What is a Private Investigator?
A Private investigator, commonly known as private detective or private eye, is a person who can be hired by individuals, businesses and groups to undertake lawful investigative services. Many people identify the generic term detective with law enforcement and crime scene investigation or the term investigator with fraud, insurance and workers compensation injury claims. Private investigators support a wide variety of services, but generally speaking, they collect evidence and perform in-depth research. This is accomplished through use of online resources, databases, records or documents, witness statements, video, photography and surveillance. Private investigators are the means by which individuals, businesses and attorneys collect information.
What Private Investigators do?
Private investigators often work with attorneys in civil cases and a handful of skilled private detectives work with defense attorneys on criminal cases or provide executive protection. A majority of private eyes investigate suspicious claims searching for evidence of adultery or infidelity in a marriage, child custody, personal and corporate asset searches, employment background checks, witness interviews and surveillance.
Private investigators can also be used to perform due diligence for an investor who may be considering investing money with an investment group or high risk business or investment venture. This could better serve the prospective investor to avoid being a victim of fraud or Ponzi scheme. Licensed and experienced investigators could potentially unearth information that an investment is risky or the investor has suspicious red flags in their background. This is called investigative due diligence, and is becoming more prevalent in recent years with public reports of large scale Ponzi schemes and fraudulent investment vehicles reported by the SEC and other law enforcement agencies.
Are Private Investigators Licensed?
Private investigators are licensed by the state in which they work, meet strict state applicant examination testing regulations and pass successful adjudication of a criminal and civil background check conducted by state investigators. Private investigators/detectives are licensed to conduct civil and criminal investigations, and are protected by statutes of the state they are licensed. Washington State statutes make it unlawful for any person to conduct a criminal investigation unless they are licensed by that state, or exempt by the statute (i.e. law enforcement officers or agents, attorneys, paralegals and claims adjusters).
Washington State Investigators is licensed as a private investigation agency in full compliance with all rules and regulations, laws and statutes set forth by the State of Washington.
When is a Good Time to Hire a Private Investigator?
When you need to:
- Obtain information on the whereabouts, identity, conduct or credibility of a person or business
- Conduct background checks or searches on potential lovers, business partners or companies
- Have surveillance performed to see if he or she is being deceitful
- Pre-screen an applicant or business partner
- Check the legitimacy of a potential investment
- Help research a crime, wrongdoing or threat
- Find the cause of property damage or accidents and or the persons responsible for them
- Safeguard your business’ premises, property, assets, people or even information
- Locate and recover lost or stolen property
- Verify employees’ claims, such as workers’ compensation claims
- Investigate a scene or interrogate/conduct a witness interview
- Access up-to-date computer databases for public records
- “Debug” your office or home
Private investigators often perform background checks of individuals or companies for law firms, corporations and private citizens. PIs search public records, conduct interviews and verify reference checks and facts to provide a detailed profile of someone.
Here’s an example: Patricia has survived two divorces and a handful of bad relationships. She broke up with most of the men because they lied to her. She’s very trusting, and the revelations always came too late. Her current boyfriend, Stephen, has recently proposed. A third divorce would be financially and emotionally devastating to Patricia. She decides to consult a private investigator to get an objective report on Stephen, a divorced man with no children. She’d like to see the information in his divorce file.
With access to public records, a private investigator can search court filings for details of a divorce, as well as any criminal or civil charges filed over the years. The investigator can also check a financial background for state or federal tax liens, judgments, and bankruptcies, notices of default or hidden assets.
If you’re requesting surveillance, you’re usually ninety percent certain that your partner is being deceitful, but you need proof in hand to confront your partner or to support your claims in court in filing for divorce or child custody (unless you live in a state that has no-fault divorce, i.e. Washington State). If handled properly and professionally, an investigative service will gather evidence that will either confirm or eliminate your suspicions.
Here’s an example: Stacey knew Brandon was a womanizer. He didn’t break up with his last girlfriend until two months after he began a hot relationship with Stacey. Disturbing, but Stacey loved him and hoped Brandon would be different.
