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Private detectives and investigators assist attorneys, government agencies, businesses, and the public with a variety of problems, such as gathering facts, tracing debtors, or conducting background investigations. The main job of private investigators and some private detectives is to obtain information and locate assets or individuals. Some private detectives protect stores and hotels from theft, vandalism, and disorder.
Private detectives working as general investigators have duties ranging from locating missing persons to exposing fraudulent workers' compensation claims. Some investigators specialize in one field, such as finance, where they might use accounting skills to investigate the financial standing of a company or locate funds stolen by an embezzler.
About half of all private investigators are self-employed or work for detective agencies. They specialize in missing persons, infidelity, and background investigations, including financial profiles and asset searches; physical surveillance; on-line computer database searches; and insurance investigations. They may obtain information, interview witnesses, and assemble evidence for litigation or criminal trials. They get cases from clients or are assigned to cases by the owner or manager of the firm.
Many investigators spend considerable time conducting surveillance, seeking to observe inconsistencies in a subject's behavior. For example, a person who has recently filed a workers' compensation claim that an injury has made walking difficult should not be able to jog or mow the lawn. If such behavior is observed, the investigator takes video or still photographs to document the activity and reports back to the supervisor or client.
"Stakeouts" are a common form of surveillance. On a stakeout, an investigator regularly observes a site, such as the home of a subject, until the desired evidence is obtained. The investigator sits in a car or other inconspicuous location. They are equipped with cameras-including still and video cameras-binoculars, and a citizen's band radio or a car phone.
Some investigations involve verification of facts, such as an individual's place of employment or income. This might involve a phone call or a visit to the workplace. In other investigations, especially in missing persons cases, the investigator interviews people to learn as much as possible about someone's previous movements. These interviews can be formal or informal and sometimes turn into confrontations if the person is uncooperative.
Legal investigators specialize in cases involving the courts and lawyers. To assist in preparing criminal defenses, investigators locate witnesses, interview police, gather and review evidence, take photographs, and testify in court. To assist attorneys in the preparation of litigation for injured parties, they interview prospective witnesses, collect information on the parties to the litigation, and search out testimonial, documentary, or physical evidence.
Corporate investigators work for companies other than investigative firms-often large corporations. In contrast to most private investigators, they report to a corporate chain of command. They conduct internal or external investigations. External investigations consist of preventing criminal schemes, thefts of company assets, and fraudulent deliveries of products by suppliers. In internal investigations, they insure that expense accounts are not abused and catch employees who are stealing.
Investigators who specialize in finance may be hired to investigate the financial standing of companies or individuals. These investigators often work with investment bankers and lawyers. They generally develop confidential financial profiles of individuals or companies who may be parties to large financial transactions. An asset search is a common type of such an investigation.
Private detectives and investigators who work for large retail stores or malls are responsible for loss control and asset protection. Store detectives safeguard the assets of retail stores by apprehending persons attempting to steal merchandise or destroy store property. They detect theft by shoplifters, vendor representatives, delivery personnel, and even store employees. Store detectives also conduct periodic inspections of stock areas, dressing rooms, and rest rooms, and sometimes assist in the opening and closing of the store. They may prepare loss prevention and security reports for management and testify in court against persons they apprehend.
Computers have changed the nature of this profession and have become an integral part of investigative work. They allow investigators to obtain massive amounts of information in a short period of time from the dozens of on-line data bases containing probate records, motor-vehicle registrations, credit reports, association membership lists, and other information.
Private investigators often work irregular hours. Early morning, evening, weekend, and holiday work is common. The irregular hours result from the need to conduct surveillance and contact people who may not be available during normal working hours. Investigators who work solely for insurance companies and corporate investigators have more normal work hours.
Many investigators spend much 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. Corporate investigators often split their time between the office and the field; work done in the office generally consists of computer research.
When away from the office, the environment might range from plush boardrooms to seedy bars. Store and hotel detectives work mostly in the businesses that they protect. Investigators generally work alone, but sometimes work with others during surveillance or stake-outs.
Much of the work that detectives and investigators do can be confrontational because the person being observed may not want to be observed. As a result, the job can be quite stressful and sometimes dangerous. Some investigators carry handguns, but most do not since it is difficult to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon in many jurisdictions. Owners of investigations firms have the added stress of having to deal with demanding and sometimes distraught clients.
Private detectives and investigators held about 55,000 jobs in 1994. About 20 percent were self employed. About 34 percent of wage and salary workers worked for detective agencies and about 40 percent were employed as store detectives in department or clothing and accessories stores. Others worked for hotels and other lodging places, legal services firms, and many other industries.
