Private Investigation
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The Truth About Private Investigators.

What do PI's really do? Would you ever need one?

Here's the truth.

The Truth About Private Investigators

People hire private investigators for a number of reasons. Most often, this includes obtaining information on the whereabouts, identity, conduct or credibility of a person or company; conducting background searches; having someone followed to see if he or she is being deceitful, and more.

What does a private investigator do? How do I know when to hire one? Will he be able to help me? These questions don't come up often, but when they do, I'm ready with a long list of answers.

Some people hire private investigators so routinely that it would be difficult for them to imagine completing a project-whether it's personal or professional-without one. Other people think a PI is just like an FBI agent-they're needed only when a catastrophe arises, such as a kidnapping or something equally tragic.

The need for a PI usually falls somewhere between never and always. Although most of the time you can handle matters on your own, there are times when you can truly benefit from a private investigator or investigative agency.

“Most of the time you can handle matters on your own. However, there are times when you can truly benefit from a private investigator or investigative agency.”

When Is A Good Time?

When you need to:

  • obtain information on the whereabouts, identity, conduct or credibility of a person or company
  • conduct background checks or searches of potential lovers, business partners or companies
  • have someone followed to see if he or she is being deceitful
  • pre-screen an applicant or business partner
  • check the legitimacy of a potential investment
  • help research a crime, wrongdoing or threat
  • find the cause of fires, property damage or accidents and / or the persons responsible for them
  • safeguard your business' premises, property, assets, people or even information
  • locate and recover lost or stolen property
  • verify employees' claims, such as workers' compensation claims
  • investigate a scene or interrogate a witness
  • access up-to-date computer databases of public records
  • "debug" your office or home

Personal Help

Background Searches

Private investigators often perform background checks of individuals or companies for law firms, corporations and private citizens. PIs search public records, conduct interviews and verify reference checks and facts to provide a detailed profile of someone.

Here's an example: Patricia has survived two divorces and a handful of bad relationships. She broke up with most of the men because they lied to her. She's very trusting, and the revelations always came too late. Her current boyfriend, Stephen, has recently proposed. A third divorce would be financially and emotionally devastating to Patricia. She decides to consult a private investigator to get an objective report on Stephen, a divorced man with no children. She'd like to see the information in his divorce file.

With instant access to public records, a private investigator can search court filings for details of a divorce, as well as any criminal or civil charges filed over the years. The investigator can also check a financial background for state or federal tax liens, judgments, and bankruptcies, notices of default or hidden assets.

After receiving a copy of the background search, Patricia feels confident to accept Stephen's proposal.


If you're requesting a surveillance, you're usually ninety-nine percent certain that your partner is being deceitful, but you need proof in hand to confront your partner or to support your claims in court in filing for divorce or child custody (unless you live in a state that has no-fault divorce). If handled properly and professionally, an investigative service will gather evidence that will either confirm or eliminate your suspicions.

Martin Investigative Services

Stacey knew Brandon was a womanizer. He didn't break up with his last girlfriend until two months after he began a hot relationship with Stacey. Disturbing, but Stacey loved him and hoped Brandon would be different.

Fast-forward one year. Now, she suspects that Brandon's up to his old tricks, maybe even dating his ex. He claims he's faithful, but Stacey still believes he's lying. She needs definitive proof; for example, a videotape of him having sex in the car.

Every week, Martin Investigative Services fields hundreds of calls asking about surveillance services. Eighty eighty percent of the time the callers are female. We invite them in for a free consultation, we take down information on the individuals involved, explain the surveillance process and equipment, discuss fees and payment, and select the best time to conduct the surveillance.

We find it's faster and less costly to our clients if we assign a two-person team to the case. With only one investigator, losing someone in traffic may add hours or days to the process and increase hourly mileage-rate totals. The team should have two-way radio communications along with video and digital cameras.

Locating People

Private investigators locate people for a variety of reasons: Adoptees, birth parents, relatives, former friends, lovers, spouses, co-workers and employers can benefit from reuniting with a person from their past (see Chapter Two). Private investigators access databases, interview acquaintances and piece together clues to track down people with whom you've lost contact. They can use public records to fill in missing information and uncover a new name, address, telephone number and Social Security number.

Business Help

Pre-employment Screening

Many companies need a employment background check on job applicants. An airport shuttle company may need to check applicants' driving histories with the Department of Motor Vehicles if it's hiring a driver to transport passengers in the company's vehicle.

Perhaps a Fortune 500 Corporation is filling a top management position and wants to evaluate an extensive profile of a candidate that goes far beyond what's on the resume. Interviews with references and other informational searches can provide that.

Or parents may decide to hire an in-home nanny. A PI can check the prospective caregiver's personal, financial and criminal history, as well as her references.

Prospective Business Partner

Gary wants to start a small pizza restaurant in his neighborhood. His brother, William, introduced him to Joseph. Now, Gary and Joseph are considering a partnership. Everything looks good, but Gary will be investing his life's savings and he doesn't really know Joseph. Gary may decide that a background investigation by a respected PI could make the difference between success and disaster.


Before you invest your money or time in a new company or other financial deal, you'd better research it. A company may appear perfectly legitimate, with a fancy office, a pleasant receptionist and a readily available list of previous client referrals. But it could be a sophisticated scam. A private investigator can perform background checks to check public records for licensing, small claim judgments, bankruptcies, state and federal tax liens, and other judgments or defaults.

Security Consultations

Some private investigators perform corporate security consultating. A business may need to secure premises, property, assets, people or even information. Some companies may need only a nighttime security guard or an alarm system. But others need electronic surveillance, a loss-prevention staff and strict computer security. Experienced private investigators can recommend security services and techniques to prevent theft of inventory or to provide for employee safety.

Workers' Compensation Claims

Insurance companies estimate that twenty percent of claims are fraudulent. Even a single fraudulent claim can cost a business tens of thousands of dollars - all unnecessarily.

A PI can look into employee claims to verify their legitimacy. As an example, we once performed surveillance for a workers comp case and sucessfully photographed one claimant happily playing golf, while he supposedly couldn't work because of a bad back. Sometimes, we wait until trash day to learn the truth about the claimant. If a claimant can haul thirty pounds of trash to the curb, maybe his back condition isn't so bleak.

The company benefits in another way as well: This deters future fraud by warning other employees that the company pursues every claim.

Law Enforcement

Top echelon private investigators are an integral part of your community's law enforcement. They work closely with police and the court system on the local, state and federal levels. When securing evidence for use in the judicial process, they assist police, the district attorney's staff and lawyers. They conduct searches and surveillance, serve subpoenas, take statements and testify in court. They can also assist with unsolved crime and cold cases.

An added bonus: Because of the role private investigators play in the legal arena, they're an excellent source for attorney referrals.

Electronic Surveillance Detection

Planting electronic listening devices is illegal and can result in a felony conviction. Still, we receive at least ten calls a month requesting such a service.

If it's illegal, who's doing it? In small and large companies alike, the competition can be relentless and the pressure to beat the competition can be ruthless. This can lead to one company bugging the boardroom of another, maybe by bribing an employee to place the hidden monitoring device.

While no legitimate private investigator will wiretap an office, many will offer "bug sweep" services to remove the problem.

These are just a handful of the many services a reputable private investigation firm can provide for you.

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.” Calvin Coolidge