The Evolution of Private Investigations: Exploring the Impact of Artificial Intelligence

In recent years, the landscape of private investigations has undergone a significant transformation, driven by advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) technology. As AI continues to revolutionize various industries, its impact on the field of private investigations is profound, reshaping traditional methods and enhancing investigative capabilities. In this comprehensive exploration, we’ll delve into the multifaceted effects of AI on private investigations and examine how it’s changing the game for investigators worldwide.

Using Artificial Intelligence for Enchanced Data Analysis and Surveillance

One of the most notable impacts of AI on private investigations is its ability to streamline data analysis and surveillance processes. With the exponential growth of digital data, investigators face the daunting task of sifting through vast amounts of information to uncover relevant insights. AI-powered algorithms excel in this regard, leveraging machine learning and natural language processing techniques to analyze unstructured data from sources such as social media, online databases, and digital communications.

By automating the process of data analysis, AI enables investigators to quickly identify patterns, trends, and connections that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Moreover, AI-driven surveillance systems equipped with facial recognition technology can aid investigators in tracking and monitoring subjects with greater precision and accuracy, facilitating the gathering of actionable intelligence.

Predictive Analytics and Risk Assessment

In addition to enhancing data analysis capabilities, AI is revolutionizing predictive analytics and risk assessment in private investigations. By harnessing historical data and machine learning algorithms, investigators can predict future outcomes, identify potential threats, and assess the likelihood of specific events occurring. For example, AI-driven predictive models can analyze financial transactions to detect patterns indicative of fraud or money laundering, allowing investigators to intervene before significant losses occur.

Similarly, AI-powered risk assessment tools can help businesses and individuals evaluate their susceptibility to various risks, such as cybersecurity threats, reputational risks, or regulatory compliance issues. By leveraging AI for predictive analytics and risk assessment, investigators can proactively address emerging threats and mitigate potential vulnerabilities, thereby enhancing their effectiveness in preventing and combating illicit activities.

Automation of Routine Tasks Using Artificial Intelligence

AI at a Computer 2
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AI technology has the potential to automate many routine tasks traditionally performed by investigators, freeing up valuable time and resources for more complex and strategic activities. Tasks such as background checks, document analysis, and evidence gathering can be automated using AI-powered tools and software, allowing investigators to focus on higher-level tasks that require human judgment and intuition.

For example, AI-driven software can automatically scan and analyze documents for relevant keywords, extract key information, and generate summaries or reports, significantly reducing the time and effort required for manual document review. By automating mundane tasks, AI accelerates the investigative process, improves overall efficiency, and enables investigators to allocate their time and expertise more effectively.

Augmented Decision-Making

While AI can automate certain aspects of the investigative process, it also serves as a powerful tool for augmenting human decision-making capabilities. AI-driven analytics platforms can analyze vast amounts of data and generate insights that may not be immediately apparent to human investigators. By leveraging AI-generated insights, investigators can make more informed decisions and develop more effective investigative strategies, ultimately enhancing the quality and accuracy of their findings.

For example, AI algorithms can analyze social media data to identify potential witnesses or suspects, prioritize leads based on their relevance and credibility, and provide recommendations for further investigation. By integrating AI into the decision-making process, investigators can leverage the complementary strengths of human judgment and AI-driven analysis to achieve optimal outcomes.

Ethical and Privacy Considerations of AI

As AI becomes increasingly integrated into private investigations, ethical and privacy considerations become paramount. The use of AI-driven surveillance technology, facial recognition systems, and predictive analytics raises concerns about potential abuses of power, invasion of privacy, and algorithmic bias. It’s essential for investigators to adhere to ethical guidelines and legal regulations governing the use of AI in investigations, ensuring that individual rights and liberties are respected.

Moreover, transparency and accountability are essential principles in the ethical use of AI, requiring investigators to be transparent about the methods and technologies used in their investigations, as well as the potential implications for privacy and civil liberties. By prioritizing ethical considerations and engaging in responsible AI practices, investigators can harness the transformative potential of AI while upholding fundamental principles of fairness, justice, and respect for human rights.


