10 Years Experience
Been a private eye for 10 years. The job's not for everyone. If you love odd hours sipping coffee in a dark parking lot waiting for something to happen you should definitely jump at this job immediately. I get hired by spouses, employers, insurance companies, and you name it as well. Oh...and I field a lot of very interesting phone calls that even the most seasoned defense attorneys would raise an eyebrow at.
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Good question! I've definitely thought about this from time to time. In my honest opinion, it really is a personal and ethical decision for the individual PI to make for himself/herself. It's always been a "gray" occupation with little oversight or guidance. I will say this, I have declined cases because of ethical issues. I had this one guy try and hire me to take photos of a person running for city council. The guy wanted to make posters out of my photos and slander the neighbor with an advertising campaign against him. I smiled and said to him, "this one isn't for me". I ended up seeing the posters a week later, so I guess another PI took the gig.
You nailed it, all 3 actually! Very good. In that order too. You must have gone to detective school. Cheating is the most common (and requires the most 'hand-holding' in terms of client relations). The second is definitely bug sweeps, at least for this private eye, mostly business clients. They want their office swept to find out if anyone planted anything. In all actuality, the most I've ever found is a hidden voice recorder that is set on a "voice-activation" feature. Usually it's an employee that know he/she will be fired and they plant it in the bosses office or conference room to record their exit interview and or firing. The ex-employee will bait the employer/boss into saying something discriminating and the ex-employee will then send it to their employment attorney, basically trying to blackmail the employer into settling a potential lawsuit. Dirty stuff, huh! Lost relatives are kinda hit and miss for the most part, a lot of these relatives really don't want to be "found", there was usually a falling-out or something involving money that didn't really go as planned. Or the person hiring me wants to get that relative to sign over authority on a will, usually 90% of the time it's greed based, they need the relative to sign some kind of document that will benefit the client. Sad to say, but it's true. The other 10% are totally legit and the family member is just worried about them and wants to help or re-connect.
I got invited to an after hours party after a wedding that I attended as an undercover workers comp investigator. This group of people from the groom's side thought I was the bride's cousin from out of town. It was all a big mix up because of a grandparent who kept telling people I was her cousin and that I was single and needed to be fixed up with a girl. It was hilarious, I just rolled w/ it. I never lied about my reason being there, because no one ever asked. I just smiled and blended in. It was a great story to tell the other surveillance guys I worked w/ at the time.
I usually charge an hourly rate....but I have been known to charge a "flat rate". It usually depends on the case and how confident I feel I can get the client results. I won't say how much I charge, but I will say that it's within the industry standard. Usually, I break it down into 3 categories. Surveillance, bug sweeps and locating people. That's the "Big 3" in my line of work. It really depends on what kind of case you have that determines the hourly rate and/or "flat rate" for the case.
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The city I felt was the most "dangerous" was City Terrace & Boyle Heights in E. Los Angeles near the 10 fwy. They're very small in square mileage and have issues w/ rival gangs. Because Hispanic gangs are very old school and traditional, they've kept the same boundaries throughout the years, so it's easy to be walking and cross over into territory by mistake. You have to have a "uniform" (gang clothing, cop clothing, religious clothing) or you'll pretty much be a victim after dark if you're by yourself.
Not that I know of, but anything's possible. Whenever a PI takes a case, he never knows who the client will tell. You hope and pray they keep quiet about things (at least until the case is resolved). I've had a client's macho brother show up to a surveillance location in his lifted truck because he couldn't control his emotions. I remember calling the client, asking her if it's ok that I update her brother on the case. She said yes, so I approached the brother and calmed him down. Letting him know I would keep him in the loop throughout the night. He ended up leaving and thankfully saved the case from disaster. A large aspect of PI work is about managing people and their situation. There are cases when you end up working both sides (like getting an interview from a victim who was injured by the defendant, who has now hired you) so having a customer service oriented attitude can really work wonders.
The fact that affordable high quality micro undercover cameras really weren't available until pretty recently, like 2008-ish. There would have been a lot more candid moments caught on video...so that's my biggest "miss". I remember starting out in the industry with this big 8mm video camera called the Sony High-8. Most typical PIs had the standard "beeper" camera attachment, which was a beeper with a hidden cam wired to a fanny pack, it was absolutely huge! You'd have to be really creative with that thing to not have people become suspicious. Now days, we have "throw away cams" like the CamstickPro which are basically cheap micro-SD cams that fit in your pocket for under $40 bucks.
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