What Can A Private Investigator Do For Me?

The average joe will never hire a private investigator in his or her lifetime. I believe one major contributing factor is simply because the average joe doesn’t know what it is private investigators actually do.  By and large, this lack of knowledge falls on the shoulders of the private investigation industry.  We have done a shoddy job at educating the public on our craft.

Private investigators are made up of an extremely varied lot of individuals.  Some investigators operate under very specialized umbrellas while others are known as generalists who “do it all”.  Since I used to be a teacher, I equate it most easily to the field of education.  I can say I am a teacher, but that could mean that I am an elementary school teacher, early childhood educator, reading specialist, middle school teacher, high school instructor, or teacher of math, science, reading, art, physical education, literature, history, english, etc.  It is the same for private investigators.

When you think private investigator, you have a picture in your head that is influenced by your own experiences, education, knowledge, and interactions.  I would venture to say that the most common picture includes an individual with binoculars or a camera sitting in a car conducting surveillance.  That is a pretty accurate picture for some of us, but not all of us.

The private investigation industry has changed quite a bit, in the last several years especially.  It’s been pushed along by a developing world of technology and communication advancements.  So if you are like I was before I started my private investigator journey, here are some insights on 30 different private investigator specialties and how the “average joe” might utilize a PI’s assistance.  You might have a need you never knew could be filled or a question you didn’t know could be answered by a private investigator:

Accident Reconstruction

This very specialized service is supplied for those who need to know how an accident occurred and/or who is at fault.  Typically, it’s insurance companies and attorneys who hire private investigators to reconstruct accident scenes.

Adoption Search

This can sometimes turn into one of the more costly searches completed by private investigators.  Reconnecting birth families with adopted children is a task that can have many facets.  These searches are often deeply personal and sometimes difficult for the client, so finding a private investigator who will keep you apprised of the search progress and one who is sensitive to your unique situation is important.  Finding a private investigator you are comfortable with and one who specializes in adoption searches is a must.

Read these two great articles about making the decision to conduct an adoption search - An Adoption Search Part I & An Adoption Search Part 2.

Arson Investigation

This is a highly specialized skill that few investigators undertake.  Similar to accident reconstruction, arson investigations are typically undertaken to show how the arson occurred and who is at fault.

Asset Check

Perhaps you are in the midst of a divorce and you suspect your husband or wife is hiding assets from you in order to circumvent the risk of giving you access to it.  Maybe your relationship is crumbling with your business partner and you suspect he or she is being dishonest about their assets.  Whatever the case may be, a private investigator can find hidden assets that you can ultimately uncover in litigation.

Background Check

Background checks run the gamut from pre-employment checks to checking out your new significant other and everything in between.  As an individual, you can hire a private investigator to run a background check on whomever.  You might find it useful for a new boyfriend or girlfriend, a person who has showed up in your life and things just don’t feel right, a prospective business partner, someone you suspect of scamming your dear old dad, a questionable neighbor.

Online background check services for $29.95 DO NOT OFFER ACCURATE BACKGROUND CHECKS.  Often, these cheap services are simply running a quick scan of sources that provide outdated and incomplete information.  For a true, updated, complete background check, you need to do your homework and make sure your service provider (whether an online provider or a private investigator) is conducting a thorough check.  Ask the right questions such as:

What sources do you use to gather background information?

Your provider should be able to tell you where they are getting their information.  If they are secretive about it, find someone else who will be transparent with you.

How current is the information provided by those sources?

If your provider can’t answer this question or can’t find an answer to this question, use someone else.

Are you checking sources from every place the subject has lived?

For a truly complete background check, your provider should check every single location     where the subject has lived, as far back as possible.  They should check local, state, and     federal records.

Depending on the purpose, truly thorough background checks should include some variety of the following records:  criminal, arrest, incarceration, civil, public (property, marriages, divorces, bankruptcies, judgment & lien filings, driving & vehicle registrations), education & employment history, professional licenses, etc.

Bug Sweep

This specialized service is provided to those who suspect their home, office, vehicle, or any other location has been bugged.  Private investigators who provide this service have their own electronic surveillance detection equipment that can uncover any illegal devices that may have been unknowingly placed in unwanted locations.

Child Custody

If you and your spouse are at odds over child custody, hiring a private investigator through your attorney is always a smart move to give you a leg up, especially if you suspect your spouse is putting your child’s life in danger or being careless or negligent in their parenting.  A private investigator can gather evidence via social media, surveillance, interviews, etc. that can be used against them in court.

Civil Investigation

A civil investigation includes some form of private dispute between parties.  A private investigator can be hired to gather evidence for either party of a dispute.

Computer Forensics

These kinds of investigations require the identification and recovery of digital information typically found on computers, cell phones, or other related devices.  This typically encompasses identity theft crimes and hacking, but can be a portion of many different kinds of cases.

Corporate Investigation

These investigations can involve uncovering the legitimacy of a business partner, employee theft, fraud, embezzlement, and any other scenarios related to corporations or businesses.

Criminal Defense Support

Sometimes having a private investigator on your side can mean the difference between winning and losing.  Attorneys who use private investigators to support their team are often better prepared and more thorough in their investigations, thus more successful.  Private investigators are great assets for conducting interviews, performing surveillance, preparing for trial, reviewing evidence, and other related matters.