The integration of AI technology into private investigations represents a paradigm shift in the way investigations are conducted and outcomes are achieved. From enhanced data analysis and surveillance capabilities to automation of routine tasks and augmented decision-making, AI is revolutionizing every aspect of the investigative process. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and it’s crucial for investigators to approach the use of AI with ethical integrity and a commitment to upholding individual rights and privacy.

By harnessing the potential of AI while remaining mindful of its ethical implications, investigators can leverage this transformative technology to uncover truths and deliver justice in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. As AI continues to evolve and mature, its role in private investigations will only continue to expand, offering new opportunities and challenges for investigators to navigate. By embracing AI as a powerful ally in their investigative toolkit, investigators can stay ahead of the curve and achieve greater success in their mission to uncover the truth.

Everything (with very few exceptions, i.e. formatting) up to this point in this post has been completed ENTIRELY by Artificial Intelligence. The text was composed by ChatGPT (I was curious how it would do) and the images were created by DeepAI. What are your thoughts on this new technology? Have you tried it yourself? Do you find it useful? Are you at all concerned about where this could potentially lead? I’m personally split on the topic. I think it can be enormously beneficial in many aspects of our everyday lives, but I think it certainly has the potential to get out of hand FAST. We must have the forethought and control to keep it in our service instead of the (frightening) alternative.

Top 10 Greatest Private Investigator TV Shows Ever Made

Here’s Our Picks for the Greatest Private Investigator TV Shows Ever Made

Not only have we “made it big” in the movies, but private investigators have enjoyed a great deal of exposure from the small screen, as well. Although perhaps not as pervasive and iconic as in Hollywood, there are several shows on television that have shed the spotlight on our iconic profession.

As with many lists of this type, there is bound to be some disagreement. We bounced around on this one and it took several drafts to get the order “right.” I’m gonna show my age with this post (many of these shows are OLD SCHOOL), but here it is, our list of the greatest private investigator tv shows of all time.

10. Charlie’s Angels (1976-1981)

Charlies Angels 1976
Image courtesy of IMDB

Tagline: “A wealthy mystery man named Charlie runs a detective agency via a speakerphone and his personal assistant, John Bosley. His detectives are three beautiful women, who end up in a variety of difficult situations.”

This Aaron Spelling-produced show was extremely popular in the late-70’s and early-80’s. During its five seasons on the air, it went through multiple casting changes and writer shakeups. Jaclyn Smith was the only Angel to remain until the end and many lamented the fact that Farrah Fawcett left the show in the midst of its heyday. Either way, the show’s unusual premise and beautiful cast made this show an instant success.

Interesting fact: Drew Barrymore owns the screen rights to this series.

9. Spenser: For Hire (1985-1988)

Spencer for Hire
Image courtesy of IMDB

Tagline: “Mystery and suspense series based on Robert Parker’s “Spenser” novels. Spenser, a private investigator living in Boston, gets involved in a new murder mystery each episode.”

A classic. Robert Urich plays Spenser, a Boston-based private investigator who, along with his sidekick and best friend, Hawk, played by Avery Brooks, conveniently solves a murder in a single hour every week. Oh, and he never gets paid…he works for “favors.” Not the most realistic of storylines, but it was certainly entertaining in its day.

Interesting fact: During the first season of the show, Spenser lived in an old, abandoned firehouse off of Charles Street. This same firehouse, the “real-world” Engine Company 10, was also used for the set of the Boston season of the MTV show The Real World.

8. Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996)

Murder She Wrote
Image courtesy of IMDB

Tagline: “Professional writer and amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher uses her intellect, charm, and persistence to get to the bottom of every crime she encounters.”

During its 12-season run, this amazing whodunnit show features novelist Jessica Fletcher and her endless array of friends and acquaintances following clues and hints to nicely and neatly figure out who killed that week’s victim. I used to watch this show every week with my grandmother, who would, almost without fail, figure out the twists and turns every week. Plus, there’s just something wholesome and charming about the way that Angela Lansbury portrayed the main character. This is a great show and very nostalgic for me.

