While it’s relatively easy to find information on how to become a private investigator, there is far less on how the different types of investigators—or investigative specializations—there are in the industry. From investigating insurance fraud to finding missing persons, private investigators offer valuable skills that can be used in a variety of different situations.
What is a Private Investigator?
A private investigator is someone who is typically hired by an individual, an attorney or a company to assist in the investigation of a specific case or situation. Because they working outside of law enforcement, they can be hired for a variety of reasons, and as such, there is a wide variety of specializations and types of private investigators out there.
What types of private investigators are there?
Because private investigators work outside of law enforcement, they can be hired for a variety of reasons, and as such, there is a wide variety of specializations and types of private investigators out there. For this reason, many private investigators have a few different types of cases they specialize in, and use this information to target their marketing and their clientele.
The best known investigators include arson, computer forensics (cyber), legal (criminal defense), corporate, financial, insurance, civil/domestic, store (loss prevention) and hotel, but there are many options that a private investigator may decide to specialize in. Here is the full list of types of PI’s:
- Accident / Reconstruction - similar to what a crime lab might do, a private investigator in the field of accident reconstruction may investigate a specific accident or crime in order to determine what really happened or who might be responsible
- Arson / Fire - Fire investigators often work directly for fire departments to determine whether the cause of a fire is natural or arson
- Asset Search - in an asset investigation, the investigator may search public records that confirm property or real estate ownership by an individual or corporate entity
- Background Checks - whether simple or complex, private investigators can perform extensive background checks on individuals to determine criminal history, past aliases, or even to simply confirm information given as part of a job application or interview
- Bounty Hunter - a bounty hunter is a specialized private investigator who works alongside law enforcement to locate and apprehend individuals who are wanted for legal proceedings, including skipping bail and failure to appear in court
- Bug Sweep, Bug Detection - a type of cyber investigation, this type of investigator may perform electronic sweeps of areas for the purpose of finding hidden recording devices or location trackers
- Cell Phone Records - in this case, an investigator may obtain cell phone records—usually with consent or a search warrant—that allows them to scour a cell phone’s history and records, usually with the intent to determine fraud, infidelity, or to find a missing person
- Child Support / Custody - hired by an individual, a private investigator may do a custody investigation in order to determine the best placement of a child between legal custodial guardians, or any misconduct among those parties
- Civil - a civil investigator’s goal is to seek out and uncover information related to a civil trial—that is, when one person sues another for any number of reasons
- Computer Forensics / Cyber Crime - these investigators specialize in computers and technology-related crime, applying analysis and investigative techniques to gather evidence from the high-tech world. Learn more: What is a Digital Private Investigator?
- Corporate - rather than having their own company or private investigation firm, a corporate PI will work as part of the staff of a company.
- Crime Scene - working as an extension of law enforcement, or in trying to find out the truth independent of law enforcement, a private investigator in this circumstance would focus on the evidence at a crime scene as part of a larger criminal case
- Criminal - a criminal investigator is very similar to a detective that is part of law enforcement, as they investigate criminal acts in order to bring forward evidence at a criminal trial. Learn more: What is a Criminal Defense Investigator and How to Become One.
- Domestic - domestic investigators pursue cases such as infidelity, child support or parental custody, typically using surveillance.
- Due Diligence - typically involving corporate clients, due diligence investigation is that done for the larger purposes of a business transaction of some sort
- Electronic/Video/Photo Surveillance - a private investigator skilled in electronic surveillance will likely be adept at using various types of recording devices or online history as part of their larger investigation, while video and photo surveillance are more focused on the physical whereabouts of the person or group being investigated.
- Executive Protection - because the overall protection of many celebrities or executive is generally more data-driven than people realize, a private investigator makes a good fit for this field, being able to scour information for locations, travel and more in order to provide safety for the client
- Financial - these private investigators develop financial background reports or search for assets to recover judgments in fraud and theft cases.
- Forensic - generally, forensic investigators are those who are focused on evidence collection of any sort, and may work quite closely with law enforcement, or in contrast to them
- Fraud - often hired by a company (like an insurance company) a fraud investigator is primarily focused on determining whether or not someone is using fraud in order to gain some sort of financial payoff
- Hotel - Hotel detectives protect the property of guests, employees or parts of the hotel itself from theft.
- Identity Theft - an investigator might be hired for identity theft investigation in order to determine if, who, or when an instance of identity theft occurred
- Infidelity / Cheating Spouse - typically referred to as a domestic investigation, an investigator in this instance would be focused on high surveillance tactics to determine if a spouse or partner is engaged in extramarital situations
- Insurance Fraud - in these cases, a private investigator might examine claims in workers’ compensation cases, which can be susceptible to fraudulent activity.
- Internet Dating Investigation - rare but becoming more popular, an investigator would run background checks and use online and public information in order to determine if the information provided to a client is true and can be trusted
- Judgment Recovery - while someone who owes money as part of a court ruling may typically find themselves in collections, a judgement recovery investigator may help uncover hidden assets or accounts in order to expedite recovery of those funds
- Missing Persons /People Locate / Skip Trace - whether seeking out a missing person or trying to locate someone who has “skipped town”, an investigator in this type of case may use a variety of tactics in order to locate or determine the whereabouts of a certain individual
- Mystery Shopper - a mystery shopper, or store investigator works to prevent or catch shoplifters and other kinds of store losses through employee or vendor theft.
- Polygraph / Lie Detector - an investigator in this instance may be solely focused on issuing a polygraph service in order to determine the truth in a situation
- Process Service - process servers serve documentation to those involved in a court case, and an investigator can be a valuable part of this team—helping them determine where and when a person may be served with court documents
- Repossessions - when a valuable item must be repossessed, it is important to know where and when that item will be in order to recover it. For this reason, an investigator can be helpful in determining this information
- Social Media - becoming more popular due to catfishing cases, a social media investigator will seek out the information of who owns social media accounts, who is using them, and what they are used for
- Trial Preparation - a trial preparation, or legal investigator, works to obtain information for lawyers to assist in the preparation of criminal defense cases.
- Workers Compensation - when an employee files for workers’ compensation, it can mean a lot of money out of the company’s (or the insurance company’s) pocket. In a workers compensation investigation, an investigator looks for evidence of injury, as well as fraud to determine if the filing is justified
- Wrongful Death - in many cases of wrongful death, it is hard to prove fault, which is instrumental to the case at hand. In this case, a private investigator is helpful to help determine the happenings surrounding the case, to help build a case with evidence
What are the qualifications to become a private investigator?
While there are general requirements to becoming a private investigator, much of it is based on your background, past experience and state of licensure. Generally speaking, you’ll need the following in order to become a private investigator, no matter where you live:
- A High School diploma or equivalent
- A career experience in law enforcement or military (preferred, but not necessarily required), or a degree in criminal justice or a related field of study (preferred, but not necessarily required)
- State-specific certifications and/or credentials (visit investigativeacademy.com for individual state requirements)
Job training for a career as a private investigator covers a variety of topics that are useful to know while on the job, including evidence collection, interviewing methods, surveillance techniques, and fraud training. However, if you are interested in building a specific practice or specialization as we’ve explored above, you’ll want to ensure that you gain more experience in those areas by specifically targeting those cases. While oftentimes there aren’t specific requirements or regulations for these specialties, clients will want to know that you have the expertise in the area they are hiring you for.
Whatever your specialization, if you’re considering a career as a Private Investigator, NITA offers self-paced, online pre-certification training along with continuing education and professional development courses to help you along your path, and we’re happy to help. If you have questions as you get started, please give us a call and we’ll help you navigate the best path forward.
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