We took a moment to speak with one of the Watkins Ward team, a Senior local private investigator, to ask some questions about just what can Private Investigators do.... What is legal, and what is not legal.
David started by clearing up one common myth, ''Forget everything you see on the TV about Private Investigators. Artistic license runs away, and much of what you see is not realistic, and not legal in the real world''.
Can Private Investigators Break the Law? No. A private investigator is no different from any other person or profession, when it comes to obeying the law. There are certain techniques that private investigators execute that may seem suspicious, but they are always working within the law. Private investigators use many techniques, which include human intelligence HUMIT, and Social Engineering techniques.
What can Private Investigators do, Can they pretend to be the Police? - Private investigators cannot impersonate the Police (we’re not sure why people think they can) and will refuse a case if a potential client asks them to do something that is not legal.
What can Private Investigators do,Can you have a private investigator follow someone? Yes. Surveillance is one of the most common aspects of private investigator work. “So, probably the most common request is surveillance of some type,” said David. “I’d say 90% of cases require some form of covert surveillance — trying to catch either a cheating spouse or a cheating girlfriend or boyfriend, business and corporate issues. For example; sometimes it can be that a client is thinking about taking the next step, you know getting married, and they want to assure that the person they’re possibly going to marry is faithful.”
This type of service is commonly referred to as cheating partner surveillance.
Surveillance is perfectly legal — so long as the private investigator works within the law. Surveillance is the practice of closely observing a subject and documenting the interactions, locations, persons, activities the subject is involved in.
“So, in surveillance cases — there’s really two types: there’s a fixed surveillance where you’re sitting up on a residence or a business or whatever and you’re not moving. Or there’s a mobile surveillance where you’re trying to follow somebody”. Whilst covert surveillance may seem like an easy task - the reality is not so. It is a highly trained skill, especially for example, when covertly following a subject in a vehicle, or on public transport.
If a client is forthcoming and can let the private investigator know what it is they want accomplished in the case, that will likely lead to a successful outcome. “To conduct successful surveillance, you’ve got to have all the information that you can prior to going out on the surveillance. You know, photos of your subject, any vehicles they may use, information about their daily routine. I always tell my clients: ‘the more information I have on the front end, the more productive my surveillance will be.’”
What can Private Investigators do, Can a Private Investigator Track Someone's Vehicle or Car With GPS? It Depends. The use of GPS depends, David explained. “A private investigator can, in certain circumstances. And that’s really dictated by the law,” he said. “GPS Tracking cannot be the only form of investigative method. There are guidelines dictating the use of car GPS tracking. This use has to be to aid another form of investigative method. For example: to aid in covert surveillance. Car GPS Tracking cannot be the only form of investigative method''.
Each case is specific, and the use of this type of service will change from case-to-case.
Can a Private Investigator Hack Into a Phone, Computer, Social Media Account, Email Account, Etc.? No. David confirmed that most of the requests he gets are based on what people see on TV. “They think you can hack into anything. People want either their spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, maybe a business associate — they want their phones hacked into.” People have also asked to have Facebook accounts hacked into to see what kind of messages they are being sent, David says. “It predominantly comes down to hacking telephones and computers.”
Hacking a phone, computer, etc. is not legal, even if you know how to do it. And the only way it would be legal is if you had permission from the owner. “A private investigator, even if they had the skill set to hack into a cell phone to get records, texts, or other data, legally they can’t do that,” David says. Despite hacking not being a viable open - there are other ways, using for example HUMIT techniques.
Can a Private Investigator Get Bank Records? No. Some private investigators have fine-tuned skills to manipulate a variety of databases and know the ins and outs when it comes to accessing public records. However, bank records are protected. “A private investigator can’t get the bank account details or statements, or balances,” David said.
Again, whilst this is not usually an option, in some specific circumstances there may be some options available.
Give Watkins Ward Group a call, and speak to one of our specialist Senior Detectives. The call and advice is provided without any charge or obligation. We'll be able to offer you specific advice, based on the detail of your matter.
Call Us on: 0800 233 5711
David Atwood, Senior Detective, Dip.PI (QCF)(IAPCC)