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What's involved to be a P.I.?


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  • What's involved to be a P.I.?

    A friend of mine asked me what he'd have to do to be a Private Detective & I have no idea what to tell him. Do you just go get a buss license or other special requirements involved? This would be in Southern Alabama.

  • #2
    Most States have laws governing Private Investigations. A call to your States Secretary of State would probably get him going. A check of the States Web Site would also be a good place to start looking for info.

    I will give you a Texas example. There are two ways to do PI work, one is to work as an employee of a Licensed PI. (licensed by the Texas Commission on Private Security). This route requires no experience or training, just an app to the state. This registers the person. To be registered the applicant cannot be addicted to drugs or alcohol, be mentally unstable, etc. The applicant must have NEVER been convicted of a felony or a serious misdeamoner in the last 7 years. State and FBI fingerprint checks are made.

    To have ones own company the applicant must have three years verifiable investigative experience, maintain liability insurance, and pass an exam on state laws regarding private investigations.

    We collect sales tax in TX for our services.

    There are many different facets of PI work. It runs from Insurance fraud investigations (workers comp, slip and falls, etc) to specialized types such as arson, financial fraud and computer fraud.

    A small list of different types of investigations; insurance fraud (this is almost a field in itself), criminal defense, missing/lost persons, witness locating, locating missing children or those taken by non-custodial parents, domestic (usually marriage infidelity)pre-employement backgrounds and screening, assett searches, pre-marriage backgrounds, internal theft (companies who have money/product/intellectual property) missing, investigating child abuse, computer fraud, etc.

    This just scratches the surface. Email me if you'd like more info.
    "Speed is fine, but accuracy is final"--Bill Jordan


    • #3
      Hey tx,

      So what's the scoop on the gorgeous blondes that walk into the office unexpectedly.

      You know how it goes.....

      I'm working late, no place else to be, goin' over some unpaid bills, when I hear a sound from the outer office. Sadie the phone dame's gone for the day. I'm thinkin' this might be bad. Knockin' over the bottle of Jim Beam, I grab my piece from the desk. The door opens and there she is, lookin' at me with green eyes that promise everything.....and everything's there but the staple in the navel. In a voice that's like liquid lust, she says, "Don't shoot yet, big guy. We've only just met." I look the question at her and she picks it up, "I've heard a lot about you, txinstigator1. Is it all true?"

      Could you fill me in on the details, tx? Did I get it right?


      • #4
        Depends on where you are at.

        As tx said, many states have licensing procedures. Some don't. In some states to be a PI, all you have to do is say that you are one.

        No matter what the state's requirements are, they won't be anything close to what kind of experience is actually required to make a living doing it. Consumers are much more demanding than the state.

        Actually getting work as a PI is another matter entirely. I know some folks in this line of work. At the professional level, it is a very respectable and lucrative profession.

        The catch is that there are plenty of yahoos out there who couldn't find their way out of a paper bag if it had a hole in the bottom. These folks won't get much work.

        The steady money in PI work is usually in insurance and/or legal investigations. This is where you will get your steady clients which pay the bills. Other stuff, such as missing persons, etc doesn't come along that often, and when it does, it often doesn't pay the bills. I mean, how many middle income families can afford a "round the clock" investigator to find their runaway daughter? It's expensive.

        The only way to really make a full-time living at it is to have a good reputation and good, real-world experience.

        A good reputation comes from doing some good work for an attorney who then calls you back for future work. As you do more work, you get a reputation within the local legal community and other attorneys give you a call as well.

        Experience usually comes from law enforcement, or from the insurance industry. Some big firms may have a training program for their loss prevention people. Wal-Mart, for example, has an excellent LP program. Spend 4 or 5 years there at something other than the store level, and you'll have some good experience that might translate to the professional level if you hung out your own shingle.

        From what I have seen, a good reputation counts most of all. I have seen police officers go into private work and not get ANY real legal investigative work because they were either never a detective, or they were not a very good one and the attorneys know this.

        Likewise, I have see attorneys offer detectives jobs as full time private investigators because they had a good reputation and the attorney had a hard time finding good investigators.

        Even with a good rep and good abilities, your "bread and butter work" is often doing such mundane things as serving process.

        Without a good reputation, and the ability to back it up, about the only work you will get is "pick up work" from the yellow pages to follow some guy's wife around. These folks tend NOT to pay thier bills. And when they do, it's not on time.

        A good PI has to be a "jack of all trades"; able to do a little security consulting, loss prevention, undercover investigations in labor disputes, process serving, surveillance, taking sworn statements, locating expert witnesses, fraud, embezzlement, and on and on.

        You need to be well versed in medical stuff for malpractice cases, you need to know the mysteries of the insurance biz for fraud cases, you need to be well versed in accounting procedures for embezzlement cases, you need to be up on your inventory procedures for internal theft investigations, and nowadays, you better know the ins and outs of computers for computer crime.

        Real PI work is a serious profession.

        Try NALI and ACFE for more information.

        From my understanding, these are well respected organizations and anyone who is seriously considering doing this for a living should check into them.

        Hope this helped!


        • #5

          The NALI (National Association of Licensed Investigators) is an excellent recommendation!

          You are also correct that the most steady, regular paying clients are insurance companies (though there are a bunch of low bid PI firms doing insurance fraud now) and Law Firms.

          Domestic cases seldom pay, thats why I require deposits prior to beginning work, and additional deposits when that money runs out. I also try to talk domestic clients into hiring an attorney first, then have the attorney hire me, as this helps insure I get paid and extends the Attorney-Client priviledge to my work product.

          PI work requires constant marketing as many of your clients will be one-time customers.

          I intentially failed to discuss the "gumshoe" type of investigator you mentioned, as I try not to share that side of the industry. Since the cat's out of the bag (wheres Mitzi?), there are probably more of the goobers than professionals. The bright side to that is if you are professional and treat your clients as such, you will earn repeat business as well as a good reputation.

          I can't tell you how many investigations I have worked that was strictly clean-up from other investigators. Of course, I now get that business.

          Record keeping, accurate readable reports and timeleness are critical. Our state agency has investigators that are certified peace officers. They say that the consumer complaints they investigate most are for failure of the investigator to provide a written report to the client, and failure of the investigator to call the client back.

          Work can bill from as low as $30.00 per hour to $75.00 to $100.00 per hour and up, depending on the type of work and your experience and yor exclusivity in a particular type of investigation.


          Try these websites also:

          Texas Association of Licensed Investigators
          Texas Commission on Private Security
          "Speed is fine, but accuracy is final"--Bill Jordan


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