What Is a Private Investigator

When many people hear the phrase “private investigator,” they are greeted in their mind’s eye by an image of a person in a trench coat, carefully eyeing the ground with a magnifying glass and ducking around corners to avoid being spotted.

However, private investigators are more than cartoon fantasies—they’re highly trained professionals who are dedicated to uncovering the truth and helping their clients to do the same.

What Is a Private Investigator?

Private investigators (also known as PIs, private detectives, or private eyes) are licensed professionals who discretely gather information. Their clients range from law firms and financial institutions to individuals with concerns about personal cases.

Private investigators often carry out the following tasks during their investigations:

  • Surveillance and tracking
  • Conducting interviews
  • Studying records
  • Recording evidence for possible presentation in court
  • Integrating findings into solutions for their clients

A PI in the Making

Due to the sensitive nature of PI work and the expertise necessary to conduct successful investigations, aspiring PIs must meet particular requirements for state licensure. Often, private investigation firms will require additional qualifications before hiring a new PI.

For example, private investigators often have a background in criminal justice or law enforcement. PIs may be retired police officers, military veterans, or even individuals still actively working in law enforcement.

In order to become a licensed PI, applicants are typically required to be a citizen of the United States, have a clean criminal record, and industry experience or a college education (such as a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice).

Specialties and Services

Because PIs are often asked to take on an immense number of private investigations, it is typical for PIs to choose one or a few areas of expertise. Below are just a few of the more common types of situations PIs may be asked to investigate.

Infidelity Investigations
When an individual suspects that their spouse or partner is being unfaithful, private investigators are often contacted to provide closure and peace of mind. In situations like these, PIs will review existing, suspicious information gathered by the client. Then, they may advance the investigation with further surveillance measures such as video recording or tracking.

Child Abduction and Missing Person Investigations
Because law enforcement may not always have the resources available for an extended investigation surrounding the circumstances of a missing person, some individuals choose to hire private investigators capable of fully dedicating themselves and their resources to the task. This often leads to longer, more thorough missing person investigations.

Fraud Investigations
Unfortunately, fraud is a problem all-too-common within American businesses, and many of these fraud cases are too complicated for companies to tackle alone. In some instances, when companies notice that they are hemorrhaging money without an explanation, a business owner or other official may work with a private investigator to uncover the possibility of fraud.

PIs may work alone or together with fraud examiners to identify and resolve cases of individual or corporate fraud.

Elder and Senior Abuse Investigations
As concerns of elder abuse rise in the U.S., more and more private investigators are being asked to help concerned parties determine whether or not those in elder care situations are being abused by healthcare workers or even family members. PIs can discretely monitor these situations and help their clients to determine whether or not further action should be taken.

Litigation Support
Often, law firms request the help of private investigators to assist in gathering evidence usable in court via background checks, locating and interviewing witnesses, social media investigation, and careful review of electronic devices like computers and cell phones.

Other Services

The above services are only a few of the many areas of expertise throughout the field of private investigation. Investigators also exist who specialize in:

  • Family law
  • Criminal investigations
  • Debugging services
  • Asset search investigations
  • Due diligence investigations
  • Workplace investigations

Najar Investigations, a firm specializing in Southern California investigations, is a good example of a private investigation firm with a broad expertise—they have been faithfully providing members of their community with services just like these, and many more, since 2012.

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