Private investigators are no different than any other professional service provider.
The vast majority are good, hard working, knowledgeable professionals who serve their clients well. One thing that separates private investigators from other professionals is that the public is keenly interested in what we do. The are countless television shows and movies about the exploits of private investigators involved in exciting, adventurous cases. Many people don’t have any experience working with private investigators so we seem exotic or mysterious. When someone brings up a private investigators in conversation, it is usually about some sensational case or news story. All of these things contribute to the mystique that surrounds our profession.
With that mystique comes some sensationalism and a keen focus on any negative news that those few bad apple private investigators can generate. In our experience, almost all of that negative news comes from the same scenario: a PI crosses the line in an effort to deliver something that is too good to be true. Private investigators, unlike law enforcement, have no special rights, access or powers to get access to people or private information. We cannot make someone talk to us, search private property, peek in windows or get copies of tax returns. Unfortunately, those few bad apple private investigators who want to: charge more, impress the big client, live on the edge, etc. etc., who make that decision to break the law in the course of their work almost always over promise to the client.
We hear the stories of potential clients who hired another agency to assist them and report horror stories like these: The private investigators they originally hired said they could tap into the subject’s wireless computer network and spy inside the house using their own baby monitors. The private investigator they first spoke with indicated that he could get copies of the subject’s tax returns for $5,000 extra. A PI claimed she could provide copies of all text messages sent by the subject. These examples, although extremely rare, are exactly the ones that get the attention of the media and tarnish the reputation of all private investigators.
In truth, of all the regulated professional services, private investigators cause the least harm to clients or the public and represent a fraction of the things that other professionals, like attorneys, CPAs and financial advisors do that cause harm, but those are far less interesting to the public.
The moral of this story is to make sure that when working with a private investigator, if the solution sounds too good to be true or sounds illegal or unethical, call around and get another opinion. Too good to be true can lead you into harms way.