From the business perspective you can find it hard to say "no" to client when discussing a potential investigation. It is important to know your limits and respond accordingly. As an experienced investigator you have, or will, receive that call to consider an investigation. An investigation that may be beyond your level of expertise, or capabilities.
So how can you still say "yes" to an investigation, when your resources and capabilities are limited?
Start by identifying your weak points, areas where you may not have the required expertise, or for times when you have a heavy case load then, prepare in advance.
By identifying partners with the necessary skills and expertise, establishing agreements in advance, and offering your services in return, you can expand your investigative offerings. This will put you in a position to accept almost any investigation at times you have a heavy workload, or the investigation requires skills you do not have.
Investigators often ask, "When should I update the surveillance equipment I use in the field?"
Well, if you are a techno-nerd like I am, "You should update it monthly!!!!"
Seriously though, this is a serious question that deserves an answer.
There are a few clues to determine when to update your surveillance equipment.
When is the best time to upgrade? Other than the reasons above.
It's tough to let go of your video equipment. Chances are you've spent hours upon hours together. But consider upgrading your equipment before your existing equipment begins to fail. If your video equipment is 6 years or older and has experienced a lot of use consider shopping around. It's always better to purchase equipment at a time you choose, rather than rushing out and trying to replace it minutes before you begin your surveillance activities.
Don't throw away your older video camera if it's still working. Keep it in your go-bag as a back-up. (One investigator shared that he was confronted by a spouse he was surveilling. The man demanded his camera. He quickly pulled out is old video camera and handed it to him, then filmed him with his new video camera destroying the old one:-)
Your equipment is an investment in your profession. Failing to get the right video because of faulty, or soon to be faulty video equipment will not get you a call back from the client. Take a look at your equipment, evaluate it's operation, and then decide when it is time to upgrade, at your convenience.
In every business there are hills and valley's. As a PI, you probably have experienced weeks of non-stop work, followed by periods of little to do. Have a plan for when business is slow:
Employers are conducting background investigations of potential employees on a more frequent basis than before. Ensuring employees are truthful in the information they provide the potential employer, avoiding potential civil liability from negligent hiring claims, to increasing the chances for the success of the employee in their position are all reasons approximately 70% of all employers conduct some type of background investigation or screening.
Private investigators often provide background investigation services for their clients as they have the expertise and experience in conducting interviews, verification of credential information, and providing written reports. As a private investigator conducting background investigations there are steps you need to take. Following are a few critical steps:
As a private investigator conducting background investigations for private employers you need to ensure that you comply with all laws to protect you and the client. Conducting background investigations that follow the same format, gather the same information, that comply with all laws, are a must to protect your firm and your client.
The Internet, is a great place to begin a search for information, but there are pitfalls you always need to be aware of:
First, your client has probably completed an Internet search. It's too easy not too. Although you may find social media posts, links to stories posted, or other information, chances are it is not going to be new information. As a private investigator you are responsible for finding facts. Not all information found on the Internet is considered to be factual.
Second, you need to verify dates of information you find. The Internet stores information for years. Information posted two years ago that may contain a name or address can be dated. If you are looking to locate someone, it does provide a starting point, but you will need to verify the information you find to ensure it is up-to-date and accurate.
Third, much of the information you may find on the Internet may not be correct. Shocking right?! Depending on the subject of your investigation information may have been posted that is intentionally misleading. Further, you need to ensure it is the right person, right location, or right anything! Drive by a location - you may find it is a vacant lot, or mail drop, or it doesn't exist. Ans, there is nothing more embarrassing than providing results of an Internet search about an individual only to learn it is the wrong John or Jane Doe.
Fourth, you are a professional private investigator. You need to obtain, verify, and verify again any information you intend to provide as factual information. One good method is to verify any information you find by locating two additional, non-linked sources that points to the same information. Some call this the "Intelligence Triangle". NO, that does not mean finding the information on three different websites. Various websites obtain information from the same sources so you can find the same information in several locations, but it will probably be from the same source. (If you use a paid online information source for your information - read the disclaimers. The information you pay for is not verified or considered accurate by itself.)