Diligent Adoption Search for Birth Fathers

For attorneys who provide adoption services to their clients, enlisting a private investigator to conduct a diligent adoption search for a birth father can be invaluable.  A private investigator who provides this specialized service gives very strong evidence that all avenues to find a birth father were searched.  And if a birth father isn’t located, a private investigator can create an affidavit to show evidence of all of the search methods followed.

Divorce Investigation

Having a private investigator on your team when you are going through a divorce is a smart move.  Every divorce case is different, but many use the services of an investigator to include surveillance, social media searches, public record digs, hidden assets, and the like.

Education Verification

It’s amazing how many people lie about their education, particularly on their resumes.  Most studies place the number over 50%.  If someone is claiming schooling or education that you are questioning, you can enlist the help of a private investigator to verify their claims.  This is especially useful for employers of any kind.

Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is, unfortunately, a crime that happens all too often.  Investigators dedicated to this specialty work to safeguard the physical, emotional, and financial well-being of senior citizens.

Employment Verification

Just as private investigators can verify education, they can also verify past employment claims.  Again, this is handy for employers of any kind, but can also be useful for anyone with a suspicion about an individual’s past employment.


There are many different kinds of fraud:  corporate, financial, identity theft, insurance, internet, etc.  No matter the particulars, the purpose of a fraud investigation is to determine whether or not a scam has taken place.

Infidelity or Cheating Spouse

Conducting surveillance, gathering social media evidence, and other related tasks are often associated with infidelity investigations.  Sometimes, a client simply wants concrete evidence so he or she can move on.  Other times, they might need evidence for an impending divorce or child custody battle.  This is a very common job for many private investigators.

Insurance Investigation

Insurance companies utilize private investigators all the time for cases in which they suspect they are being defrauded.  This is especially common for workers compensation claims.


There are many talented private investigators who have a knack for interviewing people.  An attorney might use a private investigator to interview potential witnesses to a crime, a suspect, or a victim.  An individual might have use for interviews to be conducted for a missing persons case, adoption search, background check, or a number of other situations.

Litigation Support

Attorneys can use private investigators for virtually any litigation support they choose.  PI’s can greatly assist in multiple ways with both trial preparation and discovery.  They can locate and interview witnesses, discreetly gather competitive intelligence, vet expert witnesses and jurors, knock on doors, conduct research, perform surveillance, gather online evidence, and many more associated tasks.

Medical Malpractice

Typically, a competent medical malpractice investigator will have extensive knowledge of the fraud, insurance, and healthcare industries.  His or her expertise can assist individuals with two very different aspects of medical malpractice - negligence and billing.

Missing Heirs

This kind of investigation is pretty straightforward.  If you are looking for a missing heir for any reason, enlisting the assistance of a private investigator skilled in this specialty is a smart move.

Missing Persons

Persons go missing every day, some under suspicious circumstances and others of their own accord.  When a person intentionally goes missing, this kind of case is referred to by private investigators as a skip trace.  Skip traces are handled a bit differently than other missing person cases and can often be more difficult since the missing person is intentionally taking steps to remain undiscovered.

Check out this blog on How a PI Finds Someone for more details.

People Locate

Private investigators locate people all the time.  This is a big portion of our jobs.  Whether it’s a long lost friend, an old military buddy, a former employee, a witness to a crime, or any other scenario, this is what we do.  For more information, visit here.

Process Service

Several private investigators serve papers for attorneys.  Some PI’s solely perform this service while others offer it in addition to other services.

Public Records

The majority of private investigators use public records in some capacity in most of their investigations.  Some are more efficient and knowledgeable at searching public records than others, but most do a solid job.  To learn more about using public records in investigations, read my earlier blog post here.

Risk Assessment

A risk assessment can be completed for individuals, entities, or businesses.  This kind of work includes in-depth research on such matters as security and safety deficiencies, red flag personality traits, threat risks, financial risks, and the like.  A risk assessment is conducted to help reduce or eliminate a risk.

Social Media Profile

The amount of publicly available content on social media is staggering.  Even if the target of an investigation does not have social media profiles, there’s still a good chance information about them is online via their family and friends’ profiles.  Private investigators who specialize in social media investigations are privy to tips, tricks, and resources that the average person is not.  Using social media in any investigation optimizes and enhances results.  Read here for more on the uses for a social media investigation.


Perhaps the most well known aspect of a private investigator’s job is surveillance.  Surveillance can be conducted for so many reasons, too many to list here.  Basically, if you are needing proof of an individual’s actions, hiring a PI for surveillance is the right choice for you.

In Conclusion

Above all else, private investigators are hired to gather the facts - facts about people, corporations, situations, or crimes.  We might be hired simply to give someone peace of mind about a person or situation.  For another, we might be hired to determine connections or connect the dots that have remained unconnected for so long.  Perhaps we are able to identify a risk to prevent a client from entering a relationship, whether personal or business.  Private investigators can also be utilized for the sole purpose of making a client look good or giving them a competitive advantage.  No matter the reason or reasons, the right private investigator can provide a distinct advantage to their clients over those who never seek out our expertise.

Visit here for my blog post on Tips for Choosing the Right Private Investigator for You.