Private investigators are governed by local and state laws, but some general rules exist pertaining to the nature of their work across the nation. Whether you seek PI services or believe you are being investigated, it is essential to get acquainted with the basic understanding of what investigators can and cannot do. While most websites provide factual information on the illegal aspects of private investigations, we designed a guide on the legal actions PIs can take to solve your case.
Believe it or not, but the fun of PIs work is figuring out how to come up with solutions without breaking the law! And dedicated experts within the industry can utilize their creative and logical abilities to do just that – find the answers without resolving to illegal activities.
Surfing the Internet
While, despite the popular opinion, private investigators cannot hack into your Facebook or other social media accounts and emails, the majority of PIs work today happens on the Internet. They can, just like you, dig up the dirt by researching online tools, such as Googling a vast amount of information, check out social media accounts for reliable data, and communicate with their members of interest. Surfing Facebook can be a reliable source of information, specifically by looking at friends and family accounts and posts. Suppose the private investigator is looking into a suspicious fraudulent insurance claim. In that case, he or she may look for evidence on social media accounts proving the supposedly injured individual is currently vacationing in the Bahamas and enjoying all the activities the resort offers. People love to brag on Facebook, posting videos without thinking about the consequences.
You might be thinking to yourself, why hire a private investigator if I can do it all by myself? The truth is, PIs are trained to look for information through thorough research. And beyond internet surfing, they also have access to private databases that contain personal and business information, such as LexisNexis, City and County Recorders, and Business information.
They Can Lie!
Private investigators are skilled copycats and liars, but one thing they cannot do is impersonate a cop or any other law enforcement officer. They can, however, create an image of themselves to obtain information from different sources, such as neighbors, friends, and family members. PIs are masters of pretending and human psychology, employing innocent white lies to get the most out of any valuable conversation. Who doesn’t like a charming and friendly puppy lover, scientist, or your niece’s teacher?
Surveillance, Your Best Friend
Almost everyone associates a private investigator with some sort of equipment staking out the area. While this is true, and they have every right in the book to do so, there are certain limitations pertaining to basic human privacy, trespassing, and loitering. Every movie portraying private investigators includes scenes of a creeping PI with his camera in the bushes taking photos of an individual through windows. That is illegal. It goes without saying that breaking into somebody else’s car or home, even if unlocked, is simply burglary.
And here’s where it gets interesting. The laws related to trespassing vary by state, and while most prohibit taking such actions, some states allow this type of ordinance. And trash picking by the curb is legal in most states! Hey, there might be evidence discarded in that bin!
It’s important to note that surveillance in any public area is within PIs rights, and they can take as long as needed to get the job done, including collecting evidence through photos or videos.
Eavesdropping is Quite Alright
Most states do not allow any sort of wiretapping or conversation recording. If they do, both parties must be informed about the wire, which really doesn’t serve the purpose.
However, your PI can undoubtedly listen to conversations and take appropriate photos to make your case. If you suspect your husband of being unfaithful, your private investigator can get to the bottom through careful surveillance and sneaking next to the couple at a restaurant. By listening to their cajolery and evidencing it with photographs, he can take that information back to you and report on his findings.
Taking Photographs Without Consent
Your licensed private investigator can take pictures in any public area without an individual’s consent. As mentioned earlier, they are not allowed photographing through someone’s bedroom window, so as long as the target is outside his or her house, it is within PIs rights to document what is needed. Being outside automatically assumes no privacy, and your PI can take as many photos as they desire.
Tailing the Subject
No law in the United States prohibits following a person in their car, provided you comply with traffic laws. The same applies to a private investigator driving in the same direction as the subject. What is not allowed is placing a GPS tracker on their car without their prior knowledge. But here’s the hint: they can ask another car owner to put the tracker, making it utterly legal on their part, which often happens in domestic or corporate cases.
They Can Carry the Gun
Most private investigators are never in a situation where they have to use the gun. After all, their work ought to be discreet. Carrying a weapon also means they have to obey state gun laws just like any other citizen.
States that do not require PI licensing treat private investigators as regular citizens, with the same right as any other person. However, states that require a PI license often provide slightly more rights to private investigators than regular citizens possess. In Florida, only a special G class allows carrying a firearm on the job with restrictions to the type of weapon. In California, obtaining a PI firearm license is a hassle, but once achieved, the private investigator can carry his or her weapon on more occasions than regular citizens do.
What Else Can a Private Investigator Do?
We have covered the most significant aspects of PIs nature of work. Here is a list of other rights private investigators have to help you solve the case effectively and efficiently:
- Identify and confirm a Social Security Number
- Locate death, marriage, birth, bankruptcy, and divorce records
- Research property holdings, mortgage information, and property transactions
- Identify the current market value of a real estate property
- Locate federal civil lawsuits and criminal records
- Interview individuals, such as executives, employees, neighbors
- Research disciplinary records for licenses
- Submit FOIA/FOIL requests
- In some states, gather driving record history
- Support jury selection
- Retrieve U.S. Tax Court cases