What Do Private Detectives Do?
As Defined in Illinois Law
"Private detective" means any person who by any means, including but not limited to manual or electronic methods, engages in the business of, accepts employment to furnish, or agrees to make or makes investigations for a fee or other consideration to obtain information relating to:
(1) Crimes or wrongs done or threatened against the United States, any state or territory of the United States, or any local government of a state or territory.
(2) The identity, habits, conduct, business occupation, honesty, integrity, credibility, knowledge, trustworthiness, efficiency, loyalty, activity, movements, whereabouts, affiliations, associations, transactions, acts, reputation, or character of any person, firm, or other entity by any means, manual or electronic.
(3) The location, disposition, or recovery of lost or stolen property.
(4) The cause, origin, or responsibility for fires, accidents, or injuries to individuals or real or personal property.
(5) The truth or falsity of any statement or representation.
(6) Securing evidence to be used before any court, board, or investigating body.
(7) The protection of individuals from bodily harm or death (bodyguard functions).
(8) Service of process in criminal and civil proceedings without court order.
- Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation
Nature of the Work
Private detectives and investigators use many means to determine the facts in a variety of matters. To carry out investigations, they may use various types of surveillance or searches. To verify facts, such as an individual's place of employment or income, they may make phone calls or visit a subject's workplace. In other cases, especially those involving missing persons and background checks, investigators often interview people to gather as much information as possible about an individual. In all cases, private detectives and investigators assist attorneys, businesses, and the public with a variety of legal, financial, and personal problems.
Private detectives and investigators offer many services, including executive, corporate, and celebrity protection; pre-employment verification; and individual background profiles. They also provide assistance in civil liability and personal injury cases, insurance claims and fraud, child custody and protection cases, and pre-marital screening. Increasingly, they are hired to investigate individuals to prove or disprove infidelity.
Most detectives and investigators are trained to perform physical surveillance, often for long periods of time, in a car or van. They may observe a site, such as the home of a subject, from an inconspicuous location. The surveillance continues using still and video cameras, binoculars,and a cell or car phone, until the desired evidence is obtained. They also perform computer database searches, or work with someone who does. Computers allow detectives and investigators to quickly obtain massive amounts of information on probate records, telephone numbers, motor vehicle registrations, association membership lists, registered sex offenders, and other matters.
The duties of private detectives and investigators depend on the needs of their client. In a case involving fraudulent workers’ compensation claims for an employer, for instance, investigators carry out long-term covert observation of the subject. If the investigator observes the subject performing an activity that contradicts injuries stated in a workers' compensation claim, the investigator would take video or still photographs to document the activity and report it to the client.
Private detectives and investigators often specialize. Those who focus on intellectual property theft, for example,investigate and document acts of piracy, help clients stop the illegal activity, and provide intelligence for prosecution and civil action. Other investigators specialize in financial profiles and asset searches. Their reports reflect information gathered through interviews, investigation and surveillance, and research, including review of public documents.
Legal investigators specialize in cases involving the courts and are normally employed by law firms or lawyers. They frequently assist in preparing criminal defenses, locate witnesses, serve legal documents, interview police and prospective witnesses, and gather and review evidence. Legal investigators may also collect information on the parties to the litigation, take photographs, testify in court, and assemble evidence and reports for trials.
Corporate investigators work for corporations other than investigative firms, in which they conduct internal and external investigations. In internal investigations,they may investigate drug use in the workplace, insure that expense accounts are not abused,or determine if employees are stealing merchandise or information. External investigations typically prevent criminal schemes originating outside the corporation,such as theft of company assets through fraudulent billing of products by suppliers.
Detectives and investigators who specialize in finance may be hired to develop confidential financial profiles of individuals or companies who are prospective parties to large financial transactions. These individuals are often Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and work closely with investment bankers and accountants. They search for assets in order to recover damages awarded by a court in fraud or theft cases.
Detectives who work for retail stores or hotels are responsible for loss control and asset protection. Store detectives, also known as loss prevention agents, safeguard the assets of retail stores by apprehending anyone attempting to steal merchandise or destroy store property. They prevent 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 opening and closing the store. They may prepare loss prevention and security reports for management and testify in court against persons they apprehend. Hotel detectives protect guests of the establishment from theft of their belongings and preserve order in the restaurants and bars in the building. They also may keep undesirable individuals such as known thieves off the premises.