These are real questions I get… and my answers.
Is Private Detective work dangerous?
If done right most P.I. work is not too dangerous. However… things can turn on you in seconds.
For example: On a good surveillance, your subject will never know you’re there but, if they find out, well… that’s gonna’ be unpleasant.
With process serving, the subject definitely knows you’re there and frequently is not happy to see you.
You always need to be prepared for danger although 99% of the time you will be quite safe.
Do Private Investigators work criminal cases?
Private Investigators do work criminal cases in the US, but usually it is when the police don’t have the ability or interest in a given case.
For example: Filing a false Worker’s Compensation claim is a criminal offence, but it’s usually a private company that’s a victim of the fraudulent claim that hires an investigator because the state is to overwhelmed to place the necessary resources into catching the fraudster in a lie.
But any time a Private Investigator is hired to, he or she can collect evidence of a crime and present it to the police or Prosecuting Attorney.
I’ve been a cop / Private Investigator / etc. for years. Is there anything in your courses for me?
Depending on how long you’ve been working as an investigator, you may find a lot of information you already know because these are designed to teach everything from A to Z presuming the viewer has only a strong desire to learn and no knowledge base to start from.
For example, the surveillance course has all the basics (how far to set up from the subject, what lane to drive in when following someone on the express way, etc.), but also a lot of tips experienced guys understand as giving them a slightly better edge than they had before getting the course.
Many experienced investigators are interested in this “incremental improvement” that leads them to mastery. (That’s one reason I continue to get training myself!)
Will your courses count toward education or experience requirements for me to get my Private Investigator’s license?
IMPORTANT: I’m not sure if any state currently recognizes my courses as meeting their mandatory training and if that is the sole reason you are getting them, I highly recommend you check with your state before ordering any training.
Should I continue in college and get a degree or should I save the money and start getting real world experience?
It may not seem like the easy thing now, but I highly recommend staying in school and getting your degree for a couple of reasons.
First, the people in your classes (and even your profs.) are the people you are “growing up with” in the investigative world. I don’t mean age-wise. I mean knowledge and experience-wise.
You are a peer with your classmates now and a few years from now you will still be their peer when you’re helping each other with cases.
It’s pretty nice to know you can call a senior fraud investigator at a major bank when you have a question. Obviously, I am not talking about anything illegal or unethical but, when you’re stuck on a case, being able to call a friend and say, “I’ve got a routing number on a check but it seems to be to the wrong region. What do you think?” and having them tell you some common piece of info every bank investigator knows that you don’t (eg. what the fist few digits on the routing number really mean) can be invaluable.
Or maybe a classmate ends up in the Prosecuting Attorney’s office. Or District Manager at some large international retailer. These are helpful friends and contacts to have. A lot of cases get solved that way.
Secondly, the college degree opens doors. Is that a cliche? Yup. Is it true? Yup. ESPECIALLY when your starting out and have no experience.
Also, don’t rule out working in Loss Prevention while you go to school. I did and it was my ticket in to P.I. work because I worked traditional Loss Prevention for the company but, also worked as an investigator putting together criminal histories on repeat offenders, address histories to prevent certain types of Theft by Deception and known associates for check fraud. (And many other things.)
What should I study in school?
For education I highly recommend getting a well rounded education. You’ll need to talk to all kinds of people as a Private Investigator. In the morning you may be talking to a millionaire lawyer in a fancy office and in the afternoon you’ll be talking to a crack head on a stolen bicycle.
A solid, well rounded education will help to equip you to deal with the variety of subjects and people you’re going to meet.
Do your courses contain any exercises or training aids to foster development of investigation skills?
First, use yourself as the subject. What I mean is many people are uncomfortable going into the Clerk of Courts Office and asking for a criminal file (or copy of a traffic ticket, civil complaint, etc.). So I recommend looking up and pulling a copy of your own traffic ticket. This is common and the clerk won’t think anything of it. If you don’t know exactly how to do it, they will walk you through it and (although they never ask and don’t care) if they would ask you WHY you want the info, you simply say it’s for your own records.