Fifth, you are being paid for your expertise, which includes good old fashioned investigative work. Interviews, surveillance, and obtaining court or other public records still remain as your primary, tried and true, investigative methods. Don't shortcut your investigation relying solely on information you have obtained from the Internet.
Again, the Internet can be a great source for information to assist you in starting your investigation. As you can see in the pitfalls above, verification of any information is critical. You either observe it first hand, verify via unrelated and reliable sources, which requires great investigative work. If you provide the information to your client, make sure it is accurate, and factual.
There are many ways, or formats for private investigators to write reports. Here is a brief description of one format that may be helpful to investigators to add to their report writing toolbox:
Overall, the format is simple. The report is divided into the sections of; Synopsis, Investigation, Interview(s), and Results.
1. Synopsis - is a brief summary of the investigation. It is written after the conclusion of the investigation, similar to an executive summary. For example;
Investigator conducted four hours surveillance of John Doe over two days. On day one, Doe was seen playing soccer with several subjects at a park near his home. On the second day, Doe was seen cutting down trees with a chain saw, then spitting wood with axe by raising above his head and striking the wood. He was seen loading the wood in his truck by hand, picking it up and throwing it into the bed of his pickup truck. This information was videoed by the investigator.
2. Investigation - This section begins on the second page of the report. It is a narrative about the investigation conducted by the investigator. For example;
Investigator received Doe's residence information from client. A drive by of the residence was conducted where photo's of a male in the driveway were taken. Photo's were provided to client to verify identity of the male as John Doe. Investigator conducted two days of surveillance on March 1 & 2, 2014, using a Canon D-2000 camera/video recorder. Video and photo's were saved to a micro sd card labeled Doe-March 2014, C#:14-03-00234. Video and photo's were provided to the client on March 8, 2014.
3. Interview(s) - Each interview is listed by name, date, and location. Here is an example:
Mary Adams, Client - 9:00am February 12, 2014 at Adams, Adams, & Logan Law Offices, 123 Main Street, Williamsburg, Virginia.
Client stated that Doe was currently on leave from work due to injuries. Nature of injuries was not provided to the investigator. Client indicated they suspected that Doe was not injured and wanted investigator to conduct surveillance of Doe for 4 hours over a period of two days. The days of the week for the surveillance to be conducted were provided by the Client based on information she had received from a confidential source.
4. Results - Any additional information, specifics about observations and/or the results of interviews are written in a narrative format. It is an expansion of the Synopsis section.
Investigator conducted 4 hours of surveillance of which 3.5 hours were recorded on video. In addition, 16 photo's were taken of Doe during the surveillance. This report was completed and delivered to Client on March 8, 2014 with the micro sd card of photo's and video, see attached receipt. During the surveillance, investigator witnessed Doe lifting items, wood, estimated to weigh approximately 30 pounds, use an axe by extending above his head and bringing it down on the wood with enough force to split it. In addition, Doe was observed running, kicking a soccer ball, and then later jogging for approximately 15 minutes over an estimated distance of 3/4's of a mile.
This simple method of formatting a written report makes it easy for the client to reference, and locate information quickly. For the investigator, it ensures that all information is included in the report.
Many experienced investigators will tell you that experience is critical to your success as a private investigator. Experience provides valuable learning lessons. Often, lessons that are learned from mistakes made in the field. But is experience enough?
Those who have been in the profession for a while will tell you, emphatically, "No". Continuing education/training is important to private investigators. Training helps you shortcut, and speed up your work processes. Learning new techniques, refreshing your knowledge of fundamentals, reduces errors you may make in the field, improving the quality of your work, which results in increased client satisfaction. Remember that the best advertising you can ever get is word of mouth...it's free, and best of all, convincing for a new client.
Think of continuing education as an opportunity to refresh your knowledge, return to the basic fundamentals, while learning new processes or procedures. Often, courses are built on the experience of several investigators with years of experience. What better way to learn than from the mistakes of others without experiencing the growing pains yourself!
