I’m not sure what your perception of private investigators is. You may have already done plenty of research and have a fair idea of what they do. Then again, this may be the first thing you read, and the only examples of a P.I. that you have are from movies or TV shows. As with most things on TV (including ‘reality’ TV), real life is different.
Hopefully reading through this book, and looking at the below example schedule, will dispel any myths and perhaps show you another side that you didn’t think about.
Just remember though, if you tell people you’re a P.I., the first thing they will think of is whatever TV show they’ve seen. Often the first question I get is ‘do you drive a Ferrari?’ This can get annoying if you let it. Just realize that most people are going to be fascinated with the fact that you follow people for a living. And they are genuinely interested in what you do regardless of what their perception is, based on TV shows. Pick your audience though. If you really don’t want to talk about it just say you work in accounts (as you will definitely be looking through accounts at some stage as a P.I.).
The first thing to keep in mind is that in most countries, a private investigator does not have any more rights than a private citizen. We’re not allowed to drive any faster, we can’t arrest people, we can’t violate people’s reasonable expectation of privacy and we can’t go around shooting at people.
Generally, we want to blend in and gather evidence in the most discreet manner possible. This means driving the most common and unremarkable car you can find, wearing clothes that blend in rather than stand out and behaving in such a manner that no one would pay us a second glance.
Yes, there are times when it can be very exciting. But for the most part, we want to be so prepared that not many things are a surprise to us. A slow methodical approach will beat a ‘wing-it’ attitude almost every time.
Of course, no day is typical, and many times things come up that you need to attend to straight away. However, there are a lot of things that you will do very regularly. As a private investigator, a typical day for me would look something like this:
8am. I’m a little tired this morning as I was out from 7pm to 1am last night on surveillance. The case was a worker’s insurance claim. It’s a back injury and the claimant states that he can’t articulate his back at all. No bending over, no twisting etc. For most of the night he wasn’t doing this, but at around midnight he went to a pool hall. It took me a while to get into position, but I finally got some video of him playing a full game including bending over, twisting at various angles and holding the cue behind his back. I’ve just phoned the client to give them an update and am now compiling the video and photos I took. I’m backing them up and putting them into the case file on my computer. I won’t do a report yet as the client wants me to do the same another night.
9am. I’ve already taken a call from someone wanting me to find out if the government is spying on him. I politely declined. Yes, you do get some interesting people calling you.
10.30am. I have a meeting with another client who suspects that his accounts payable person is somehow siphoning money into his own account. He has some valid suspicions but not enough technical knowledge to really look into his accounts system to get to the bottom of it. I’m drafting a proposal letter to him now covering our fees and what steps we would take. Could be a good case for us.
12pm. I’ve had a few emails confirming my appearance in court next week, from the police prosecutor. I’m presenting my evidence as a witness on a case I worked on last year. It takes so long for these things to go through court. I grab a bite to eat from the café down the road. I try not to eat at my desk as that’s a very bad habit.
1pm. There’s a new case I’m working on, similar to the accounts payable case. This time it’s the dispatch manager. She’s allegedly writing off stock as damaged and then selling it through her cousin’s company online. I’ve been doing some web, social media and database searches to see exactly what she owns. I’m trying to see whether she’s living within the means of someone on her salary or appears to spend more than she legally earns. I’m also preparing a surveillance plan for tomorrow night. She’s working late, with little supervision. Will be a good chance to observe any stock movements. If that doesn’t work, we’ll look at installing a hidden camera in the warehouse area. The client hasn’t approved costs for that yet.
I also have another trademark case. Someone is wanting to register a trademark however there is another company with the brand name listed on their website. I need to find out whether they’re actively selling the product under that brand name or whether it’s dormant (not actively used) and therefore available to trademark by the other company. I’ll do an extensive web search and the visit the store later this afternoon to make some enquiries.
1.30pm. In the early afternoon, I get a call from a client, she’s had some information that her ex-husband, who is supposed to be looking after the children today, is drinking with his mates and leaving them unsupervised. It’s a custodial case and this could be exactly what she needs. I drop everything and quickly drive out to her ex-husband”s house. I already have everything I need in my car and it’s full of fuel. I fill it up each morning on the way to work as you never know what’s going to happen that day.
The husband doesn’t appear to be home. About 10 minutes later he walks up the road with the children. It looks like they’ve been to the park. They go inside and start preparing afternoon tea. No evidence of drinking and certainly none of his mates about. This is the third time that’s happened. The client may be grasping at straws, but I will follow her instructions as long as I’m getting paid. I drive back to the office, I phone the client with an update on the way. I’ll only report the facts though. Some clients want you to see things that aren’t really there, to support their case!
3.30pm. I’m back at the office, I tidy a few emails up and decide to call it a day. I’ve had a long night, and you never know. I may get a call later tonight with something urgent. In the meantime, I’ll go home to spend some time with my wife and kids.
As you can see, the day wasn’t all car chases and interviewing people. A lot of it was paperwork, planning and talking to clients!
Just remember, almost everything you do will be the result of prior planning. Then once it’s done it will require some type of report.
Clients will be pushy and want results now, but make sure you stick to a logical process and aren’t running around putting out fires.