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  • Writer's pictureMaddie Cohen

5 Things a Private Investigator Cannot Do

The benefits of hiring a private investigator (PI) are extensive.

PIs can help search for a person’s birth parents, check up on an owner’s business security, and locate a missing person. They accept a range of cases and can find lots of information within the confines of the law.

You heard us correctly. A private investigator must follow the law.

Here are five things a PI cannot do:

1. Impersonate law enforcement.

PIs cannot impersonate police officers. It would be illegal, for example, for private investigators to misrepresent themselves as law enforcement in order to access information. This means that in most states, PIs cannot wear a uniform or carry a badge. Even using a logo could create confusion (and would therefore be unethical).

2. Work without a license.

PIs must be licensed in order to work. Licensing requirements depend on the state, and additional requirements may be involved too. These requirements generally include passing an exam, logging a specific number of hours under a working PI, and passing a background check. Some PIs have a degree in law enforcement.

3. Trespass on private property.

While private investigators can certainly knock on doors or access public areas, trespassing is prohibited. Breaking and entering is not allowed. In addition, PIs cannot under any circumstances trespass in order to monitor their target. If they do end up accessing private property, they need to have the owner’s express permission.

4. Put a GPS tracker on a person’s car without permission.

Just like they cannot trespass onto private property, PIs cannot track a vehicle without the owner’s written consent. Regardless of who is driving the vehicle, the private investigator can only place a tracking device on a car with approval from the vehicle owner. This type of location monitoring without permission is 100% illegal.

5. Access protected personal information.

Private investigators cannot access a target’s medical records, social security number, or personal financial information without permission. This is meant to protect public privacy. Under certain circumstances, they may be able to source a social security number from an authorized database—but doing so illegally is forbidden.

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