It's the beginning of a new year so we thought we'd take a moment and talk a little about the business of Private Investigating. We get calls daily from potential clients in Kansas City, Columbia, and St. Louis, MO asking us how we can help them with their investigations and there seems to be a few questions that pop up frequently enough, we figured we would address those here.
So for this first installment of What to Expect When You Hire a Private Investigator, let's talk about things an investigator cannot do. Some items can vary from state to state, but for the sake of clarity, we'll just talk about the things that are universally not allowed.
- Impersonate Law Enforcement In Any Way
As private investigators we are not allowed to carry a badge or wear a uniform that causes people to believe that we are associated with law enforcement. We are not allowed to call and question witnesses under the guise of being law enforcement. We cannot go knock on doors or question witnesses using any type of language or logos that would lead them to believe we are law enforcement. *We are not lawyers. Check with local laws.
- Be Above the Law
Private Investigators, although licensed and trained, are still private citizens. We cannot harass people, trespass or collect evidence on private property, bribe witnesses, hack into private property or accounts, impersonate an individual whose records we are trying to obtain, steal evidence, etc. This goes as far as even obeying traffic laws while following a subject. We have a lot of tricks and resources at our disposal, but breaking the law is not one of them. *We are not lawyers. Check with local laws.
- Trespass Onto Private Property
It's amazing how often we are asked about this. A private investigator cannot enter a property, home, or building illegally, including breaking and entering or lock picking. A private investigator must have consent before entering a residence or business. A private investigator also cannot snoop in private alleys, garages or detached buildings. As well, we do not go through a subject's trash if it is located on private property (including sidewalks, driveways, hotel rooms, cars, etc). *We are not lawyers. Check with local laws.
- Go Through Mail
It is a federal offense to steal, open or tamper with another person's mail. *We are not lawyers. Check with local laws.
- Film or Photograph Subjects Through Open Windows
Even the Paparazzi get sued for this breach of a person's expectation of privacy. While it is generally allowed for private investigators to film or photograph someone on public property, doing so through open windows onto private property is not allowed much of the time. *We are not lawyers. Check with local laws.
- Put a GPS Tracker on a Subject's Vehicle
We are allowed to place trackers on vehicles with the consent of that vehicle's owner. This means that technically private investigators can place tracking devices on a vehicle if our client is on the title of that car. This goes for married couples, parents or business owners. Each state is a little different when it comes to these situations. *We are not lawyers. Check with local laws.
- Hack or Log Into a Subject's Social Media or Email Account
Not only is hacking of any sort not something a private investigator does, we also will not log into a subject's account even if we're given the log-in information or password. While a good private investigator is able to still glean a lot of information from public social media accounts, we are not allowed to access any information that isn't pubic. Private Investigators are not magicians that can hack into data mainframes or petition social media companies for special access. Any social media research we do is simply good old fashioned investigating. *We are not lawyers. Check with local laws.
- Have Access to a Subject's Private Information
Protected Private information includes credit reports, medical records, bank account information, Passport or Driver's license numbers, phone records and Credit Card numbers. We can find the location of the information, which can then be subpoenaed by the court, but private investigators cannot obtain federally or state protected information. To use the example of assets, we are able to find property or vehicles the subject might have hidden, but we are unable to access bank records, investment records or credit card statements. *We are not lawyers. Check with local laws.
Those are some of the main questions that come up when we speak with potential clients. This is certainly not an inclusive list by any means although it can seem long. You might be thinking to yourself, well, what can a private investigator do for me? That topic will be covered in our next post so stay tuned!