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Things Private Investigators Can and Cannot Do

Crime novels and television dramas perpetuate several myths about Private Investigators that promote inaccurate information about the industry. Many people don’t realize that Private Investigators must meet high educational requirements that include extensive mentoring and exams before they launch their careers. They must also abide by several state regulations before practicing.

Private Investigators often have to register with their state, and some states require additional licensing, while others limit access to information and records needed for an investigative assignment. Even if you have the appropriate authorizations and understand those regulations, there are still plenty of things that professionals in this field can and can’t do.

Private Investigators Need Consent to Wiretap

The ability to wiretap is an essential investigative tool that many Private Investigators rely on to gather information, but first they need to secure permission from the parties involved. The rules of wiretapping vary a bit from state to state, but generally at least one party has to give their consent. Conducting a wiretap without permission is a criminal offense, and any evidence gathered this way could easily get tossed out of court.

Private Investigators Can’t Always Record Private Conversations

Similar to the rules of wiretapping a phone, Private Investigators can’t record private conversations of unsuspecting parties. There are exceptions to this, depending on where the chat takes place. Some states allow Investigators to capture people talking privately if one of the parties is aware of it and gives their permission. Other states require everyone involved to give consent, unless the conversation is done in a public area and the participants speak loudly enough for anyone to hear. Recording via eavesdropping in a public place is often permitted.

Trespassing on Private Property is Not Allowed

No matter how many times you see Private Investigators break into someone’s home on television, the act is illegal in real life. As is the case with law enforcement, Investigators need permission from the owners before entering a property. States have strict rules and regulations about trespassing. Private Investigators who violate them face prosecution, jail time, loss of their licensing, and more.

Private Investigators Can Run Background Checks

Private Investigator do have authority to run background checks to learn more about someone using specialized databases and software not available to the general public. The information that gets collected is sensitive and has details regarding previous criminal convictions, prior investigations, and even credit history. This information can help paint a bigger picture of the individual being investigated.

Protected Information is Unobtainable

While Private Investigators have a talent for finding information vital to a case, they can’t hack into government databases. Federal and state laws prevent Investigative Professionals from getting someone’s bank account numbers, balances, or other details. They can only determine which institutions someone has an account with. This also applies to phone, credit, and court records.

Private Investigators can’t get information protected by state or federal law. For instance, they can’t obtain someone’s banking information. However, they can track down where people have their accounts or verify if someone has a criminal record.

Private Investigators Don’t Arrest People

If a Private Investigator reveals a crime has been committed, can they track down the fugitives and arrest them? No, since they don’t have the legal authority to take people into custody. But there are some rare exceptions. Situations where an Investigator may have the opportunity to arrest someone can include:

  • Some states allow a citizen’s arrest by a Private Investigator if they witness a federal crime taking place
  • Some states and police departments allow an Investigator to make specific arrests depending on the case

Private Investigators Can Run a License Plate

Under certain circumstances, a Private Investigator can run a car’s license plate, but only with an established legal justification. Running a vehicle plate out of curiosity about the car’s owner is not a legitimate reason. There are limits to when or how far they can go with this. A Private Investigator must have a legal justification before running a license plate.

Necessary Private Investigative Career Training

With the growing demand for Private Investigators, it’s critical that investigative professionals have proper training. Aspiring Investigators need to know what they can and can’t do in their careers, and they also need to learn the nuances of the guidelines they’re required to follow.

NITA helps our students learn about Private Investigator careers by offering courses that are State-and-Board approved. Our investigative training courses teach you about the key skills needed to properly obey laws and regulations governing private investigations and have a successful career as a result. Find out more about advancing your professional development by contacting the National Investigative Training Academy, Inc. (NITA) at 1-800-730-NITA or completing our contact form.

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