Interesting fact: This show was in a shared universe with our #1 pick, Magnum, P.I. Two episodes show Jessica travelling to Hawaii on vacation and embroils her in an effort to exonerate a wrongly-accused Magnum at the behest of Higgins, whose attempted murder Magnum was framed for committing.

7. The Equalizer (1985-1989)

The Equalizer
Image courtesy of TV Guide

Tagline: “A retired Intelligence Agent turned private detective helps various threatened clients to equalize the odds.”

This one is more serious than others on this list. The Equalizer is a dark and smoky show about the nature of revenge and fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. It centers on the main character, Robert McCall, who “equalizes” the wrongs perpetrated by others, usually against the innocent. Someone commits a crime or hurts someone else, McCall comes in and figures out what happened, who was responsible, and pays them a visit. The Antoine Fuqua-directed movie adaptations starring Denzel Washington are also well worth a watch.

Interesting fact: Stewart Copeland, the former drummer for The Police, wrote the theme song for this show.

6. Jessica Jones (2015-2019)

Jessica Jones
Image courtesy of IMDB

Tagline: “Following the tragic end of her brief superhero career, Jessica Jones tries to rebuild her life as a private investigator, dealing with cases involving people with remarkable abilities in New York City.”

Jessica Jones is Marvel’s contribution (they have their finger in everything) to the genre. Krysten Ritter plays Jessica, a failed superhero who suffers from PTSD and self-loathing and can no longer “fulfill her duties.” Battling her demons, she uses her extraordinary abilities to help those in need…especially if they can cut her a check.

Interesting fact: Luke Cage’s bar in the show is the same bar that was owned by the Rosato Brothers in The Godfather: Part II.

5. Simon & Simon (1981-1989)

Simon and Simon
Image courtesy of IMDB

Tagline: “Two brothers of disparate tastes and manners run a private detective agency.”

Imagine if The Odd Couple ran a detective agency. That is the premise here and it is totally awesome. Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker portray brothers Rick and A.J. Simon who couldn’t be more different, but who set aside their differences to solve crimes in San Diego. Hilarity ensues. This is much less serious than others in this list, but is still very tongue-in-cheek and an off-the-wall romp.

Interesting fact: The show was scheduled to run head-to-head against Magnum, P.I. and was almost canceled in its first season. Ratings skyrocketed after it was rescheduled to follow Magnum and not compete with it.

4. Sherlock (2010-2017)

Image courtesy of IMDB

Tagline: “A modern update finds the famous sleuth and his doctor partner solving crime in 21st century London.”

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively, this modern take on the iconic duo is, frankly speaking, excellent. Cumberbatch is fantastic as the borderline-autistic Holmes and Freeman is perfectly cast as Watson. The two play off of each other brilliantly and their chemistry is undeniable. Why this show works so well is a little hard to describe. This is one that really has to be experienced first-hand.

Interesting fact: Benedict Cumberbatch is distantly related to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the original Sherlock Holmes books. They are 16th cousins twice removed.

3. Monk (2002-2009)

Image courtesy of IMDB

Tagline: “The series follows Adrian Monk, a brilliant former San Francisco detective, who now consults the police as a private consultant who battles with an obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

Ah, Monk…the adorable and brilliant former detective (portrayed by the most-excellent Tony Shalhoub) who suffers from crippling OCD is one of my favorite detective shows and it’s not really even a detective show in the strictest sense of the word. It’s more of a character study of vulnerability and mental illness set against a backdrop of orderliness and social anxiety. This show is not only one of the best private investigator tv shows, it’s one of the greatest television shows ever made.

Interesting fact: Tony Shalhoub auditioned for the role of Kramer on Seinfeld (1989), and Michael Richards was considered for the title role on this show. Richards passed on Monk, and Shalhoub took the role. Richards won three Emmys for playing Kramer, while Shalhoub also won three Emmys for playing Monk.

2. Moonlighting (1985-1989)

Image courtesy of IMDB

Tagline: “The quirky cases of a former model and a smart aleck detective who manage a private detective agency.”

