A Private Detective Can’t…

This was written because shows like CSI and the antics of shady or criminal type private investigators have given regular people an incorrect picture of what can and can’t be done.

In our world, things are just plain right or they are wrong. And, when they are wrong, people can go to jail. No jail for me, thanks!

We can do a lot of things to gain information, physically protect people (executive protection/bodyguard), locate people, serve legal papers, conduct surveillance, and do background checks. However in most cases, in accordance with the law, a good, ethical, law abiding Private Investigator / Detective / P.I. / Private Eye simply cannot:


    Pull Evidence Out Of Thin Air

Our firm did almost round-the-clock surveillance on a man for the better part of two months. In that time he did not date, go to hotels, go to bars, drink at home (checked trash), pick up prostitutes, rob anyone, break into any houses, or do anything serious. In fact he went to work and came home every day like clockwork. He also went to church every Sunday and donated time every Wednesday at a soup kitchen. Now according to the client he drank heavily at bars on a regular basis and drove drunk. Clearly this was wrong.

In another case, we performed surveillance for a month and found nothing on the guy. Then one day, I happened to be driving by after testifying in court for an unrelated case and observed our target. He was at his house and doing all kinds of physical activity, without the arm braces he said were preventing him from being able to work. The message here is sometimes the evidence is not there no matter how much time you spend, and other times it just needs one more day.

Prove What We Can’t See

Prospective clients have asked:

  • Why can’t you get proof he smokes weed, in his house?
  • Why can’t you get proof they stole cash out of my safe, that I gave them the combination to and no there are no cameras?
  • Why can’t you prove he was drinking at a party? True story, a client (trying to find dirt on his son-in-law) asked us why we were unable to get photos of the target drinking at a party with another woman. The client’s wife found the pictures on Facebook and the client was not happy we did not.  One reason is we were at the house surveilling the scene, but the party was a closed party, in a house, with a small group of friends. Another reason is our investigators were not invited. As for the photos, we also are not Facebook friends with the son-in-law and his account is closed to non-friends.

Clients sometimes say here is money, find any dirt you can. My immediate response is always what if there is no dirt to find? It is a possibility. The other part to that is if your budget says 20 hours and the target does the dirt in the 24th hour and the 31st hour, we won’t be there to see it. The more time spent typically yields the most information.


   Break the Law

Pre-texting in some cases can be legal, but it will take too long to explain. However, bribing people for otherwise illegal information is against the law. Also obviously illegal would be things like murder, roughing someone up, trespassing, kidnapping, harassment or breaking pretty much all laws on behalf of the client. There are some specific law breaking requests we get a lot, which will follow below.

A close cousin to breaking the law is unethical behavior.

This could be running a background check on an individual and turning all the information over to a stalker or person that an investigator should know is a safety  risk. Selling information to the highest bidder, exposing legal client secrets, raising the normal price for a rich client would all be examples of unethical behavior.


(Easily) Do Surveillance Aone

Can surveillance be done on a person alone? In many cases yes. In many cases no. There are many variables to account for like bathroom breaks, natural tendencies to tire and not be focused, hunger, crowds, traffic, etc. As an example trying to follow someone from their house in a rural area is much harder simply because there are less places to hide, there are way more one lane roads and if trying to stay back to not be seen the chances of getting stopped at a light behind other cars is pretty good. Also, what if they go bar hopping? If an investigator follows into the 1st bar, they can’t follow into the 2nd and 3rd bar without raising the likelihood of being noticed. Optimally you want 3 or more cars for surveillance in order to ensure you can stay with the target. One in front of the target, one behind and one running parallel on another street out of sight. It’s a coordinated ballet almost when done right. No one goes to see a one person ballet because it doesn’t work well. Don’t get me wrong, we have been successful tailing someone through urban and rural areas with one investigator. Although it has typically been very tough and the person has typically been someone that does not look around. One person tailing another would never work on someone that is actively looking for a tail.


    Record a 3rd Party Conversation

Most state laws echo Federal Law which says a P.I. is prohibited from recording a conversation in public, from wiretapping or monitoring phone conversations. A large majority of states in the U.S. have laws that require at least one party to consent to their conversation being recorded. A small portion of states actually require that ALL parties consent. This is no different for law enforcement. However, Law Enforcement has the possibility of obtaining a search warrant to do so. A little caveat though is that a private investigator is allowed to listen in (not record) and write down a conversation that is taking place in public.

The same laws apply for video recording. If an investigator observes something happening in a public area or in public view, it can be video recorded. However, the inside of private property cannot be recorded through a window.

Work Without a License

Each state has their own laws for licensing private investigators. Some are very stringent and others are likely too lax. For instance California requires 6,000 hours of experience, some states require firearms training and some require prior law enforcement too. A very small handful of states have no state licensing but leave it to cities to do. Since this is being written for Michigan and the Great Lakes region, a license and insurance or bond is required.

What does licensing prove, sometimes nothing? However, in most cases it proves you’re getting someone who obeys the law, knows something about the field and will be of help to you. Don’t be afraid to ask about the investigator’s experience and training.


   Get Phone Records

It is legal for a private detective to determine what phone carrier is associated with a given phone number and even if a phone number belongs to a certain person. However, absent a court order phone records of calls, bills, texts, etc. are deemed private by the law and protected by both federal and state statutes.

Hack Devices

Watching the news or movies, we might know two things about hacking.

One, it is illegal and people go to prison.

Two, it is really hard to do without getting caught.

Each type of device carries with it their own issues in trying to hack them. You may want a private investigator who has the ability to hack, but you don’t want one that will actually do it.


    Get Financial Records

Acting for a client, a private investigator is legally able to identify a bank location for accounts associated with an individual. However, just like for phones, obtaining specific amounts in the accounts, transactions, etc. are considered against the law. Unless of course, by some wild chance, the account holder decided to give permission or a judge granted a court order. In the same vain, retirement accounts, IRA’s, etc. would all be protected. This also goes for a credit check which requires the targets permission.

Spouses, Ex-spouses, Business Partners, Attorneys or Other Types of Clients

When you call a private eye to ask for their help, don’t ask for the above services.Paladin Investigations & Protection stays within the law. Save us all some time explaining and more importantly save yourself a potential criminal conviction.

Hope this has helped someone and as always please keep Paladin Investigations & Protection in mind should you need help.

Call anytime 734-230-7177 or contact us 

 Thanks for your time!