Private Investigator in a car taking pictures

What a Private Investigator Cannot Do

Top Private Investigators

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 15th, 2017, and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Private detectives’ and investigators’ careers are stressful, at times even dangerous, with working hours that are irregular at best. Sometimes called a private detective, private detective agencies provide surveillance for people, businesses, and institutions.

The primary duties of a private investigator are to gather information and verify it corporately, legally, and financially. Many choose to work with private investigators due to their background in law enforcement, military, or government investigation in some capacity. Private investigators can be assertive and outspoken when you are unable.

Private Investigators can be useful to corroborate court documents. They can be invaluable assets, but to do so, they must remain within the margins of the law.

There are important legal limitations to what a private investigator can do.

Investigators’ Legal Limitations.

No, we cannot impersonate law enforcement.

Even though most private investigators have a background in law enforcement, we aren’t able to represent them. PIs aren’t allowed to wear badges or uniforms like a police officer or a federal worker. This prevents any individual – including the private investigator – from misleading anyone. Depending on the state, private investigators can wear badges indicative of their work – but they are separate entities from the police.

Federal Law

In most cases, we cannot operate without a license.

Depending on the state’s laws and jurisdiction, there are extensive licensing laws that private investigators need to adhere to. According to PrivateInvestigatorsEDU, in California, investigators must complete thousands of hours of paid investigative work as an apprentice.

We are not above the law.

We are limited to the amount of information that we can obtain and reveal. We cannot harass individuals, businesses, trespass on private property, or hack anyone’s computer without permission during the course of our investigative work. We cannot break any federal or state laws on your behalf.

We are not able to trespass.

As mentioned, we take the laws very seriously. A private investigator will not, under any circumstance, trespass. We cannot enter a building, property, or home through any illegal means. In most cases, a private investigator will need a verbal or written agreement to enter someone’s property.

No Trespassing Sign

We adhere to ethics.

Something unethical could put an individual in danger or invalidate the information obtained for the purposes of legal proceedings. A common request is looking up private information from a former friend or classmate just for your leisure. We work under the parameters of an investigation and do not provide sensitive information outside of that objective.

Person Opening Mail

We do not have access to impossible information.

We do not open the enclosed mail. It’s against federal law, and we are not above that legal mandate.

PI’s cannot access cell phone records, and anyone telling you different is being deceptive.

Phone records are the list of incoming and outcoming phone calls with all the details of each one. We can run a skip-trace report on a phone number.

We can’t access call logs or information you would only find on the bill from the carrier. Law enforcement is unable to access this type of information without getting a warrant issued by a judge. You have to be the one on the account or have permission from the owner to have legal access. Anyone offering this service should be reported.

If a person owns a phone and has a physical device, we can access it directly. For example, you buy a cell phone for your spouse and decide to search the device for hidden or deleted information. We can perform these services, and you can legally do so as the owner of the phone.

Another example of this type of information is credit card logs, which are no different than cell phone logs. Yet, we do have permission to do credit checks.

Only the owner is allowed to access this information. Law enforcement is only able to do so with a warrant.

However, we can perform utility searches to locate people by discovering the address at which they are paying utilities.

Private Investigators can only run license plates for legal reasons.

The legal validity of using GPS tracking on a vehicle is questionable.

This is a request from many clients, especially those who believe that their spouses are unfaithful. Understand that the GPS trackers can only be placed on a car with consent. However, if your vehicle is under your name, then you can fix a GPS tracker.

If you are an employer who wants to track another employee, you cannot place a GPS tracker on their car. However, you have legal jurisdiction to install one if the employee is driving a business vehicle.

GPS sign in map

How to Use Investigation Services To Your Advantage

You can hire a private investigator if you need a background check. A private investigator can work in tandem with a corporation or a private citizen to perform background checks. We can conduct interviews, gather and verify relevant information, and search public domains for information pertinent to the case.

Private investigators are also used to surveil a spouse who is suspected of cheating.

Depending on the nature of the case, two investigators can work together to surveil a person and better track their whereabouts. In a missing person case, private investigators can use their resources to help locate the person. They might use public records that are difficult to access for average citizens.

Private investigators go beyond helping individuals – they are also useful for businesses.

Private investigators can conduct pre-employment screenings on applicants. We can verify references and notify you of any past convictions and public financial activity.

If you are about to enter a partnership with a business associate, a background check may also be advantageous. We can help expose any suspicious activity that may be fraudulent or problematic. You will have a comprehensive picture of a business partner before you start a venture together.

A private investigator offers viable services to help you in situations ranging from cheating, criminal activity, background checks, and beyond. Contact Lawrence Ryan Investigations, today.