5 Things Private Investigators Can and Can’t Do

Things Private Investigators Can and Can’t DoA private investigator can find out anything, right? If your husband is cheating, if your assistant is on the take, call a private investigator to question their way right to the bottom of the case. Thanks to Hollywood blockbusters and binge-worthy TV shows, there are a lot of myths about private investigators embedded into our culture. Flashy cars, superhuman powers, computer hacking skills — we’d hate to break it to you, but that’s not (always) how it works on the job.

Here we demystify five common misconceptions so you understand what a private investigator can and cannot do before you hire one.

Important Note: Investigations Aren’t Glamorous!

On screen, private investigators are heralded as heroes who will do anything — even break the law — to solve the case.

Brian Willingham, the president of private investigation agency Diligentia Group, assures us a day on the job is not like a Magnum P.I. episode. He doesn’t drive a Ferrari, or wear a trench coat, and he never breaks the law.

But while Hollywood puts a glossy shine on PI life, they also make solving a case seem lightening fast. It doesn’t work that way. Private investigators spend long hours on the job tracking persons of interest to crack the case.

“Don’t believe what you see on TV,” Trustify Director of Operations Mike Hunter advises. “We’re very good, but we’re not going to find the radical extremists in 60 minutes with commercial breaks.”

Instead, expect at least a few days or more to have your answers from your private investigator.

1. What Can Private Detectives Do?

Private investigators can crack a case that a normal civilian can’t. But they don’t have superhuman strength or flying abilities, like the Marvel superhero Jessica Jones. In fact, they’re pretty ordinary. Critically, they are bound by the same criminal legal codes as the rest of us.

“We’re regular people, with regular powers,” says Brian. “We have an expertise in gaining information, but we certainly don’t have special powers that say we don’t have to abide by the law.”

Experience and resources make private investigators different from average citizens. That’s why at Ranger Guard we always prioritize recruits from a law enforcement or military background. Years spent in the field gives operatives the on-the-ground experience which cannot be replaced, enabling them to identify vital clues someone else would miss entirely.

What they can do is also strictly defined. Not every state requires a license, but Trustify Sales Manager Sam Rosenberg says it helps them avoid harassment or stalking charges while observing a house or following a person of interest. After all, they aren’t cops, and must follow the law like every other citizen. As such, there’s a lot of red tape private investigators can encounter. Ranger Guard requires detectives to have licenses. We believe in doing everything possible to follow the rules and reduce uncertainty.

2. A Private Investigator Can Access Public Records

Private investigators have the know-how to obtain public records, and can find outstanding criminal records quite easily. If the target has a registration at a local college, property that they own, court orders against them or LLCs which they manage, a private investigator will be able to access the information.

There is also a lot of information available at the DMV. Depending on the state, a private detective can gain a lot of information from the local DMV and may be able to run license plates and discover vehicle history.

3. Private Detectives Cannot Hack Your Phone

“People think we’re the NSA,” Mike says. “We don’t have that technology.”

Even for detectives with a background in espionage, they can’t hack into anyone’s accounts without breaking the law. That goes for phone, email, social media, and bank accounts, explains Sam. “The only methods available to obtain that information are all illegal.”

In a case where a spouse wants to see if his wife is cheating, he won’t be able to check the phone records.

“Say he’s paying for her phone bill, and technically it’s his account. But even in that situation, he would have to get a subpoena to see that. Without the subpoena, he could see the outgoing and incoming phone numbers, but he needs the subpoena to see the content. That’s protected information.”

Even snooping through your partner’s phone has its limitations. Sam says it might be legal, but it may not be admissible in court. If you want evidence of your partner’s affair, you’ll have to get undeniable proof without breaking the law.

4. Private Investigators Can Watch Your House

To find the cheating spouse, that’s where surveillance comes into play. “If you think your husband is cheating on you,” Mike says, “we can’t get the text message, but we can put surveillance on him and follow him to see if he is cheating.”

How do surveillances work? Mike reveals private investigators usually “sit on the house, see who’s in the house, who’s going to the house, figure out who’s there, and follow the person from the house to a different location.” That can mean hours outside sitting in a car across the street, making notes about who is coming and who is going.

But stake outs only go so far. They can only be conducted on public property. Sam points out if they get caught on private property, and someone asks them to leave, then they must leave.

And if their target leaves? Well…

5. A Private Detective Can Follow Someone

“Mobile surveillance is where we follow a person,” Mike explains. “That’s more exciting, [since] you have no idea where they’re going to go or how they’re going to get there.”

Unpredictability, though thrilling, can make the surveillance complicated. The private investigators must follow a target through crowds, onto subway trains, and if it gets really chaotic, the private investigators might even lose them. Experience, professionalism and skill is essential to keeping a tail on someone over long distances.

But with all their years of experience, private investigators are professionals who “think on their feet and adapt to circumstances very easily,” Mike says. They make it look easy, even when it’s not.

A private investigator is the closest thing you can get to hiring a police officer to help you find out things you want to know. Many good private detectives are former police officers for exactly this reason. Call Ranger Guard today for an experienced private detective agency which prioritizes former police officers and military personnel. Trust in a company with a proven record of success.