Private Detectives and Investigators
Private Investigator and Private Detective
- Work hours are often irregular, and the work can be dangerous.
- About 1 in 4 are self-employed.
- Applicants typically have related experience in areas such as law
enforcement, insurance, the military, or government investigative or
- Despite faster-than-average employment growth, keen competition is
expected because of the large number of qualified people who are attracted to
this occupation; the most opportunities will be found in entry-level jobs with
detective agencies or in stores that hire detectives on a part-time basis.
Private detectives and investigators use many methods to determine the facts
in a variety of matters. To carry out investigations, they may use various types
of surveillance or searches. To verify facts, such as an individuals place of
employment or income, they may make phone calls or visit a subjects workplace.
In other cases, especially those involving missing persons and background
checks, investigators often interview people to gather as much information as
possible about an individual. In all cases, private detectives and investigators
assist attorneys, businesses, and the public with legal, financial, and personal
Private detectives and investigators offer many services, including
executive, corporate, and celebrity protection; pre-employment verification; and
individual background profiles. They investigate computer crimes, such as
identity theft, harassing e-mails, and illegal downloading of copyrighted
material. They also provide assistance in civil liability and personal injury
cases, insurance claims and fraud, child custody and protection cases, missing
persons cases, and premarital screening. They are sometimes hired to investigate
individuals to prove or disprove infidelity.
Most detectives and investigators are trained to perform physical
surveillance. They may observe a site, such as the home of a subject, from an
inconspicuous location or a vehicle. They continue the surveillance, which is
often carried out using still and video cameras, binoculars, and a cell phone,
until the desired evidence is obtained. This watching and waiting often
continues for a long time.
Detectives also may perform computer database searches or work with someone
who does. Computers allow investigators to quickly obtain massive amounts of
information on individuals prior arrests, convictions, and civil legal
judgments; telephone numbers; motor vehicle registrations; association and club
memberships; and other matters.
The duties of private detectives and investigators depend on the needs of
their clients. In cases for employers that involve fraudulent workers
compensation claims, for example, investigators may carry out long-term covert
observation of subjects. If an investigator observes a subject performing an
activity that contradicts injuries stated in a workers compensation claim, the
investigator would take video or still photographs to document the activity and
report it to the client.
Private detectives and investigators often specialize. Those who focus on
intellectual property theft, for example, investigate and document acts of
piracy, help clients stop illegal activity, and provide intelligence for
prosecution and civil action. Other investigators specialize in developing
financial profiles and asset searches. Their reports reflect information
gathered through interviews, investigation and surveillance, and research,
including review of public documents.
Legal investigators specialize in cases involving the courts and are
normally employed by law firms or lawyers. They frequently assist in preparing
criminal defenses, locating witnesses, serving legal documents, interviewing
police and prospective witnesses, and gathering and reviewing evidence. Legal
investigators also may collect information on the parties to the litigation,
take photographs, testify in court, and assemble evidence and reports for
Corporate investigators conduct internal and external investigations
for corporations. In internal investigations, they may investigate drug use in
the workplace, ensure that expense accounts are not abused, or determine whether
employees are stealing merchandise or information. External investigations are
typically done to uncover criminal schemes originating outside the corporation,
such as theft of company assets through fraudulent billing of products by
Financial investigators may be hired to develop confidential financial
profiles of individuals or companies that are prospective parties to large
financial transactions. These investigators often are certified public
accountants (CPAs) who work closely with investment bankers and other
accountants. They search for assets in order to recover damages awarded by a
court in fraud or theft cases.
Detectives who work for retail stores or hotels are responsible for
controlling losses and protecting assets. Store detectives, also known as
loss prevention agents, safeguard the assets of retail stores by
apprehending anyone attempting to steal merchandise or destroy store property.
They prevent theft by shoplifters, vendor representatives, delivery personnel
and even store employees. Store detectives also conduct periodic inspections of
stock areas, dressing rooms, and restrooms, and sometimes assist in opening and
closing the store. They may prepare loss prevention and security reports for
management and testify in court against persons they apprehend. Hotel
detectives protect guests of the establishment from theft of their
belongings and preserve order in hotel restaurants and bars. They also may keep
undesirable individuals, such as known thieves, off the premises.
Private detectives and investigators often work irregular hours because of
the need to conduct surveillance and contact people who are not available during
normal working hours. Early morning, evening, weekend, and holiday work is
Many detectives and investigators spend time away from their offices
conducting interviews or doing surveillance, but some work in their office most
of the day conducting computer searches and making phone calls. Those who have
their own agencies and employ other investigators may work primarily in an
office and have normal business hours.
When the investigator is working on a case away from the office, the
environment might range from plush boardrooms to seedy bars. Store and hotel
detectives work in the businesses that they protect. Investigators generally
work alone, but they sometimes work with others during surveillance or when
following a subject in order to avoid detection by the subject.
Some of the work involves confrontation, so the job can be stressful and
dangerous. Some situations call for the investigator to be armed, such as
certain bodyguard assignments for corporate or celebrity clients. Detectives and
investigators who carry handguns must be licensed by the appropriate authority.
In most cases, however, a weapon is not necessary, because the purpose of the
work is gathering information and not law enforcement or criminal apprehension.
Owners of investigative agencies have the added stress of having to deal with
demanding and sometimes distraught clients.
