Are Private Investigators Legal? [Capabilities & Limitations]

Do you wonder if private investigators are legal? Well, the answer is yes.

Private investigators are hired for a number of reasons, ranging from finding someone or digging up info. However, there are legal limitations to what he or she is permitted to do in every jurisdiction.

In this article, I will talk about private investigators, why people hire them, what they are legally allowed to do and what is not legal.

Let’s get started.

Who is a private investigator?

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A private investigator, also known as a Private detective, is one who gathers and verifies facts for a case.

Private investigators also provide expertise in areas where verification is needed, such as insurance fraud or even investigating investment groups.

Is the use of private investigators legal?

Yes, it is.

The act of hiring a private detective to work on a case for you does not violate any laws. However, there are certain conducts or activities the detective cannot engage in that is in violation of the law.

Why do people hire private investigators?

There are a number of reasons people look for the service of a private investigator. Some of these reasons are;

1. Locating someone

Private investigators are hired to help locate someone who was declared missing or simply in hiding.

They can also help find someone who is in debt or kidnapped. They do this by picking up clues in order to decipher the target’s whereabouts.

2. Locating properties

In cases of divorce, private investigators are hired to help locate or just to learn more about the property the other person owns.

They go as far as unraveling properties the other person once owned, still owns, or is trying to purchase.

3. Collecting evidence

In civil cases, private investigators are used for gathering information or evidence about the other party.

While in divorce cases, they are used to gather evidence of whether the other party is faithful.

In cases of child abuse or custody case, they are used to gather evidence to support a claim in court.

4. Run background checks

People also hire private detectives to run a background check on an individual or group. This could be because the client suspects foul play or just to know more about someone.

In some cases, they are used by clients to confirm or investigate investment groups. This is done in order to know if such a group is legit or if they have a license to operate in that jurisdiction.

SEE: Types Of Background Check

5. Assisting lawyers

Private investigators are also used by civil lawyers or criminal defense lawyers. They help in gathering more evidence about a case or a client.

For example, if a lawyer suspects a victim who claims to have suffered an injury is lying, he or she uses the investigator to verify.

They gather information to either support the claim or to prove that the victim is lying.

SEE: What’s It Like Being A Lawyer?

6. Investigate potential internet fraudsters

You can also seek the service of a private investigator to investigate someone you met online. That is if you suspect that he or she might be trying to extort or defraud you.

SEE: How To Spot Online Fraud

6. Personal service

Many people hire private investigators for other personal services.

For example, if you feel you are being watched or followed, you can seek an investigator’s help. This way, he does his own research to discover if your life is in danger.

What is a private investigator legally and not legally allowed to do?

Now that you know who a private investigator is and why people seek their services, let’s see what they can do and their limitations.

What private investigators can do

1. Conduct surveillance

Private investigators are legally allowed to perform surveillance at any time of the day. This involves stakeouts and using different research tools to gather evidence.

2. Work undercover or impersonate someone

They are also allowed to work undercover or pose as someone else in order to get more information. These undercover operations may include posing as a worker, neighbor, or old associate.

3. Search record

Private investigators are also allowed to search public records in order to gather more information. They can gather information from aliases, former co-workers, or former neighbors or spouses.

4. Follow their target

They are allowed to follow their target in order to gather more information about their activities. This is usually done discretely, although many investigators don’t feel the need to follow their targets.

SEE: Top Spy Skills You Can Learn

5. Take pictures of the target

In the process of gathering evidence, they are allowed to take pictures of their target, who they interact with, and where they are.

SEE: What Can Social Workers Do And Can’t Do?

Legal limitations of a private investigator

1. Impersonating a law enforcement agent

While they are allowed to run undercover operations, they are prohibited from impersonating a law enforcement agent. This includes putting on a police uniform or carrying a police badge.

They are also prohibited from telling people that they are enforcement agents when doing their interviews.

2. Arrest a target

They are also prohibited by the law from arresting any of their targets. This is because their mission is solely to gather information or verify them.

3. Wiretapping a target’s phone

Federal law prohibits private investigators from wiretapping a target’s phone calls without their consent.

Also, they are not allowed to bug the target’s house in order to gather information.

4. Trespass

In the means of gathering information, private investigators are not allowed to trespass into private properties. They are also not allowed to break into the target’s house for any reason.

However, if he gets permission from the owner of the property, he is permitted to enter. This is mostly applicable to divorce cases when both parties still reside in the same house.

5. Accessing information illegally

While they are allowed to search public records, they are prohibited from doing it illegally. This involves breaking into record rooms or hacking government databases.

They are only allowed to get information through normal means such as online searches and social media.

SEE: How To Check If A Soldier Is Real By Checking Online

What do you do if you find a private investigator in violation of the law?

If you find a private investigator to be in violation of the law, simply contact your lawyer. These violations give you the right to seek a lawsuit against him or her.

If the lawyer can gather enough evidence on it, he or she can bring the evidence before the court.

SEE: What To Do If You Find A Probation Officer In Violation Of The Law


Can private investigators stalk you?

Technically, they are allowed to follow their target in order to get more information.

Are private investigators supposed to carry badges?

No, they aren’t.

They are prohibited by federal laws from carrying a badge or even wearing any official police uniform.

Are private investigators cops?

No, they are not.

Although most of them are former law enforcement agents, they are not cops and cannot arrest you.

Can private investigators access criminal records?

Yes, they can.

However, if this information is deemed confidential by the government, then they are not allowed to access them.

Can private investigators carry guns?

No, they can’t.

Only if they possess an official license to carry a gun.

Conclusion: Are private investigators legal?

Yes, they are legal.

Private investigators are hired by individuals or organizations dealing with civil or criminal matters.

They are legally allowed to perform a number of tasks in order to acquire information. However, there are limitations to what they are allowed to do.

If you find anyone in violation of the law, do well to report it to your lawyer, with evidence if there are any.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article, if you did, you should also see what a probation officer can and not do.

Thanks for reading.