Myth-busting “Private Eyes”

When one conjures up images of a private investigator or “PI”, what are some commonalities? Perhaps a long tan coat, a notebook, mustache, and of course your handy dandy – magnifying glass?

Businessman with magnifying glass

Somehow this is the universal image for a profession where you use facts and reasoning to find information.  Most people use magnifiers to look at ants.

Detective stories have long altered the perception of what private investigators do so here now lies some basic PI 101 information.

Private investigators are hired by individuals, business, and organizations to seek out the truth.  This can take many forms, which is why you have various kinds of PI’s like those who specialize in forensics, lost assets, surveillance, or background checks.

Though certain fictional representations may focus on a PI’s eccentric personality, the job itself is more grounded and based in logic, details, and deductions.  Some other private investigator myths are as follows:

1. Private investigators basically have carte blanche when is comes to solving a case.

Couldn’t be farther from the truth.  One of several distinctions of a PI from a Craigslist ad offering similar services is their vast knowledge of legal and ethic implications.  They work within the system, often with backgrounds in law or law enforcement. Which means several examples you’d see on television aren’t relevant.  Pretexting to gain access to phone records, breaking and entering, and important documents (like certain financial information) wouldn’t be accessible to private investigators due to legality and regulations such as the The Gramm-Leach Bliley Act.

2. Private Investigators are the same as police detectives right?

A surprisingly common question, with a simple answer.  Police work for the government, while private investigators are hired by people or groups.  Because of this, the kinds of work differs, as the police work on more crime matters while PI’s find answers without prosecution.

3. PI’s are just former disgruntled police detectives.

With the multiple kinds of private investigators, their backgrounds come from all sorts.  From forensic accounting to computer science, the plethora of backgrounds give PI skills for their particular type of investigation.  Depending on the state you may require formal license, or need to pass exams.  With each state differing in requirements, sometimes reciprocity agreements are issued to work in several states. LII is licensed in Iowa, Florida, Indiana, and Arizona.

4. Their client base is 1940’s blondes.

Big-Sleep-BBKinds of client depend on the area of investigation, but companies and organizations make up a significant part of PI’s business, often for reasons you wouldn’t expect.  For instance, a larger company may hire a private eye to look into corruption from within the organization.  By doing their due diligence, it allows for handling of smaller scenarios now in order to avoid a PR/stock price disaster later on.

Private investigation is a detailed process, and though not as heavily based on intuition or donning the look of an action movie star, private investigators can be a great asset in your corner.


Media’s representation of Private Investigators (Source: PInow)