“Aaaadddddiiiisssssssonnnnn!!!!!” If you’ve seen this outstanding and hilarious show, you can almost hear that in your head right now. Cybil Shepherd and a young Bruce Willis star in this hilarious private investigator (dare I say it?) romcom. This show is so good and the chemistry between the two stars is so spot-on there were even lists that put this one at #1. It’s a very good show and, if you were watching tv during the late ’80s, this was more than likely on your list.

Interesting fact: Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell was named for the character of David Addison Jr. The award-winning baseball player’s mom was a big Moonlighting fan.

1. Magnum, P.I. (1980-1988)

Magnum PI
Image courtesy of IMDB

Tagline: “He’s a Wisecracking, Fun-Loving, Freeloading, Freelance Private-Eye.”

Here it is, folks. The cream-de-la-cream. The one to beat. The one against which all others are judged. In our opinion, Magnum, P.I. is the greatest private investigator television show ever made. The dreamboat fantasy of middle-aged women everywhere (just ask my mother), Tom Selleck is perfect as ex-Navy SEAL Thomas Magnum, who, along with his buddies Rick and T.C., solves crimes and does everything he can to annoy Higgins, the prim and proper manager of Mangum’s benefactor, Robin Masters. The iconic red Ferrari and gorgeous setting (Hawaii) don’t hurt, either. This show is the gold standard and should not be missed at any cost. Tom Selleck’s mustache is worth the price of admission on its own.

Interesting fact: Orson Welles provided the voice of Robin Masters, whose face was never seen on this show. Producers eventually wanted Welles to be revealed as the face of Robin Masters too, but he died before the series ended its run.

And that’s it, our list of the top 10 greatest private investigator tv shows ever made. I’m sure many of you are screaming “You forgot this one! It’s the best!” or “How can anyone think this show was even decent, much less one of the best!” There’s bound to be disagreement, but for my time and money, these shows take the cake. Let us know in the comments if you agree or disagree with us.

Top 10 Greatest Private Investigator Movies Ever Made

Here’s Our Picks for the Greatest Private Investigator Movies Ever Made

Private Investigator movies have culturally shed an air of mystery and “cool” to our profession and private investigator stories are rich fodder for entertainment. Few cultural symbols have been as mythologized as that of the private detective. In fact, few things have done more to elevate our brand than Hollywood. From Philip Marlowe to Ace Ventura, private investigators have had more than our fair share of representation in film, for good or bad. Here is our list of the 10 greatest private investigator movies ever made.

10. Night Moves (1975)

Night Moves
Image courtesy of

Los Angeles private investigator Harry Moseby is hired by a client to find her runaway teenage daughter. Moseby tracks the daughter down, only to stumble upon something much more intriguing and sinister. Directed by Arthur Penn and starring Gene Hackman in the title role, this tense and gripping story of a detective giving his all to find his subject while trying to save his own crumbling marriage will have you sitting on the edge of your seat all the way until the very end. This was also Melanie Griffith’s first credited role.

9. Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Murder on the Orient Express
Image courtesy of

Skip the 2017 version with Kenneth Branagh (although good, it’s fantastically outmatched), and see this genius adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel directed by Sidney Lumet. This is the one you want to watch. This version has an all-star cast, including Albert Finney in the lead as the fastidious Hercule Poirot, Lauren Bacall as Mrs. Hubbard, Ingrid Bergman as Greta, and the always excellent (and soreley missed ) Sean Connery as Colonel Arbuthnot. Seriously, give it a go. It’s awesome. Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for her work on this film and this is reportedly the only film adaptation of her work with which Agatha Christie was satisfied.

8. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 1
Image courtesy of

Directed by Shane Black and starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer, this tongue-in-cheek romp is a wild ride from start to finish. More entertainment than substance, this flick is filled with witty one-liners and tangy dialogue that keeps the movie going and never looking back. Robert Downey, Jr. is a thief who unwittingly gets a starring role in a movie where Val Kilmer is the PI who serves as the film’s technical advisor and, once it starts, the action doesn’t stop. We’ll return to Shane Black later on this list when we discuss The Nice Guys, another detective film he helmed.

