Do you think the technological advances we have in the 21 century are good or bad for private investigators?
This week I want to talk to you about four private investigator problems that didn’t exist twenty years ago.
Then vs. Now
If you didn’t work as an investigator before the age of the internet and specifically before the age of Google then you may not fully appreciate the difference between now and then.
One example is, 20 years ago, it was very common to go out on a surveillance without a picture of the person you were going to follow. You had an address, a description, a vehicle make and model, a license plate number and things like that, but no image of the person. (And, by the way, we always said “picture” and never “image” because it was always an actual photograph!)
When the person came out and got in the car, you weren’t judging from a picture that the client gave to you but just the physical description of person and the vehicle and where they started out at. This is not to say that the wrong people were followed and reported on. If the wrong person was followed by accident, you clearly wouldn’t use that against the actual subject of your investigation.
So even something as small as having a photo of the subject you’re about to follow was rare and difficult twenty years ago versus today.
1. Google / Search Engines
Number one on my list by a long shot is Google.
Search engines in general, but Google in particular.
Google knows way too much about you and me and anyone in particular. It’s scary, weird and creepy.
And for private investigators, this has created a bit of a problem because so many potential client can do it themselves now (or at least try).
So the problem with having Google available is so many questions a person has, like, ‘does this person have children’, ‘where are their family’, and ‘what’s their address’, those types of things can be solved with a few keystrokes and a click of the mouse. People just don’t need to hire a private investigator for that kind of information anymore.
2. Social Media
A second private investigator problem that didn’t exist twenty years ago is social media.
The connections and lines that you can draw. The fact that people are putting online literally what they ate for breakfast, who they hung out with, where they’re going to a club and when they’re on vacation. This type of information (if it could be gotten at all!) required an investigator to go out and find this information. It was a time-consuming. It was a labor-intensive. It took a special skills sets.
The problem for private investigators is not that one can find this information on social media now, but that so many people are doing it for themselves. There’s less perceived need to hire a private investigator.
3. Cell Phone Tracking
The third private investigator problem that didn’t exist twenty years ago is tracking devices (legal or illegal) on cell phones.
Sometimes, it’s not malicious software that’s put on them. Maybe it’s not even tracking software that’s installed by a husband or a wife who’s suspicious of their spouse. Simply the applications loaded on a smart phone to locate where it is can frequently help someone who’s curious about the location of another person. You can find where they are and virtually follow them around.
Again, twenty years ago, you needed an experienced investigator, that knew what he or she was doing to get in a vehicle and follow that person. Now it can be done on phones. Many times, I believe, it’s being done illegally, but that doesn’t really help you as an investigator, right? If they don’t need to hire you now, then they don’t need to hire you and that’s a problem for our industry.
Of course using a cell phone for “virtual surveillance” won’t tell the client who the subject met with, how they were dressed or how they interacted with others. So physical surveillance is still needed, but if it’s perceived to be needed less, then that cuts into your business.
4. The Deep Web
The fourth private investigator problem that did not exist twenty years ago is the deep web.
This is an interesting one, because people think they know how to use it, but they don’t.
Nevertheless, people are doing more for themselves online than they were twenty years ago.
For example, I will go back to one of my favorite sources, the lower court or municipal court index, where people are listed for traffic violations, misdemeanor criminal offenses, small claims court, those types of things. That’s all at the county courthouse.
It used to be, twenty years ago, you would drive yourself down there and paw through the records yourself. Literally. Microfiche or maybe in these large index books.
You had to go down there. You had to know what office to go to and what to ask for. People just didn’t even know it was available, let alone that they could access it. Now, you can stumble upon the index online and find somebody’s name. It’s very simple now.
Again, what this leads to is a do-it-yourself mentality for the general public instead of hiring a professional. That’s the real problem for us if you’re trying to make a living in this business.
But, here’s the good news…
Now let me share with you the good news. You can still make money in this environment.
All of those things, Google, social media, tracking devices and the deep web, people are not proficient with them! Not even close!
They mess it up all the time.
The client that you’re probably missing is the person who thinks they did it right. And this is so dangerous.
But, if you can educate your clients – if you can get the word out to potential clients – then you have a potential of getting hired because they know they’ve probably failed. They probably did it wrong.
Here’s the classic example. Let’s look at the deep web.
There are two court levels in every county. There’s an upper court and a lower court. Sometimes they’re called by different names (municipal and superior or Municipal and common pleas or whatever), but one has misdemeanors and one has felonies.
It’s so common that people will run a name, maybe they’re background checking a child care provider or maybe a potential boyfriend or fiancé. They’ll punch the name into one of those online indexes, thinking that they’ve found everything only to miss huge pieces of the puzzle!
Imagine if you punch somebody into a Municipal court website where there are misdemeanors and you find things like traffic violations or an eviction, but you don’t punch them into the Superior court where there’s felonies like rape, aggravated assault or cases of serious domestic violence!
The person (potential client!) misses these felonies.
Educate your potential clients by doing things like writing articles, posting to your blog and being on social media explaining and educating people. Do this especially when you see a mistake that like that made in the media to draw people’s attention to it. Explain to them why they need a professional to do this really well.
As with everything in life, don’t look at these points and make excuses.
Don’t say, “That’s why I’m not making money” or “That’s why I can’t be successful here”. That’s not a place you want your mind to be! That’s not where you want to have your mind set!
Look, people are making money in this industry. You can too. You’ve just got to be smart about it. It’s not going to fall into your lap. You’ve got to go out there and earn it.
Part of that is getting the clients. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: it’s the hardest part of this business. I’m convinced it’s the hardest part of any business! So get really good at it!
Learn marketing. For part of that, I’m a strong believer, just like I’m doing here with you, in educating your potential clients. Be a resource for them so they recognize (many times) they can’t do this one their own and need professional help. And educate them so they recognize you as the expert that they want to come to!
What did I miss?
I would love to know if you have any other problems that exist today that didn’t exist twenty years ago in private investigations. My list here is not even close to being exhaustive! Please, drop your thoughts in the comments. I would love to see the ones you consider important!
If you like this helpful information, then don’t miss out on my free special report If You Want To be a Private Investigator Give Up… Unless You Do These Three Things. If not, you can get it right here…
Committed to your success,
Larry Kaye, P.I.
P.S. – After an article like that, you may find this promises comforting… “God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called by His decree.” -Romans 8:28