Fast-forward one year. Now, she suspects that Brandon’s up to his old tricks, maybe even dating his ex. He claims he’s faithful, but Stacey still believes he’s lying. She needs definitive proof; i.e. a videotape of him having sex in the car.
We find it’s faster and less costly to our clients if we assign a two-person team to the case. With only one investigator, losing someone in traffic may add hours or days to the process and increase hourly mileage-rate totals. The team should have two-way radio communications along with video and digital cameras.
Private investigators locate people for a variety of reasons: Adoptees, birth parents, relatives, former friends, lovers, spouses, co-workers and employers can benefit from reuniting with a person from their past. Private investigators access databases, interview acquaintances and piece together clues to track down people with whom you’ve lost contact. They can use public records to fill in missing information and uncover a new name, address, telephone number and Social Security number.
Many companies need a employment background check on job applicants. An airport shuttle company may need to check applicants’ driving histories with the Department of Motor Vehicles if it’s hiring a driver to transport passengers in the company’s vehicle.
Perhaps a Fortune 500 Corporation is filling a top management position and wants to evaluate an extensive profile of a candidate that goes far beyond what’s on the resume. Interviews with references and other informational searches can provide that.
Or parents may decide to hire an in-home nanny. A PI can check the prospective caregiver’s personal, financial and criminal history, as well as her references.
Prospective Business Partner
Gary wants to start a small pizza restaurant in his neighborhood. His brother, William, introduced him to Joseph. Now, Gary and Joseph are considering a partnership. Everything looks good, but Gary will be investing his life’s savings and he doesn’t really know Joseph. Gary may decide that a background investigation by a respected PI could make the difference between success and disaster.
Before you invest your money or time in a new company or other financial deal, you’d better research it. A company may appear perfectly legitimate, with a fancy office, a pleasant receptionist and a readily available list of previous client referrals. But it could be a sophisticated scam. A private investigator can perform background checks to check public records for licensing, small claim judgments, bankruptcies, state and federal tax liens, and other judgments or defaults.
Some private investigators perform corporate security consulting. A business may need to secure premises, property, assets, people or even information. Some companies may need only a nighttime security guard or an alarm system. But others need electronic surveillance, a loss-prevention staff and strict computer security. Experienced private investigators can recommend security services and techniques to prevent theft of inventory or to provide for employee safety.
Workers’ Compensation Claims
Insurance companies estimate that twenty percent of claims are fraudulent. Even a single fraudulent claim can cost a business tens of thousands of dollars-all unnecessarily.
An investigator can search into employee claims to verify their legitimacy. For example, we once performed surveillance for a workers comp case and successfully photographed one claimant lifting large framed windows and carrying them from the garage to the front yard for a weekend yard sale, while he supposedly couldn’t work because of a bad back. Sometimes, we wait until trash day to learn the truth about the claimant. If a claimant can haul thirty pounds of trash to the curb, maybe his back condition isn’t so bleak.
The company benefits in another way as well: This deters future fraud by warning other employees that the company pursues every claim.
Professional private investigators are an integral part of your community’s law enforcement. They work closely with police and the court system on the local, state and federal levels. When securing evidence for use in the judicial process, they may assist police, the district attorney’s staff and lawyers. They conduct searches and surveillance, serve subpoenas, take statements and testify in court. They can also assist with unsolved crime and cold cases.
An added bonus: Because of the role private investigators play in the legal arena, they’re an excellent source for attorney referrals.
Electronic Surveillance Detection
Planting electronic listening devices is illegal and can result in a felony conviction. Still, we receive several calls a month requesting such a service.
If it’s illegal, who’s doing it? In small and large companies alike, the competition can be relentless and the pressure to beat the competition can be ruthless. This can lead to one company bugging the boardroom of another, maybe by bribing an employee to place the hidden monitoring device.
While no legitimate private investigator will wiretap an office, many will offer “bug sweep” services to remove the problem.
These are just a handful of the many services a reputable private investigation firm can provide for you.