7. Angel Heart (1987)

Angel Heart
Image courtesy of

Wow! What a gritty gut-punch. This is a very dark and disturbing movie. Mickey Rourke stars as New York PI Harry Angel who is hired by Robert De Niro to find a man who has gone missing owing him money. The search leads down the grim and grisly trail full of everything ranging from murder to voodoo. This one is not for the faint of (angel) heart.

6. Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

Devil in a Blue Dress
Image courtesy of

Denzel Washington stars as Easy Rawlins, an unemployed WW2 veteran, who, for his first case as a private investigator, is hired to find a missing woman and gets mixed up in a political scandal of crooked cops, corrupt politicians, and murder. The excellent Don Cheadle and Tom Sizemore also star.

5. The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys
Image courtesy of

I LOVED this movie! Shane Black directed this hilarious and perfectly cast comedic look at 1970s Hollywood. Russell Crowe plays a gruff “enforcer” for hire and Ryan Gosling plays a drinking, hapless PI with an adorable relationship with his precocious daughter, Holly. This movie runs the gamut from murdered porn stars to government conspiracies. This is easily one of the most accessible films on this list and is, at its core, a hilarious character study of buddy films and teamwork.

4. The Long Goodbye (1973)

The Long Goodbye
Image courtesy of

Elliott Gould joins a distinguished lineage who have portrayed Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled detective. The movie opens with Marlowe driving his friend to the Mexican border. When he returns home, he finds that his wife has been killed and things go downhill from there. Former MLB pitcher Jim Bouton plays Marlowe’s friend Terry Lennox. Arnold Schwarzenneger also makes an appearance, his second in a major motion picture. Roger Ebert also included this movie on his “Great Movies” list.

3. Knives Out (2019)

Knives Out
Image courtesy of

Daniel Craig stars as Benoit Blanc, a cheeky homage to Agatha Christie’s fastidious detective Hercule Poirot. This movie has a Clue-like feeling, as Blanc does battle with an entire eccentric and combative family to solve the apparent, but not likely, suicide of the family patriarch (played by Christopher Plummer). Jamie Lee Curtis, Frank Oz, and even Don Johnson appear in this quirky twist on the common detective movie.

2. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Maltese Falcon
Image courtesy of Movies Anywhere

We flip-flopped between this one and Chinatown for the #1 spot. This is THE definitive detective noir story. It centers around Sam Spade and the beautiful and mysterious Mary Astor, aks Miss Wonderly, who wants Sam and his partner, Miles Archer to protect her sister, or so she says. The day after she walks into their office, Miles is dead. The death of Miles and another mysterious man, Floyd Thursby, leads Sam down a twisted thread centered on three criminals and their relentless search for the statuette of a bird: The Maltese Falcon. No other film captures the noir detective story quite like this one. It is the gold standard of that genre.

1. Chinatown (1974)

Image courtesy of

This is it, boys and girls. The greatest private investigator movie ever made. In 1937 Los Angeles, private detective Jake Geddes (played by the brilliant Jack Nicholson) is hired by a woman named Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to follow her husband. Of course, the husband ends up dead and the REAL Evelyn shows up to sue Jake for getting involved. As Jake begins to investigate the apparent double-cross, he gets tied up in governmental red tape with the Los Angeles Water Department and runs smack-dab into a love triangle that is only hinted at until the final legendary plot twist. This is director Roman Polanski’s masterpiece. You owe it to your life to see this movie at least once.

So, there ya go. These were our picks for the 10 greatest private investigator movies ever made. Did your favorite get included? Let us know in the comments if we forgot yours or you think we need to expand our cinematic education in some obvious way. There are MANY other excellent movies that we weren’t able to include here, so we won’t take too much offense if your opinions differ from ours. Well…maybe a little.

5 Things a Private Investigator Can Not Do

Here is our list of 5 things that are illegal in all 50 states

In the last post, we discussed 5 things that a private investigator is legally allowed to do. In this post, we will flip the script and discuss some things that a private investigator can NEVER do, under any circumstances. There are many legal grey areas surrounding private investigators (many of whom take full advantage of this fact), but there are state and federal laws that are in place to protect the public.

