Information on How to Become a Private Investigator
Do you enjoy watching popular TV shows such as CSI (Crime Scene Investigation), Forensic Files, or Law & Order? Have you ever wondered how to become a private investigator who does the same types of things done in the shows? If this type of career path sounds like the perfect fit for you and you plan on going to college, here are some college degrees
to consider: forensic science, criminal justice, criminology, law, or psychology. Also keep in mind that private investigators must have strong critical thinking skills, knowledge of applicable laws, and be willing to work long hours, many times during the middle of the night.
The purpose of private investigators is more often than not to investigate civil matters for private citizens. They may assist lawyers and public defenders in gathering evidence or providing case details in court. In addition to working for law offices, many banks and insurance companies will use private eyes to investigate money trails, housing forclosures, and even fraud. Private investigators are also known to spend much of their time surveilling individuals, searching for missing persons, performing background checks, and even going undercover to acquire additional information. If any of these tasks sounds intriguing for a potential career, here's a helpful guide to help you get started:
Private Investigator Requirements:
Private Eye Job Description:
- Good communication skills for investigating and obtaining pertinent information
- Clean criminal record (no felonys allowed)
- Knowledge of relevant laws & regulations
- Strong educational background to develop critical thinking
- Previous experience or training with investigations
- Strong interrogative skills for distilling credible information
- Flexible schedule; able to work late hours
- Business skills (if you plan to run your own PI company)
- Obtain a private investigator license
Private Investigator Salary Information:
- Serving court documents/subpoenas to defendants
- Investigate false insurance crimes
- Find clients whose houses have been forclosed on
- Locate debtors for local businesses
- Investigate marital suspiciones via surveillance
- Collecting evidence of adultery or illegal behavior
- Acquire payment/collateral for faulty loans
- Recovering stolen property or money
- Investigate identity theft & cyber crimes, such as illegal downloads
- Determine the cause or person responsible for certain crimes committed
The salary range for a private investigator can vary substantially based upon a number of different factors, including years of experience, area of expertise, demand, success rate, location, PI agency, etc. The hourly rates for hiring a private investigator can range anywhere from $50 to $500, and depending on the agency for which you work, you may earn anywhere from 40- 50% of the hourly fees. For this reason, some P.I.s are self-employed and stand to earn higher wages, which are necessary to make up for a lack of benefits. The national average salary for a private eyes ranges from approximately $35,000 - $50,000 per year, but can easily reach six digits with the proper experience, training, and track record.
The different types of private investigators:
How to Obtain a Private Investigator License:
- Computer Forensic Investigators - Specialize in presenting, analyzing, and recovering critical files and emails that can be used as evidence against suspects. Some of their work may include decrypting files, recovering passwords, and figuring out causes for a breach of security.
- Corporate Investigators - Conduct investigations dealing with theft, financial expense accounts, fraud, & drug use for large companies & corporations.
- Financial Investigators - Many times CPAs are used in this type of investigation to track and report large financial transactions. Financial investigators spend much of their time working with other accountants of financial institutions as well as investment bankers.
- Legal Investigators - Responsible for locating & interviewing witnesses, assist criminal defense attorneys, serve legal documents, and can even testify in court. Many legal investigators are employed by some of the bigger law firms.
- Loss Prevention Agents - These store detectives are in charge of monitoring & safeguarding merchandise of retail stores, as well as some of the more renown hotels. They are also used to prevent theft, inspect work areas for stolen goods, and track down missing inventory.
While each state has their own set of requirements and guidelines for obtaining a PI license, here are some general requirements that should help point you in the right direction:
- Must be at least 18 years old, usually 21 and older
- Have a spotless criminal record (no felonies of any kind)
- Have a strong educational background, preferably in criminal law, justice, or police science
- Have at least 3 years of investigative experience
- Develop a strong background on legal procedures
- Possess excellent communication & interrogative skills
- Pass a written private investigator exam with a qualifying score
Here is a list of requirements that will show you how to get a private investigator license in your state*:
*List of states that do no require a PI license to operate:
- South Dakota