What a Private Investigator Can and Cannot Do
Private investigators are often portrayed, as action heroes in movies and TV series, but real-life PIs are quite a bit different than the Hollywood versions.
When hiring a private investigator or being investigated by one yourself, it’s important to know what a PI can and cannot do legally. Here is the scoop on that.
What a Private Investigator Can Do
In certain situations, a private investigator can be a big help. They are great at finding out information, which may not be readily available to the layman. Here is a list of the things they can do for you.
Follow Someone For You
They can follow and thoroughly investigate someone for you without the person’s knowledge. They are trained in gathering detailed information. If you are trying to locate someone, hiring a private investigator could be the perfect solution.
Find Information Online
Private investigators can use online legal resources to find out all available public information that is posted online. Surprisingly there is a plethora of information most people are unaware even exists on the Internet and PI’s are great at gathering it.
Look Through Someone’s Trash
Surprisingly it is legal for an investigator to go through someone’s trash to look for receipts, bills, bank statements or other information to use in their investigation.
Interview Someone’s Family, Friends, and Associates
Private investigators are great at interviewing people to find out someone’s whereabouts, their personality, behaviors, and habits, thus making it easier to find them or more information.
It is perfectly legal for a private investigator to tail someone, perform a stakeout and videotape their public interactions and monitor their activities to get a full picture before reporting back to their client.
What a Private Investigator Cannot Do
Private investigators are a big help when you need one but they are subject to the same laws as everyone else and must not act unlawfully or unethically. These are things a private investigator cannot do.
Operate Without a License
Each state has different laws regarding licensing, but some are very strict requiring 6000 hours of investigation work performed under a veteran PI before they can get licensed themselves. Many private investigators have degrees in psychology, law enforcement or other related studies. They cannot operate legally until they have performed the required number of hours and been approved by the state.
Cannot Break the Law or Trespass on Private Property
Private investigators are highly trained professionals that must be licensed by the state to operate. Therefore they cannot break any laws or trespass on private property without risking their license.
Hack Into Computers or Phones
Hacking into phones or computers is illegal and private investigators are not exempt from this law. They may not place wiretaps on anyone’s phone or record conversations without permission, and they cannot unlawfully gain access to private digital records of any kind.
Impersonate Law Enforcement
It is illegal for anyone including private investigators to impersonate law enforcement. They do not have to divulge that they are working as a PI, but they cannot pretend to be with the FBI or local police force. They definitely cannot make an arrest, even if they witness a crime being committed. Like everyone else, they must contact the police.
Tamper With Anyone’s Mail
Tampering with mail is a federal offense, and private investigators are subject to the same laws that average citizens must follow.
Video Tape Someone Through a Private Home Window
Although you see this in movies often, a private investigator cannot videotape someone through their home window and use it for evidence. They may videotape their subjects only when seen in public places.
Place a GPS Device on Someone’s Vehicle
It is illegal to place a GPS tracker on someone’s vehicle without his or her consent. So if a husband wanted to spy on his wife using a tracker, the car would have to be in his name or the private investigator could get into trouble.
Run a License Plate or Credit Check Without Authorization
A private investigator cannot run a license plate without proper legal reason, and they cannot run a private credit check without the person’s consent. Strict laws protect the privacy of credit information.