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a private detective sleuthing with a magnifying glass Private detectives and investigators uncover facts about legal, financial, or personal matters for individuals, businesses, and attorneys.  They may offer executive, corporate, and celebrity protection, as well as employment verification and background profiling.  Some investigators specialize in computer crimes such as online harassment, illegal downloading, and identity theft.  Others specialize in insurance and fraud cases, criminal and civil liability cases, child custody cases, missing persons cases, and premarital screening.

Private detectives use computers to recover emails and documents and perform database searches.  They make phone calls, interview people, and may go undercover to get information and inconspicuously observe a subject using surveillance equipment such as photographic and video cameras, binoculars, cell phones, and GPS systems.

Private detectives can be computer forensics investigators, legal investigators, corporate investigators, financial investigators, and store detectives.  Computer forensics investigators recover, analyze, and present computer data for use in investigations.  Legal investigators help prepare criminal defenses, locate witnesses, serve legal documents, interview police and prospective witnesses, and gather and review evidence.  Corporate investigators work with corporations to conduct internal and external corporations.  Financial investigators develop confidential financial profiles of individuals or companies who are prospective parties in large financial transactions.  Store detectives, also known as loss prevention agents, seek to prevent theft by shoplifters.

Most private detectives and investigators have some investigative experience and college education.  Courses in criminal justice, police science, business administration, computer science, accounting, and law are helpful.  Many states including the District of Columbia require licensing for private detectives and investigators through the National Association of Legal Investigators or ASIS International.  Applicants for licensing must have at least five years of investigative experience.  In addition to college education and experience, employers often look for individuals with ingenuity, persistence, and assertiveness.  Good interviewing and interrogative skills are also helpful.

Most private detective agencies are small and advancement may take the form of salary increases and assignment status.  Many investigators choose to start their own firms after a few years of experience.  Job opportunities for private detectives and investigators are projected to grow faster than the national average, but keen competition is expected.  Visit ASIS International for more information about investigative and security careers.

Private Detectives in each State and Washington, DC


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About Private Detectives