If you are a member of the general public and you see any of the behaviors on this list, call the police and the state regulatory board for your state. The behaviors on this list are inexcusable, unethical, and highly illegal. If you are in the business and you use these tactics, give yourself a gut check, because you are in this business for the wrong reasons. Here are five things a private investigator can not do, under any circumstances.

1. A private investigator can not enter your private property under any circumstances.

No Trespassing
No Trespassing

This is rule #1 for a reason. This one will get a private investigator in a world of trouble faster than almost anything else. We are bound by the same trespassing laws as anyone else. That means that we cannot break into someone’s home, office, or vehicle to “get dirt” on him or her. We can’t even step foot on your property without your permission. We can’t place secret, covert, hidden cameras on your porch or peek into your windows and videotape you watching tv (or doing anything else). Your property, your privacy, your secrets. We can’t get any of it.

The only exception to this rule is to serve process. Process servers can knock on your door (just like anyone else) and attempt to get you to answer. But they can never enter your home without your permission. Process servers cannot, however, enter a property that has a NO TRESPASSING sign posted. If you don’t want anyone on your property and make that wish known by placing a sign, it’s off-limits.

2. A private investigator cannot access your medical, financial, or educational records.

A private investigator has access to a wide array of information. However, there are certain things that are protected by the federal government and are, therefore, out of reach. Medical (HIPAA), financial, and educational (FERPA) records fall into that category. It is a felony for anyone other than that individual to access these records. Any private investigator who tells you that they can get these records is either a liar or a criminal and you should run.

3. We cannot misrepresent ourselves as a member of law enforcement (unless, of course, we are).

This one is also a big no-no. Thanks to the movies and television shows (Magnum, P.I. anyone?), the general public has come to associate private investigators with law enforcement and many attribute the same authority and power to private investigators as members of law enforcement. This is simply not true.

With very few exceptions, private investigators are bound by the same laws and restrictions as everyone else. This means that we cannot say we are police officers; it means we cannot wear clothing identifying us as law enforcement; it means we cannot carry badges stating that we are a member of the local police force in an attempt to manipulate someone into complying with our “orders.”

4. We can’t “hack” into someone’s electronic devices (cell phones, tablets, etc.).

Phone Hack
Phone Hack

Even the FBI can’t brute force your cell phone and get access without your authorization (or help). Remember that big case a while back where Apple refused to unlock the iPhone of the shooter at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida? Well, there is a reason why. Law enforcement did not possess the means to bypass software security measures and force open someone’s phone or tablet or computer.

This is not only illegal, but it is also very difficult to do, and most private investigators simply do not have the resources or the expertise (or the legal authority) to do it. Without a court order or the user’s express permission, there are no legal means of gaining access to another person’s private electronic devices. It just can’t be done, and no investigator who values his or her license will touch it with a ten-foot pole, so stop asking us to do it.

5. We cannot wiretap someone’s phone.


This, again, violates federal law. In some states, it is necessary to notify one party of the recording; in other states, both parties must be made aware. Wiretapping violates both of these mandates and, without a court order, is illegal in all fifty states.

In line with this, we also can’t install hidden cameras in someone’s house or hotel room without their knowledge and consent (which would, of course, invalidate the entire point of a “hidden” camera). So please don’t ask us to do it.

So, that was five things that a private investigator can not do under any circumstances. Laws vary by state, but the things we discuss here are illegal in all fifty states. If any private investigator ever offers you the services described in this article, run the other direction. That is not someone you want to do business with. It will invariably backfire and could wind up putting you both behind bars.

5 Things a Private Investigator Can Do That Might Surprise You

What Can a Private Investigator Do?

Ever wonder what things a private investigator can do that are legal during the course of an investigation? Here is a list of five things that a private investigator can do, along with some common misconceptions and best practices. For each item in this list, we will discuss some of the things we are allowed to do legally, a common misconception about this allowance, and why this misconception is incorrect. For a list of what we are NOT legally allowed to do, check out the upcoming companion piece to this one, Five Things a Private Investigator CAN NOT Do Under Any Circumstance.

