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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Always follow your dreams. But make sure your dreams make financial sense and can give you stability over the long haul. The PI thing for me has been both a blessing and a curse at the same time. It kinda sucks you in, you get used to the freedom and there's always this thought in your mind that a payday is just a phone call away. I was ambitious once like you when I first started, but over the years the job weighs on you. I only know a handful of PIs that can show a profit year after year. A lot say they do, and a lot of detective schools preach you'll make $50 to $125 and hour. But if you're only getting a few cases a month, you'd be better off with a regular W-2 job doing just about anything else. The most successful PIs are the former cops and federal agents who have a nice pension. Those guys have the funds and resources for marketing their business, paying for internet ads and chumming up extra work from their old buddies with the department without worrying about the rent.
Of course, it happens to the best of us. Had this early morning L.A. case, set up super early so no one would see me, a bit of a tough part of town, didn't want any eyes on my vehicle rolling in with no one getting out of it. Followed this lady around town for two days, things seemed like they were going well. Got some video on her, but she wasn't doing much outside of her doctor's recommendations. She seemed too perfect. She never looked my way once and never acted suspicious. At the end of the second day as I was about to close up shop, her husband walks up to my vehicle and leaves a small little note under the wiper blades. You'll never guess what it said, "thanks for babysitting my wife". Gumshoe work can be quite humbling sometimes.
Yes. But you can't be too influenced by the client. The client may tell you the person you'll have under surveillance is the meanest nastiest smartest person on the face of the earth...doesn't mean it's all true. I've had to draw on my past experience to gauge if this is something I want to step into. Also, a lot of it's mostly perceived danger. Usually with PI work there's not too much physical danger, the idea is to be covert and not get involved. I go with my gut feeling. If it tells me to back off, I back off. I have no problem referring them to another PI who may be better suited for the assignment.
I really only know about CA, and don't have any insight in terms of who's who on the corruption list. I have had some fraud cases come my way for assignment. Since I do workers comp, I can attest to this, I've seen police and fire unions protect a lot of bad eggs, when I say bad, I mean personnel who really should be working but are instead on the injured list year after year making the same paycheck. Any organization that polices itself with little oversight tends to be headed for trouble.
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Wow, Sherlock Holmes...that's quite the pinnacle in the industry. I'm not sure if I'm quite that noteworthy, but I will say this. I once had an assignment where I had to track down this business guy and serve him some federal papers for court. Pretty serious stuff when it goes to federal court...you don't fool around with that. So anyway, he had a bunch of properties in 4 different counties. I went to each different county, asking questions, turning over stones (big ones and small ones) just to find out where this guy was. None of the locations panned out. I felt like crap, plus I burned through most of my retainer already. So here I am, bummed out...sitting on the bed of my Motel 6 in the high desert, then all of a sudden it hits me. His father invested in a lot of his businesses and in one of the records I checked showed a cabin in the mountains as a mailing address he used quite a while back. It was pretty ancient, but my gut was telling me to go after it. If the mountain won't come to Mohammad, Mohammad must go to the mountain! So I head on up there, and boom....super slick looking Mercedes parked in the leafy driveway of the cabin. My heart is racing, I know this is my guy. Since I put this much effort into this assignment, I don't want him NOT answering the door. So I grab my construction hard hat, reflector vest and clipboard w/ the subpoena on it. Give a knock at the door, and walla...my guy is front and center. He was never more surprised in his life, he actually smiled a bit, and that really made my day. I shook his hand, said thank you Sir and gave a little smile of my own.
Some do. But you never bite that carrot. J.J. Gittes in the movie Chinatown may have been up to the task, but a modern PI has a lot of legal liability to ponder while he's sipping that java in his surveillance vehicle at o' dark thirty. It's 2015, there's a lot of under paid attorneys as well as hungry assistant DA's who would love to litigate a PI for any funny business.
Yes. The most common is unlicensed activity in California. In California, someone who wants a PI license must have at least 6,000 hours of verifiable experience with a licensed PI firm or have law enforcement experience equivalent to that. I must say, I saw a lot of licensed firms hiring unlicensed contractors back in 2008-2012, when the economy was in the tank. I don't think it's as bad now, but it is a bit of an issue still, mostly because those unlicensed "investigators" tend to charge much less than the average industry rate. In all honesty, a lot of unlicensed investigator do a great job, they're ambitious and usually just want the case experience to get their own shop. But, they are in a sense taking away potential business from guys who have a legit license.
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.
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.
I think this guy was a bit before my time, I've never heard of him. I've never seen the movie either. Try snooping around on some PI forums, some of them are open to the public to ask Q&A.
I was a meter reader for a utility company. In all honesty, my GF at the time saw a flyer posted at her campus and gave it to me. I submitted my resume and got a call. The rest is history. It was never my dream job, I don't think anyone as a kid wants to become a PI. It kinda just happens, that's life, it swings you in a certain direction and you either go with it or not.
Private detectives aren't sworn law enforcement, clinicians or social workers, so technically we don't have a "duty" to report. You use your own judgment, a lot of the time people are frustrated with their situation and sometimes say things they don't mean. But if you feel those hairs sticking up in the back of your neck...it's time to make that call. The cops will usually have the PI come down to the station and game plan the sting. There was one of these in the news a few years back. After being briefed by law enforcement, the PI met up with the client in his car and had an audio recorder rolling. Once the client handed over payment, the cops swooped in and arrested her.
It depends on the state. Here in California we have The Private Investigator's Act which makes it a requirement for the PI to keep the client's case confidential. Yes, a PI can be called to testify in any legal matter (civil or criminal). The "pi/client" privilege is similar to a "doctor/patient" privilege. Which means you may have to reveal certain case details if the court feels those details are in the interest of justice. It will never trump the "attorney/client" privilege. An attorney NEVER has to reveal anything about his client. Attorneys have the highest client privilege in the American legal system.
7 Eleven Hazelnut seems to be my fave these days. Also a fan of Winchell's coffee, plus you get to smell donuts every time you walk in (added bonus). I must admit, energy drinks can be kinda fun. I only have an energy drink if I'm headed out of town for a case. Palm Springs or San Fransisco, something like that.
My hourly rate is within the industry rate. The hourly and/or flat rate tends to depend on the type of case, ie: bug sweep, surveillance, subpoena service. In my experience, the average rate is between $50 to $125 per hour. If the PI offers services in an area where there are not many PIs, they may charge more. Lie detector rate is a bit different, usually $350 per person w/ an average of 8 to 12 lie detector questions asked.
Very eloquently put! Usually, you just gauge the client and get an idea of their personality from the initial consult. Some clients are no bullshit, they just want the facts. Some clients need a little more sensitivity. Men like being kept up to date constantly on the progress w/ the case and want the facts as they come in. Women are much more passive, they usually want to wait until there is confirmed cheating and they always want to see what "the other woman" looks like. Even if their man is cheating, they have a hard time believing he did it with malice or they blame themselves for something that went wrong in the relationship. Women are great to work with, 90% of the women I had as clients were very classy and took the news very well, they prepared themselves for the worst before they picked up the phone to call me.
Probably. But they'd need a reason and be able to prove it. I have the luxury of not having a 9 to 5 job, so I can show up in court any day of the week and appeal it. The plaintiff can be cited for "lack of prosecution" from the judge if they can't prove their case. I may not have to do a thing but show up and dispute the prosecution's case. Remember, the plaintiff needs to prove their case, not the defendant.
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