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Can You Become a Private Investigator With a Criminal Record?

A private investigator also called a private detective or private eye is a person who can be hired by an individual, institution or group to undertake investigative surveillance and/or research services on their behalf. Private investigators most times work on their own, but at other times they work closely with law enforcement agencies.

They typically conduct surveillance and background investigations on individuals, study crime scenes to search out clues, report information to the authorities, and occasionally testify in court in cases they worked on. Private detectives may investigate accidents, suspicious fires, suspected child abuse, and wrongful death.

Private investigators also work for financial institutions to investigate financial irregularities and fraud, carry out background checks on new employees or investigate old employees who are suspected of some sort of misdemeanor, reposes materials from defaulters who have failed to make their payments, find missing foreclosure clients, and people who have stopped paying their bills and lots more.

Insurance companies equally need the services of PIs as they are needed to investigate claims and uncover insurance fraud.

Private investigators are also relevant in internet security to investigate computer hacks, unauthorized fund transfers and other internet crimes. PIs utilize technology to recover deleted emails and files and to conduct searches of databases for information about an individual.

In most states, private investigators are required to obtain a license that would enable them practice in such states or cities. For some states, the licensing laws can be quite extensive.

For instance in California, an investigator must complete 6,000 hours of paid investigative work under a licensed investigator over the course of three years, or fewer hours over a shorter period of time, get fingerprinted, submit an application packet, and pass the California Private Investigator Examination before they can be allowed work as a licensed private investigator.

But a few other states do not have these requirements. According to Professional Investigator Magazine, only Alaska, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Wyoming do not currently require private investigators to obtain a license to practice.

For one to be considered a private investigator, he or she must be at least 18 years, though some jurisdictions have their age limit as 21 years. Such applicants are equally required not to have a criminal record.

While a good number of private eyes are self-employed, most are employed as security specialists by large corporations and businesses.

How to Become a Private Investigator

It should be noted that one does not require formal education before he or she can become a private investigator. But to facilitate the process, a bachelor’s degree is needed.

Courses in criminology, criminal law or justice etc can be quite helpful both in obtaining a license and carrying out investigatory duties. It is for this reason that one can find a lot of police officers, detectives and other law enforcement employees who are private investigators.

Another profession that can do well as Private Investigators are certified accountants because they can become financial investigators to investigate financial and accounting fraud in companies and organizations. If you have none of the qualifications outlined above, some universities offer courses relating to private investigation, and you can enroll for these courses.

These courses offer instruction in areas such as criminal law, criminology, psychology, surveillance, photography, techniques relating to fraud investigation as well as interviewing, interrogation and electronic surveillance, and they typically last between six and 12 months. These courses can also be taken online for people who are too busy to enroll in the regular classes.

Skills a Private Investigator Must Possess

Certain skills are required for one to become successful in a career as a private investigator. Investigators must be assertive, they must not be afraid of confrontation, and they must of necessity possess effective communication and interrogation skills.

They must also be able to pay close attention to detail, be able to accurately document their activities for their clients and in some cases, for the courts. Common sense, sound judgment, and the ability to make decisions quickly and on the go are also needed in the trade.

Can You Become a Private Investigator With a Criminal Record?

Most states in the US generally require that anyone intending to apply for a private investigators license must have no criminal records. But it has been reported that having a prior felony record does not generally keep one from becoming a private investigator in most states of the United States where there is an exemption to licensing requirements.

In most states, the general statutes allow for unregulated private investigators, as opposed to regulated private investigators. Unregulated private investigators can be allowed to carry out private investigations without having a PI license.

Most state boards overlook past criminal history for people who want to become private eyes if the applicant in question has a proven record of proper rehabilitation. This record includes how long ago the felony or crime was committed, the person’s recent work history, how he lives his life currently, and reference from his community or city of residence.

If a person’s application for PI license is rejected because of a previous criminal record, then a careful review of the nature of the felony along with some additional information can enable a previous felon to be granted a PI License.

Another approach the applicant can use is to seek pardon from the governor. If the pardon application is granted, then the applicant can be issued a private investigators license regardless of his criminal records.


In all, it has been reported that approximately 20 percent of all private investigators have previous felony records. But before you can proceed to apply for a PI license if you have criminal record, you have to first of all check with the licensing statute in your state.

While you are at it, you should also note that an arrest for a felony is not a recorded felony; if you were charged and the charges were dismissed later, then you are in also in the clear as you can comfortably get a license in your state.