1. As long as we aren’t on private property, a private investigator can sit outside of your house or workplace and watch everything you do.

Vehicle parked outside residence
Image source: Diligencia Group

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be vigilant about strange or suspicious vehicles parked on your street. If you see a vehicle that you feel doesn’t belong there, please call the police. The police will question the individual and make sure they have a legitimate reason for being there. And if not, they will force the person to leave.

MISCONCEPTION: I have to authorize any picture or video taken of me.

2. We can follow you wherever you go and record everything you do there (yes, even that).

Image of person being followed
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This is kind of a corollary to #1 above, but I wanted to re-iterate it again. If we can “see” you from where we are on public property, you are fair game. Be VERY careful about what you do in public. We are very sneaky and have all kinds of high-tech sorcery that allow us to blend in and appear bland and nondescript. Forget the fedora, trenchcoat, and magnifying glass. We make our livings out of blending in and not drawing attention to ourselves. Again, if you notice we are there, we have failed.

MISCONCEPTION: If I am in my car, then what I do is private.

Negative. We can’t ENTER your vehicle (obviously), but your car has windows and we can see through those windows just like you can. If we can SEE it from public property, then we can RECORD it from public property. I’ll say it again for the people in the back: BE VERY CAREFUL WHAT YOU DO IN PUBLIC! If you don’t want to see yourself on video in a court of law one day or you are doing something you wouldn’t want your spouse to know about, think twice before doing it anywhere in public. Think twice before doing it at all, but you get my point.

3. We can go through your garbage.

Garbage bins
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This one surprises a lot of folks. Destroy/shred/whatever anything you don’t want to be recorded, gone through, and shown to a judge/jury, your insurance company, or your spouse. Don’t throw away your bank statements, telephone records, or the receipts you used to take your mistress out on the town. Destroy them. Even shredding has its limitations and a highly skilled and resourceful private investigator can piece them back together again.

There is one caveat, though: we can’t touch it, look at it, open it, etc. until you set it out to be collected by the city. Trespassing laws are pretty strict and until you set it out on the street to be collected, it’s still on your property and we can’t touch it. We can, however, watch your property and scoop it up as soon as you set it out for the garbage man.

MISCONCEPTION: Because my trash is mine, it’s private and it’s safe from prying eyes.

Wrong. Once you set it out to be collected, it becomes public property and we are well within the law to drive right up to your curb, throw it in our vehicle, and speed off without you even knowing it’s been done. We just saved the garbage man a stop and your trash is now a treasure trove of useful information. Fans of the television show Columbo should know this was a favorite tactic of the famous detective. He always went through the trash. It can be a gold mine.

This is mainly because people aren’t careful about what they throw away. The trash is actually one of the worst places you can dispose of sensitive documents or information. Think before you throw anything away. There are many people who realize the potential in your garbage. Not only can private investigators use it for evidence, but it can also be a treasure trove for identity thieves.

Also, don’t set your trash out “the night before.” Wait until the morning of pickup to set out your trash and do it as close to pick up time as you can. This will minimize the window of time that thieves and others (we) have to scoop it up. If it’s out there all night while the whole world is asleep, then you’re just asking for it to end up on a table somewhere and poked through.

4. We can lie…to you, your family, and your acquaintances (NOT our clients, though)

This is given the fancy-sounding name “pretexting.” Whatever you call it, it’s basically lying and this right here is one of the many reasons private investigators have kind of a “shady” reputation with the general public. A pretext is a gambit designed to do one thing, trick you (or those who know you) into giving us information. And in this game, information is everything. Private investigators are in the information-gathering business. It’s what we do.

