What are private investigators legally permitted to do?

What can a private investor do?

Movies and TV shows have provided a lot of misconceptions about the things a private investigator is allowed to do. It’s important to have realistic expectations if you’re wondering “what can private investigators do.” Otherwise, you may not understand how they can help you prove insurance fraud, confirm your suspicions of theft or infidelity, or conduct background checks.

A List of What Can Private Investigators Do

Use the following list to help you realize what a private investigator is legally permitted to do. Remember, it’s important for a private detective to follow all applicable federal and state laws; otherwise, the detective risks arrest and gathering unusable evidence that may not help an investigation. When hiring a private investigator, it’s essential to stick with a licensed, experienced individual who understands their legal boundaries.

A Private Detective May Go Anywhere That’s Public

Throughout their investigations, licensed private investigators must ensure they don’t illegally access private property. Public spaces are fair game, but a private detective cannot trespass on private property.

Private investigators can’t pick locks, break into a home, or use force to gain entry. While a private owner may permit the investigator to enter their property, if they change their mind, the private detective must abide by their wishes.

Private Investigators Must Follow Consent Laws When Recording Conversations

Private detectives must follow federal law and state regulations when listening in on or recording phone calls to obtain information. While federal law requires the permission of a single party to record a conversation, some state laws require that both parties provide their consent.

A private investigator may listen to a conversation in-person. If they aren’t part of the conversation and don’t have the proper permission to record, they can only take notes about what they hear. Depending on the location of the conversation, they may be able to take photos of the people talking.

Private Investigators Can Take Photos in Public Places

When you think about what private investigators can do legally, you may envision films where they use a camera to take photos inside of homes and private spaces. In reality, this activity would break the law. Private detectives may not take photos anywhere someone has an expectation of privacy, such as inside their home or in their backyard.

They can typically photograph people when they step outside their home into the front yard or street, as there usually isn’t an expectation of privacy in these spaces. A private investigator may also take photos in public areas, like parks, roads, and public businesses.

A Private Investigator Can Access Public Records

Public records can provide a wealth of information for an investigation; this info is particularly helpful for background checks. Private investigators may access any public records, like court documents, marriage and divorce records, voter registration forms, and property documents. For example, an insurance fraud investigator might comb court records to see if an individual has a history of filing lawsuits.

The general public can technically access this info, but may find it cumbersome, time-consuming, or expensive to do so. A private detective knows how to find these records in a timely manner and has access to databases that make it easier to gather info.

One thing that a private investigator may not be able to do is run a license plate number. This depends on the situation; in some states, they may be permitted to do so as long as they are running it for investigative purposes or for information that will be used in court.

A Few Things Private Investigators Can’t Do

You may wonder what items won’t show up on a list of “what can private investigators do.” Here are a few things they aren’t permitted to do.

Act as Police Officers

While a private detective can provide info for law enforcement agencies to use, they are not permitted to portray themselves as police officers or to act as law enforcement. A private detective can’t carry a badge, say they’re a police officer, or arrest anyone.

Access Certain Pieces of Financial Information

Private detectives aren’t allowed to access specific info (like account balances and transactions) pertaining to an individual’s bank accounts. They’re also restricted from running credit checks, unless the individual has given their permission and there’s a legal reason to do so.

View Phone Records

A private investigator may not access an individual’s private phone records without their consent, unless they have a court order, subpoena, or permission from that person to do so.

Need more info on what a private investigator can and can’t do? Contact Sig. 14, Inc. for a free consultation.