There are no formal education requirements for most private detective and investigator jobs, although most employers prefer high school graduates and many private detectives have college degrees. Some private detectives and investigators get their entry-level training on the job while working for insurance or collections companies or in the security industry. Many investigators enter from the military or law enforcement jobs and apply their experience as law enforcement officers, military police, or government agents. Other investigators enter from such diverse fields as finance, accounting, investigative reporting, insurance, and law. These individuals often can apply their prior work experience in a related investigation specialty.
The vast majority of States and the District of Colombia require that private investigators be licensed. Licensing requirements vary widely among the States, but, in most, the State police is the licensing authority. Some States have very liberal requirements, while others have stringent regulations. For example, the California Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Security and Investigative Services requires 6,000 hours of investigative experience, a background check, a qualifying score on a written examination, payment of a $50 application fee and a $32 fingerprint fee, and payment of an annual $175 license fee upon approval. In contrast, other States may have little or no licensing requirements. A growing number of States are enacting mandatory training programs for private investigators. In States that require licensing, a felony conviction generally disqualifies a candidate from being granted a license.
In most investigations firms, the screening process for potential employees includes a background check, consisting of confirmation of education, work experience, and criminal history, and interviews with references and others known to the applicant. Corporate and industrial security positions may require a criminal history check, a personal interview, an ethics interview, a practical test, verification of education claims, and license review as well as personal and employment references checks.
For private detective and investigator jobs, most employers look for individuals with ingenuity who are aggressive, persistent, and assertive. A candidate must not be afraid of being confrontational, should communicate well, and should be able to think on his or her feet. The courts are often the ultimate judge of a properly conducted investigation, so the investigator must be able to present the facts in a manner a jury will believe.
Training in subjects such as criminal justice are helpful to the aspiring private detective. Most corporate investigators must have a bachelor's degree, preferably in a business-related field. Some corporate investigators have Masters of Business Administration or law degrees, while others are Certified Public Accountants.
Corporate investigators hired by larger companies may receive formal training from their employers on business practices, management structure, and various finance related topics. Interview and interrogation training is frequently included.
Most investigations firms are small, with little room for advancement. Usually there are no defined ranks or steps, so advancement is in terms of salary and assignment status. Many investigators work for an investigations firm in the beginning of their investigative careers and after a few years try to start their own investigations firms. Corporate and legal investigators may rise to supervisor or manager of the security or investigations department.
Employment of private detectives and investigators is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. In addition, job turnover should create many additional job openings, particularly among wage and salary workers. Nevertheless, competition is expected for the available openings because private detective and investigator careers are attractive to many.
Demand for private detectives and investigators is expected to be generated by increases in the size of the population, increased economic activity, and global and domestic competition. These forces are expected to produce increases in crime, litigation, and the need for confidential information of all kinds. As crime continues to increase, more firms will hire or contract for the service of private detectives. Drug abuse continues to be a problem in our society, contributing to the high crime rate, and some companies will hire private investigators to determine the extent of their internal drug problems. Additional private detectives and investigators will be needed to meet the needs for information associated with criminal defenses and litigation among companies and individuals. Greater financial activity also will increase the demand for investigators. In addition, as competition becomes more intense, growing numbers of companies will hire investigators to control internal and external financial losses, as well as to find out what their competitors are doing and to prevent industrial spying.
In spite of the rapid growth in employment of private detectives and investigators, competition should continue to be very intense for full-time, salaried job openings due to a large supply of workers qualified for these jobs. Many individuals leave law enforcement, military, and intelligence jobs in the public sector, often at a relatively young age, and decide to become private investigators. Opportunities should be best for entry-level jobs as store detectives or with detective agencies on a part-time basis. Persons seeking store detective jobs may find the best opportunities with private guard and security firms since some retail businesses are replacing their own workers with outside contract workers.
Earnings of private detectives and investigators vary greatly depending on their employer, specialty, and geographic area in which they work. According to a study by Abbott, Langer & Associates, private investigators averaged about $36,700 a year in 1993, and store detectives about $16,100.
According to other limited information, legal investigators earned an estimated $15,000 to $18,000 a year to start, and experienced legal investigators earned $20,000 to $35,000. Entry level corporate investigators earned an estimated $40,000 to $45,000 annually, and experienced corporate investigators, $50,000 to $55,000.
Most private investigator bill their clients between $50 and $150 per hour to conduct investigations. Most private investigators, except for those working for large corporations, do not receive paid vacation or sick days, health or life insurance, retirement packages, or other benefits. Investigators are usually reimbursed for expenses and gen-erally given a car allowance.
Most corporate investigators received health insurance, pension plans, profit-sharing plans, and paid vacation.
Private detectives and investigators often collect information and protect property and assets of companies. Others with related concerns include security guards, insurance claims examiners, inspectors, collectors, and law enforcement officers. Corporate investigators and investigators who specialize in conducting financial profiles and asset searches do work closely related to that of accountants and financial analysts.
Most States have associations for private detectives and investigators that provide career information. For information on local licensing requirements, contact your local State police headquarters.
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