How to Legally Conduct a Private Investigation

By on June 15, 2013

There are many reasons for why you may want to initiate a private investigation. Whether you want to find out if your partner is cheating on you, or you’re working for the fraud department of an insurance company, chances are you can find an array of professionals willing to help you out . . . that is, if you don’t want to do the dirty work yourself. While it may be true that you have many options and resources when it comes to getting the job done, the truth is that proceeding without first doing some research could do a job on your criminal record. Here are some guidelines for legally conducting a private investigation:

Avoid Pretexting.

Pretexting is the practice of posing as something you are not in order to get information that you might otherwise not be privy to. It seems that one of the easiest ways to get sensitive information out of an unwitting target would be to pose as a cop, an attorney, or a doctor. Unfortunately, this type of activity is illegal in many states, and it can get you (or your investigator) in some serious hot water. Additionally, you cannot pretext by using someone else’s identifying data to get information that does not belong to you.

Respect Private Property.

It is illegal to trespass on private property, and if you enter onto a subject’s personal property for any reason, you are liable to be persecuted for trespassing. Many private investigators work around this limitation by setting up surveillance cameras from an area of public property. However, even if you choose to take this route, you should ensure that you are staying on the right side of the law by first informing the local police of your surveillance plans.

Use citizen’s arrests carefully.

You know those action/suspense movies wherein the private eye detains a suspect and subjects him to a lengthy round of intense interrogation? Well, in the real world, that is considered kidnapping–an offense that is severely punishable by law. In some states, it is legal, however, to detain someone if you have witnessed that person commit a felony. Just remember that the circumstances under which you might legally conduct a citizen’s arrest vary from state to state. If you think it’s a possibility that your private investigation might necessitate such an action, consult with local law enforcement ahead of time, to make sure you know exactly what not to do.

The world of private investigation is not as exciting and glamorous as it might seem on television. Really, it is a discipline that is heavily bound by the law, and if you’re not careful to play by the rules, you might end up being the criminal, rather than investigating the criminal. Your best bet, whenever in doubt, is to hire NAI or some other private firm – people who are familiar with the rules of the road.

About Nicole Keller