Private Investigator Career and Job Description

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Private investigators are indispensible to a number of high-profile industries and positions. These licensed and highly skilled professionals are responsible for doing everything from tracking down cyber criminals to ensuring that workers’ compensation benefits are not being abused.

The job of a private investigator, in its simplest form, is to track down information. As such, a basic job description may include: employing investigative methods, conducting interviews, carrying out surveillance, and analyzing gathered research and data.

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However, the role of a private investigator is, often times, much more complex than it seems at first glance. Private investigator jobs involve everything from resolving legal issues and financial disputes to providing closure for clients regarding personal matters. In other words, the job description of a private investigator is often much more complex than meets the eye.

Private investigators may work for any number of clients, from private business to federal, state and local governments and beyond. Here are just a few of the areas of specialization private investigators can be found working:

General Investigators

Open up any phone book and you will likely come across an abundance of private investigators that provide general services. They may help clients find information on a missing loved one; they may gather information for clients embroiled in a child custody battle or divorce; or they may assist businesses in locating customers who refuse to pay a debt. It is also common for private investigative firms to operate a general investigative agency and employ a number of private investigators with expertise in numerous areas.

Legal Investigators

Private investigators are often brought in to help either clients or lawyers prepare for court cases. They may conduct surveillance, interview people, and perform research for parties in litigation. Legal investigators often have extensive experience in the court system, as they must understand the laws surrounding evidence in court procedures and what can and cannot be admitted into a court of law.

Corporate/Financial Investigators

Corporate investigators, who are often hired by large, private corporations, are called upon to perform any number of duties, including:

  • Investigate a company’s history and financial performance before proceeding with a merger or acquisition
  • Investigate a company’s interests and investments
  • Conduct background investigations on new employees
  • Review financial, computer, telephone, etc. records of employees suspected of fraud, embezzlement or theft

It is common for financial investigators to be certified public accountants, as this career profile often demands a solid understanding of financial reports, checks and balances, and audits.

Insurance Investigators

Private investigator jobs are often found in insurance companies who pay compensation claims, and within businesses that suspect financial abuse or fraud. They may work for homeowners insurance companies, auto insurance companies, and workman’s compensation insurance companies, and they may investigate everything from personal injury claims to medical malpractice claims, just to name a few.

For example, a business or insurance company may contact a private investigator to conduct surveillance on an employee who they believe is faking a disability claim. This may involve taking photographs, interviewing people who know the individual in question, or observing the individual’s activities.

Computer Forensic Investigators

Given the wide use of technology, professionals who can uncover cybercrimes are in high demand. As such, private investigators deal with investigations involving everything from cyber bullying to identity theft. Private investigators are experts in a number of areas, including tracking and retrieving digital information and accessing and analyzing computer hardware and software.

Computer forensic investigators may employ a number of investigative tools to locate files or file fragments, even deleted files, all the while preserving the integrity of the electronic evidence. They may also recover electronic evidence during a computer forensic investigation from any number of devices, including: email servers, hard drives, storage media, databases, web servers, personal digital devices, digital answering machines, zip drives, and digital cameras.

Civil/Domestic Investigators

Private investigators that provide investigative services in civil or domestic matters may be called upon to uncover information related to infidelity, child custody, or divorce, among others. For example, a domestic private investigator (also often referred to as a marital investigator) may be hired to perform surveillance and gather evidence for clients that suspect their spouses are being unfaithful. Domestic investigators are also hired to find defamatory information on a spouse for child custody purposes.

Missing Persons Investigators

Private investigators may focus their practice on locating missing persons, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their disappearance. Often times, private investigators involved in missing person cases work alongside law enforcement officials. Missing person investigations may involve finding lost loved ones, debtors who owe money, runaways, and missing persons involved in cold cases.

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