Private investigators gather and analyze information about personal, financial and legal matters. Their objective is generally to either confirm or disprove a particular suspicion. They offer many services, including verifying people’s backgrounds for potential employers, looking for missing persons or assets, investigating suspicion of infidelity, and validating or disproving insurance claims. Investigators may be employed by law firms, public defenders, individuals or other entities. Those who work for individuals or corporations are generally referred to as “private” investigators, while those who are employed by law firms or public defenders are called “legal” investigators.
How the Internet Helps
In the pre-digital age, investigation required a lot of what is commonly called “legwork,” due to the amount of walking and driving around that was necessary. Today it is still called “legwork” but often legs are not actually required. Much of the investigative work can now be done without leaving the comfort of the office, thanks to the invention and growth of the internet.
Not to Say that it’s Easy
Just because the information may be available on the internet, though, does not necessarily mean that the investigative job is “easy”. The internet has made information available, yes, but there are trillions of pieces of data available, and you can waste hours sifting through search-engine results pages without finding the information you seek, if you do not know what you are doing.
Ways to Use the Internet
Via the computer, investigators can now search for phone numbers, public records, and newspaper stories, without the need to drive to the courthouse or the library and pore over paper files or microfilms. Clients and witnesses can be contacted via email for routine matters, although face-to-face meetings are still recommended for sensitive situations, or when the investigator needs to use intuition and body language to determine fact from fiction. The internet can also be useful in Surveillance situations. A webcam in an inconspicuous (but of course legal!) position can be a terrific substitute for hours spent in the old-fashioned “stakeout”.
More Information Is Available
Several factors combine to increase the availability of information available on the internet. Many public records have been transferred to digital media and uploaded. People’s lives are moving online, where they pay bills and conduct much of their personal and professional lives. Huge databases of information are being assembled by all sorts of companies, and many companies are earning big money by data-mining and selling that information for a small fee. Social media sites encourage the sharing of personal information. Many people never hesitate to publish information about their friends and families, upload photos, and share activities, even in real-time.
But Data Is Becoming More Difficult to Obtain
At the same time, some data are becoming less obtainable. Privacy laws are permitting people to opt out of sharing certain information, such as their driver’s license and vehicle registration information. Because of these laws, social security numbers and birth dates can also be difficult to locate. People also are granted more control over their own data, and sometimes have the ability to change or eliminate information. And some data are becoming an income source for the entities that gather and refine it. For example, the Florida Vital Records department now charges up to $90,000 for a one-year subscription. Because of privacy laws, investigators must be careful in how they gather information, and must be sure to use methods that are legal at both the local and the federal level.
Essential But Not The Only Necessary Skill
Searching for information using the internet or gathering surveillance via webcam can make a private investigator’s job easier, but is certainly not the only skill required for a successful investigation. Good old fashioned techniques are still required, like making observations, asking questions, listening carefully to answers, and deductive reasoning, are still essential to the job. However, keeping up with the current trends and technology are mandatory in order to stay competitive in this industry. Combining the use of both new technological methods with tried-and-true “legwork” is the best way to succeed as a private investigator.
This is a guest post from contributing author Charlie Oszvald. Charlie is writing for Beacon Investigative Solutions, a private investigation agency present in 45 states in the US, with multiple offices in Ohio (Cincinnati private investigator office), Alabama, Kentucky and more.