Cell phone with Unknown number on caller id
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We can call, text, DM, etc. your family, your job, your neighbors, etc. and social engineer them in a way that sets them off guard and pushes them to inadvertently help us get information on you. Social engineering is essentially tricking someone into giving out information they wouldn’t normally divulge. It takes many forms and can be used for all kinds of nefarious practices by people with less-than-legal (or moral/ethical) intentions, but private investigators use it legally all the time. And your social media accounts make this almost effortless. It’s one of the first places we look. Pay very close attention to what you post online and what you allow others to “tag” you in, especially pictures. We have closed many cases of infidelity without even leaving the office simply by scouring social media and downloading pictures of the subject all smoochy-smoochy with someone who is not the spouse or significant other.

There are a couple things we can NOT do within this arena. We can’t misrepresent ourselves as law enforcement or a representative of a real-life company. That’s a big no-no. We also can’t misrepresent ourselves as a real person to get private information on that person. A private investigator can’t call your bank and pretend to be you in order to get information about your account, for example. It’s also a legally grey area to use pretext when a subject is represented by counsel in pending litigation. This can potentially land the private investigator in trouble with the court and that investigator could find him or herself at the business end of a TRO and/or harassment suit.

But, we can certainly be your “long-lost classmate” who is looking for you so we can get your address for our upcoming class reunion, we can be an “old college buddy” from back in the day who is inviting people to the wedding of someone we know you have in common, or we can pretend to have something of value that you “dropped on the subway” and we would very much like to return it, if only we knew where you work so we could drop it off, etc. It sounds hokey and like something that would never work, but you’d be surprised at the information you can get if you ask for it the right way.

MISCONCEPTION: Any evidence gained via pretext or misdirection is inadmissible in court.

Wrong again. This is a common misconception spread by television and movies. Much like a police officer doesn’t have to tell you they are a police officer if you point-blank ask them (this is also a myth), a private investigator does not (and never would) disclose who they are during a pretext scenario. This would invalidate the entire reasoning behind the endeavor. We want the information, and as long as we don’t misrepresent ourselves as law enforcement or the representative of a real-life company (see above), then we can misdirect and set off-guard anyone we think can point us in the right direction.

5. We can use any public record available in order to deliver the most complete package of information to our clients.

Private investigators have access to all kinds of juicy information about you. You’d be awestruck at the sheer volume of information about you that is floating around in the world. Edward Snowden didn’t even scratch the surface of the surface. Everything you do online is cataloged and databased and essentially sold to the highest bidder under the context of “advertising.”


There are a few things we (or anyone else) aren’t privy to. For example, medical (HIPAA) and financial records are off-limits and protected by the federal government. Interestingly, so are educational credentials (FERPA). We can’t get your college transcripts, your bank records, or the results from your most recent doctor’s appointment. But pretty much everything else is available for the taking for someone who is crafty and knowledgeable enough to know where to find it. This skill oftentimes goes by the moniker OSINT (Open-Source INTelligence) and is a service we offer to our clients, both outbound (gathering outside information on another person) and inbound (shedding light on their own vulnerabilities).

5 Things a Private Investigator Can Do That Might Surprise You 43

MISCONCEPTION: My information is private and protected and companies have my best interests in mind when they collect it.

Ha! That’s funny. I hope you’re starting to notice a pattern here. There is no more privacy in the digital world. For someone who is motivated enough, any information about you can be gotten with enough determination and skill. You’ve read the horror stories about identity theft and corporate hacking centered on the release of the personal data of thousands (or even millions) of unsuspecting and trusting individuals. These are real. Your information is NOT safe. Just do the best you can, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. There are a few things you can do to protect yourself and minimize your risk, but that is far outside the scope of this article.

Just know that your data is out there and it’s never coming back. Be very careful who you allow to have access to your information and check your passwords and privacy settings often. It’s the wild west out there.


So, that was five things that private investigators are legally allowed to do. There are many more, of course, and we will discuss those in a future post. Many of the laws governing private investigators are state-specific and what is allowed in one state may be banned in another (recording phone conversations, for example). But this list is pretty inclusive. Most of the private investigators licensed and working in the US today are able to (at a minimum) do the things outlined in this list. And it’s all perfectly legal.

Check out our next post where we will discuss some of the many things private investigators CAN NOT do, under any circumstances.

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