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How do Private Investigators work?

Among the most famous of all literary and fictional characters are private investigators. All the way from Sherlock Holmes to Philip Marlowe, they excite and intrigue us in many ways. However, in real life, a private investigator’s life may not be that exciting or dangerous. In fact, the main job of a private investigator is mostly restricted to fact-finding and collection of data. Present day PIs rely heavily on technology and apart from the specialized skills that they acquire over time, they only have the powers of a regular citizen. In fact, they have no judicial powers like the police and cannot make arrests or engage in any such activities.

Types of Private Investigators
Private investigation is based on the PI’s skill set and training. There is no way for a Private Investigator to acquire those skills except through many years of experience. A practicing PI can move into a field of research and investigation based on his/her educational training and expertise. For example, a person who has a degree in finance will easily fit into finance and insurance related fraud investigation cases. Private Investigators are, however divided into four broad categories. Legal, Corporate, Financial and General detectives. Most of the work they are engaged in falls into one or more of the divisions.

Training and Licensing
There is no special degree or course related to the study and it’s related sciences. They are a mixture of many subjects. There are some basic certifications that a PI might be required to have in certain states. However, it is illegal for a person to be involved in an investigation without obtaining a license. Many investigators work for many months as apprentices with senior investigators to gain knowledge. A lot of the PIs are ex police, army or other law enforcement personnel who have either retired or quit their job for some reason.

Conducting Investigations
Investigations are rarely as nail-biting as shown in the movies kind and hardly involve solving crimes (most crime-solving is done by the police). The main job of the PI is to find evidence that can either prove someone guilty or innocent. The job of a PI is more about going through endless lists of names, telephone records, surveillance, and going through publicly available information. More time is spent on records that can be easily obtained, but it requires the skill of a PI to know which ones are relevant, where to look, and how to make the connections. Another fact is that PIs are not always successful in their missions.

The job of a private investigator is not as glamorous as you may be led to believe, but there are times when all that poring through massive lists, waiting all night in a car seat, going through dangerous places and people and finding obscure links to incidents bring forth results that have the potential to change lives; some for better and others for worse that can make all the effort worthwhile.