Qualifications, and Advancement
There are no formal education requirements for most private detective and
investigator jobs, although many private detectives have college degrees.
Private detectives and investigators typically have previous experience in other
occupations. Some work initially for insurance or collections companies, in the
private security industry, or as paralegals. Many investigators enter the field
after serving in law enforcement, the military, government auditing and
investigative positions, or Federal intelligence jobs.
Former law enforcement officers, military investigators, and government
agents, who are frequently able to retire after 25 years of service, often
become private detectives or investigators in a second career. Others enter from
such diverse fields as finance, accounting, commercial credit, investigative
reporting, insurance, and law. These individuals often can apply their prior
work experience in a related investigative specialty. A few enter the occupation
directly after graduation from college, generally with associates or bachelors
degrees in criminal justice or police science.
The majority of States and the District of Colombia require private
detectives and investigators to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary,
however: seven States Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri,
and South Dakota have no statewide licensing requirements, some States have few
requirements, and many other States have stringent regulations. A growing number
of States are enacting mandatory training programs for private detectives and
investigators. For example, the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services of
the California Department of Consumer Affairs requires private investigators to
be 18 years of age or older; have a combination of education in police science,
criminal law, or justice and experience equaling 3 years (6,000 hours) of
investigative experience; pass a criminal history background check by the
California Department of Justice and the FBI (in most States, convicted felons
cannot be issued a license); and receive a qualifying score on a 2-hour written
examination covering laws and regulations. There are additional requirements for
a firearms permit.
For private detective and investigator jobs, most employers look for
individuals with ingenuity, persistence, and assertiveness. A candidate must not
be afraid of confrontation, should communicate well, and should be able to think
on his or her feet. Good interviewing and interrogation skills also are
important and usually are acquired in earlier careers in law enforcement or
other fields. Because the courts often are the ultimate judge of a properly
conducted investigation, the investigator must be able to present the facts in a
manner that a jury will believe.
Training in subjects such as criminal justice and police science is helpful
to aspiring private detectives and investigators. Most corporate investigators
must have a bachelors degree, preferably in a business-related field. Some
corporate investigators have a masters degree in business administration or a
law degree, while others are CPAs. Corporate investigators hired by large
companies may receive formal training from their employers on business
practices, management structure, and various finance-related topics. The
screening process for potential employees typically includes a background check
for a criminal history.
Some investigators receive certification from a professional organization to
demonstrate competency in a field. For example, the National Association of
Legal Investigators (NALI) confers the Certified Legal Investigator designation
to licensed investigators who devote a majority of their practice to negligence
or criminal defense investigations. To receive the designation, applicants must
satisfy experience, educational, and continuing-training requirements and must
pass written and oral exams administered by the NALI.
Most private-detective agencies are small, with little room for advancement.
Usually, there are no defined ranks or steps, so advancement takes the form of
increases in salary and assignment status. Many detectives and investigators
work for detective agencies at the beginning of their careers and, after a few
years, start their own firms. Corporate and legal investigators may rise to
supervisor or manager of the security or investigations department.
Private detectives and investigators held about 43,000 jobs in 2004. About 26
percent were self-employed, including many who held a secondary job as a
self-employed private detective. Around 27 percent of jobs were in investigation
and security services, including private detective agencies, while another 15
percent were in department or other general merchandise stores. The rest worked
mostly in State and local government, legal services firms, employment services
companies, insurance agencies, and credit mediation establishments, including
banks and other depository institutions.
Keen competition is expected because private detective and investigator
careers attract many qualified people, including relatively young retirees from
law enforcement and military careers. The best opportunities will be in
entry-level jobs with detective agencies or in stores that hire detectives on a
part-time basis. The best prospects for those seeking store detective jobs will
be with large chains and discount stores.
Employment of private detectives and investigators is expected to
grow faster than the average
for all occupations through 2014. In addition to growth, replacement of those
who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons should create many job
openings. Increased demand for private detectives and investigators will result
from fear of crime, increased litigation, and the need to protect confidential
information and property of all kinds. The proliferation of criminal activity on
the Internet, such as identity theft, spamming, e-mail harassment, and illegal
downloading of copyrighted materials, will increase the demand for private
investigators. Employee background checks, conducted by private investigators,
will become standard for an increasing number of jobs. Growing financial
activity worldwide will increase the demand for investigators to control
internal and external financial losses and to monitor competitors and prevent
Median annual earnings of salaried private detectives and investigators were
$32,110 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $24,080 and $43,260.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,260, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $58,470. Earnings of private detectives and investigators vary
greatly by employer, specialty, and geographic area.
Private detectives and investigators often collect information and protect
the property and other assets of companies and individuals. Others with related
duties include bill and account
collectors; claims adjusters,
appraisers, examiners, and investigators;
police and detectives; and
security guards and gaming
surveillance officers. Investigators who specialize in conducting financial
profiles and asset searches perform work closely related to that of accountants,
auditors, financial analysts, and personal financial advisors.
|Sources of Additional
For information on local licensing requirements, contact your State
Department of Public Safety, State Division of Licensing, or local or State
For information on a career as a legal investigator and about the Certified
Legal Investigator credential, contact:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S.
Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07
Private Detectives and Investigators, on
the Internet at