial investigation can be chosen.

Inherent risks and dangers exist and private investigators often face situations where they have to confront criminals in the interest of public safety. As such private investigators may have to acquire training in arrest tactics and self-defense techniques. They also learn how to use weapons and, depending on their work, also acquire a special-use firearms license. Some of these courses and training can be acquired online, while some require a specialist to give the training.

Career Opportunities for Private Investigators

Private investigators and detectives typically must have previous work experience, usually in law enforcement, the military, or federal intelligence jobs. Some have worked for insurance or collections companies, as paralegals, in finance, or in accounting. Many of these people retire after 25 years of work, and often take private detectives or investigators as a second career.

A number of private detectives exist in other fields as financial analysts, auditors, intelligence analysts, financial examiners, surveillance officers, etc.

Skills Needed to Be Acquired Before Becoming a Private Investigator

Anyone who wants to venture into the profession of private investigation must possess relevant qualities and skills. Much of a private investigator’s success is attributed to his or her ability to collect, analyze and compile information gathered from an investigation. However, successful collaboration with other key agencies, including law enforcement and legal firms, are equally important components of case resolution.

Private investigators are expected to handle all cases ethically and professionally, while maintaining sound judgment and confidentiality. An effective private investigator must possess the experience, skills and tenacity it takes to pursue a case in its entirety. Some of which are:

1. Expertise and Professionalism: While experience is undoubtedly important, it is not the only measure of success. Highly esteemed private investigators also maintain a level of professionalism and integrity in their work and community affairs. To establish credibility in the field of private investigations, reputable private investigators have also pursued licensure. Licensed investigators are more likely to attain and retain business as a result of their commitment to continued education and excellence.

2. Experience-: The path to becoming a private investigator is a rigorous one. Many private investigators have decades of prior experience, including careers in law enforcement. Further experience and training is required for full licensure.

3. Ingenuity-: The advancement of technology has made it possible for improved solving of cases. Investigations will take less time and can be accomplished more thoroughly if the private investigator is willing to utilize all available resources. Specialized databases, court records, social networking sites, driving records, criminal records, employment history, civil litigation and more can all be accessed through the use of digital technologies. Meanwhile, there are other times when the private investigator must be willing to get creative in his or her information gathering. In such cases, private investigators must demonstrate ingenuity when doing their jobs.

4. Responsiveness-: Investigators are expected to handle cases swiftly and efficiently. The most effective private investigators are skilled in time management including responding to e-mails and phone calls in a prompt fashion, as well as maintaining open lines of communication with the client and related parties. Client satisfaction is directly correlated to an investigator’s ability to make him or herself available to the client 24/7.

5. Confidentiality-: While private investigators are not officially bound by the same confidentiality agreements as attorneys or doctors, a professional private investigator will honor this. An effective private investigator maintains strict levels of confidentiality in all interactions. Furthermore, he or she should have a confidentiality policy in place and must be willing to articulate the steps that have been taken in order to ensure confidentiality.

6. Tenacity-: An investigator will face obstacles and challenges along the course of carrying out his/her duty but must refuse to give up in any situation. He or she may even work through the night in order to solve a case. It is the persistent determination that will lead him or her to success. After all, the rewards are most definitely worth it.

7. Honesty and Ethics-: Investigators must be honest, ethical and law abiding. If an investigator is caught lying or using unethical methods of investigation, he loses credibility and potentially his job.

8. Technical Skills and Knowledge-: Investigators often use technology to assist in their investigations. Equipment varies based on the type of investigation and the firm or agency the investigator is working for. It may include surveillance equipment and equipment to analyze evidence such as fingerprints. Hence, they must be equipped on its handling.

9. Knowledge of the Law-: Investigators must know the laws surrounding the case and know what they are legally allowed to do in the course of their research.

10. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving-: In drawing conclusions on cases, the investigator must be a good problem solver. In many cases, witness statements will be contradictory, so the investigator must use critical thinking and problem solving skills to figure out what really happened in a case and analyze evidence objectively.

11. Research and Writing skills-: Effective investigators must be able to research, write clearly and concisely. They must be able to submit written reports and documentation of their investigation. These reports must be clear not only for the client, but for the attorneys and judges, in case the case makes it to court.

Opportunities for work have increased in this profession of private investigation, however, competition is still strong and there are still rooms to accommodate more. There will always be the need for a private investigator in our daily activities. It is better to be safe than be sorry.

As a private investigator, you could find work with an investigation agency or buy a franchise. You could also set up your own business or partner with a colleague. The most important thing is never to give up and always stay honest, especially in dealing with clients.

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