Things a Private Investigator Can Do and Things They Can’t

Growing up, some of us may have been exposed to fictional depictions of extraordinary or super sleuths like Sherlock Holmes, Jacques Clouseau, Thomas Magnum, Hercule Poirot, Charlie’s Angels, Jessica Fletcher, Jessica Jones, and others.

In movies or TV shows, we see the protagonist private detective using their wit and all sorts of unusual means to outsmart their opponents or targets. They routinely break into buildings or homes, wiretap or bug, and even install hidden cameras to collect information or evidence.

Such portrayals are, for the greater part, divorced from reality.

Real, honest-to-goodness private investigators know the limits of what they can and cannot do within the bounds of the law. So if you’re considering hiring a private investigator to assist in your case, knowing the things they can and can’t do could help put things into perspective.

What Private Investigators Can Do

Whether you’re seeking your birth parents or need to do a security assessment of your organization, have an infidelity or missing persons problem, or any other issue, a private investigator may be of great assistance.

In performing their tasks as private investigators, here’s a list of things they can do:

  • Conduct research or background checks on an individual: Private investigators can do records research or background investigations to find information. They can gather a large volume of personal data on people, including addresses, aliases, birthdates, marriages and divorces, phone numbers, family members, etc.
  • Obtain business information: Although not all states provide this, investigators usually have access to information on a business’s organizational structure, personnel, credit score, owners, revenue, and so on.
  • Find sensitive data: By going through various archival records, databases, and other repositories of information, private investigators can locate even sensitive data or records. These include birth, court, arrest, driving, mortgage, bankruptcy, voter registration, and sex offender records, as well as deeds and lien filings.
  • Check someone’s trash: Trash can be a treasure trove of information, including receipts, letters, and discarded evidence. However, some places do not allow it, and even when they do, trash-digging shouldn’t be done on private property to avoid legal problems.
  • Hold surveillance activities: Depending on state laws or guidelines, private investigators can hold stakeouts, tail the person they are investigating, take photos, record relevant audio or video, and monitor the movements or activities of an individual in public places.
  • Talk with known associates of the one under investigation: To get information about a person’s routine, character, and whereabouts, professional investigators are known to approach and interview associates or persons close to the one being investigated.

What Private Investigators Cannot Do

Meanwhile, here’s a list of activities private investigators are generally not allowed to do:

  • Bug or wiretap: Sometimes, taking a record of phone calls or conversations is crucial to an investigation. However, wiretapping a phone or bugging a place requires the express consent of the concerned party – something that is next to impossible to accomplish.
  • Trespass on private property: No matter what the reason, private investigators and law enforcement (or anyone for that matter) are not allowed to break into a home, vehicle, or structure and to open or read other people’s mail without proper consent.
  • Pretend to be law enforcers or make arrests: Impersonating police officers (or anybody else) is a crime, and only the police or law enforcement is allowed to make arrests.
  • Engage in unethical practices: Obtaining information for non-investigative personal reasons or using unscrupulous methods to acquire data is considered unethical and not allowed.
  • Install a GPS tracker on a vehicle: GPS trackers can only be installed on certain vehicles with the owner’s consent. For example, if a wife wants to have a GPS tracker installed in the car her husband drives, she can do so if the car was purchased while they were married.
  • Hack into a social media or email account: Hacking is a criminal offense, so it’s not something a private investigator would do.
  • Run a license plate: A private investigator can run a license plate only for the purpose of investigation or for use in a court proceeding.
  • Conduct a credit check: Aside from needing to have a legal purpose for running a credit check, a private investigator must also obtain consent from the individual.
  • Get protected data without a legal purpose or consent: Private investigators are not allowed to access federally- or state-protected information (e.g., financial records, phone records, etc.) without a subpoena or consent from the concerned individual.
  • Acquire cellphone records: A private investigator can only access cellphone records if they have the consent of the individual who owns or holds the records.

Private investigators can do a lot to find out more about the people they are engaged to investigate.

However, they are bound by state and federal rules in the exercise of their responsibilities as private investigators. So, when hiring a private investigator, it’s crucial to find someone who is licensed in your area so you can trust them to follow the regulations that apply to that jurisdiction.

A certified private investigator will also know what they can and cannot do to get the evidence necessary to build a strong case, so if it goes to court, the evidence presented will hold up even when it’s subjected to intense legal scrutiny.

Need a reliable, expert investigator for your case?

Please contact Barefoot Professional Investigations today!

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