Second, I recommend using the techniques I teach to look up a figure from your local news. Maybe the guy you read about that the police arrested getting stuck in a chimney trying to burglarize a house or the guy who was arrested for having 76 out standing parking tickets. What ever you’re interested in.
In the Investigator’s Ultimate Guide to Surveillance I teach two ways to practice your surveillance in the real world that will build your surveillance skills. These are the methods I used to train students when I taught Private Investigations in the classroom at a local community college.
I am hoping to gain not only knowledge, but also experience that will at some point be of use in this profession. If not directly, are there any referrals to aids or methods to ensure the grasp of the concepts that you cover?
When you do the practical exercises I described above, you learn first-hand how to do investigative work. The Investigator’s Ultimate Guide to Process Serving is designed to get you that experience from paying client. Process serving is a much easier job to get then P.I. work but involves many of the same skills. Having Process Server on your resume may very well get the attention of the detective agencies you want to hire you.
Larry, do you offer expedited shipping?
All of my courses are now streaming. That means you can get access as soon as you pay!
In your opinion, what might be an appropriate way to get a foot in the door of this industry, given my state’s licensing requirements for Private Investigators.
In any state I think the easiest way in to the business is through serving process because so few people will hire someone with no experience. However, the TRULY easiest way in is to get hired straight into an investigators position!
This can be easier than you might think. I did it by starting out as a Loss Prevention Officer. I got hired with only a little security work in my background and was able to start doing investigative work for the company that they didn’t even know was possible. I started putting together address histories on the bad guys and rings of professional shoplifters. I began to pull criminal histories and other info that was helpful to us in Loss Prevention. I basically used the skills I teach in The Investigator’s Ultimate Guide to Missing Persons and Fugitives to turn my routine L.P. job into that of the in-house Investigator to meet my states licensing requirements. That’s exactly how I did it. (It took years, but I loved my job and eventually got my P.I. license!)
Are there any experiences or credentials that you feel are vital in the eyes of an agency as a potential employer?
As a potential employer I ALWAYS look for experience. Without experience, I would need a really good reason to look twice at an applicant. Maybe a Criminal Justice degree, but still, that only gets the resume a second look and not much more.
That’s why I’m such fan of Process Serving. If you’re up against an experienced investigator, Process Serving experience may or may not be enough, but… when an applicant’s got NO investigative experience, then Process Serving gets the applicant on the radar!
Now, the employer may say, “I can hire the experienced guy, but he wants $20 an hour. But this Process Server only needs $12 / hour. He/She must be clean, honest and on-time. He/She has some experience dealing with subjects and attorneys. What the heck, let me give this guy/gal a call.”
Can you recommend a database to use for skip tracing and background checks or even for preparation before a surveillance?
For Private Investigations I recommend starting with getting actual documents from their primary source rather than just paying a few bucks (or a lot of bucks!) to a database service.
The database services are great and quickly generate a lot of information to evaluate, but going and getting the primary document is really, really valuable. Especially starting out.
Most records of tremendous value are kept at the county level. (eg. divorce records, misdemeanor criminal records, felony criminal records, etc.)
Some really good stuff is kept at (or reported to) the state level. (eg. birth records, death records, state prison records, etc.)
Learn the websites and offices for these things in your area.
WARNING: There are a TON of worthless, scam websites offering to sell you public records. These are almost always the top search results on-line. Don’t fall for them! Make sure you are at your TRUE county website.
There are few things more valuable than pulling the records and holding them in you hands. Reading them. Understanding what’s there and not there. The website version of the same document will usually have LESS information than the original!
HUGE TIP: Make sure you truly understand what’s in the database you’re looking at and what’s NOT in the database. And know… these things change.
For example: Last year the state’s on-line database of inmates may include RELEASED inmates as well as those currently incarcerated. This year you may find only currently incarcerated inmates listed. The released inmate info is still available (somewhere – maybe by visiting the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections main office or by a request via snail mail) but, as a professional investigator you gotta’ know these things and the “database” services may not tell you all this!
I could say a ton more on these things and I do in my Public Records Mini-Course, but this is a good start for you.