Read on to discover 5 Common Private Investigator Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them):
Impersonating a Police officer
The number one mistake a private investigator can make, and possibly the most detrimental to his or her career and livelihood, is the act of impersonating a police officer. Not only is it likely that a PI would lose his or her license, but he or she could also end up in jail. Depending on the situation, impersonating a police officer can be classified anywhere from a third to first-degree felony, according to Florida Statue 843.08.
The best way to avoid being accused of this crime is to always inform those with whom you are speaking that you are not a member of law enforcement. Most private investigators carry an Identification card on them at all times, which specifies the investigator’s name and license number. PI Agencies are required to furnish an Identification card to each of its licensed employees.
Not Following Surveillance Procedures
It’s important to understand what is legal and what is not legal during surveillance. Videotaping is legal, so long as there is not an expected right to privacy. When an individual is out in public, the reasonable expectation of privacy is gone. At this point, an investigator has permission to videotape and document all of an individual’s activities, including trips to the bank, store, park, etc.
To avoid legal ramifications, PI’s must refrain from taping a subject in any place that could constitute a violation of his or her privacy, such as within the subject’s home or behind a privacy fence. Once you cross the line from public to private, you are in violation.
Breaking and Entering
We’ve all seen it in movies. Picking a lock, pushing open a slightly ajar door, or even tricking a landlord to unlock a residence all seem like normal habits of PI’s. However, entering premises without obtaining permission from the owner or tenant can have some serious legal ramifications. Although it may be tempting to try, especially when you are certain you will find the evidence you need, it is better to play it safe than sorry.
To avoid committing a crime in the process of investigating someone’s house or property, always make sure to obtain a search warrant or permission from the person who is under investigation.
Attempting to Obtain Confidential Information
Clients may ask a PI to do things that are illegal. Sometimes they know the act is illegal and sometimes they do not. However, it is imperative you know the law and when to say no in order to protect yourself from legal trouble.
If a client is pressuring you to obtain confidential information about the person you are investigating, you must ask permission from the person, obtain a court order, or get a subpoena before doing so. It is a good practice to find a balance between giving the client what he or she wants and doing so in a legal and moral fashion.
Staying on Task on Surveillance
When on surveillance, always make sure to come prepared. A lapse in judgment could cause you to miss out on something significant to your investigation. Reading can cause your eyes to divert from the subject or property you are watching, and you could miss something small but relevant such as lights turning on, a door opening, or a car driving by you. For these same reasons, you should never leave your post for a bathroom break. Also, refrain from engaging in anything that could invite unwanted attention, such as smoking or loud noises.
Following these tips can help you serve your clients’ needs legally. In order to become a PI in Florida or Georgia you must also be licensed. We invite you take the first step toward obtaining that license by enrolling in our online training courses.
The National Investigative Training Academy, Inc. (NITA), an online provider of state-approved Private Investigator training classes, offers a variety of resources that can help you decide if private investigation would be a positive career choice. Learn more by calling 1-800-730-NITA (6482) or by exploring our course offerings.
Our enrollment counselors are here to answer any questions you might have about our state- and board-approved status, pre-licensing training, or professional development programs.