At ProPIAcademy, we promote continued learning. Not just in industry specific topics that we offer, but we encourage all of our students to continue their education in other topics such as; learning tips and tricks for using common software such as Microsoft Office or Google Apps; studying how to grow a business through marketing and advertisement; budgeting; and other topics that will improve your ability to accomplish your job tasks.
So how do you choose what to learn about?
1. Learning should result in actual real-life application - In other words, you should be able to apply what you have learned in the field or in the office.
2. It should make your work easier - Ever struggle with formatting a document in a word processing program? Spent hours trying to get margins aligned or paste graphics in a document? Then look for learning opportunities that will help you improve those skills to save you time when completing the next report. Streamline your processes to not only save time, but to provide you with more satisfaction in doing a great job.
3. Build your business opportunities - As a private investigator it is about helping others, but it also includes the bottom line - Getting paid, and being profitable. Saving time in completing your tasks saves you money, and you can also learn about new business offerings.
Consider that continuing your education is an opportunity to improve your skills, increase your knowledge, and ultimately, build and streamline your business processes and procedures to save you time and money.
Still not convinced? Consider that spending a few hours refreshing your knowledge, or learning a new skill can translate in thousands of hours of business opportunities. Often an investment in one hour of learning can translate into increased profits!
Over time we can forget to use the basic fundamentals of private investigations, or step around them in an effort to save time. Private investigators that stick to the basics are the most successful, and often reach the conclusion in the same amount of time as someone trying to take a few shortcuts.
Following are a few reminders of the basics that will ensure you are conducting a proper investigation:
"Listen" to this young person talk about listening and how to do it!
You have developed your investigative technique over a period of time. You know what works and what doesn't yield the best results. Take time to review these basics of investigations and ensure you are implementing them in your work.
A question was asked by a student in private investigations; "When is the investigation over?" Of course the obvious answer is when the facts are gathered that are required by the client. But, the upon further the discussion, the real question was "When do you stop the investigation that hasn't found the required facts?" Great question.
First, let's be clear. Private investigations is a business. It requires profit to make it a viable operation. Unlike law enforcement, private investigators rely on payments from their client's to conduct the investigation which includes compensating the investigator for their time.
Here a few ideas, suggestions to help determine when the investigation stops:
1. Evidence required for the scope of the investigation has been collected, and you are within the agreed time constraints of your contract - In an infidelity investigation you project 12 hours surveillance. In the first three hours you collect enough evidence for the client to prove their case. Although there should be discussion to determine if the client wants you to continue, in many cases, you work will have concluded, even though you did not expend the full amount of time agreed upon. A professional private investigator, if agreed upon by the client, will cease the investigation at that time and bill for the expended hours.
2. When the money runs out, or the agreed time spent on the investigation has been reached - Let's reverse the example we used before. You are conducting an infidelity investigation. You have conducted surveillance for the agreed time of 12 hours. No results. The contract agreement has been reached and it is time to cease the investigation. Of course you will discuss with your client if they want to extend the terms of the contract for the investigation to continue, but it is concluded at that point.
3. When you encounter an "Unfounded" conclusion - In criminal investigations, you may find through your investigation that a crime may not have been committed. For example; missing funds are the result of sloppy bookkeeping, or you know you will not be able to identify a suspect with the evidence available. It is time to meet with the client and share what you have found, or not found, and cease the investigation.
4. When it doesn't feel just right - The toughest to determine, but all investigators have or will encounter that investigation where "something isn't quite right." Maybe you suspect a spouse of using you to stalk an ex-spouse, or there could be immoral reasons the client has engaged you in an investigation. It's often best to cease the investigation immediately, even at the risk of losing money.
5. When the client says so - Seasoned investigators have embarked on an investigation. Then after a short time, before the investigation is fully underway, they've been contacted by the client asking them to stop. They may have second thoughts, or financial challenges have arisen. Of course, when the client says stop, you stop.
It can be a difficult decision to cease an investigation, primarily when it hasn't been concluded. As a private investigator, you are in a business, and continuing investigations beyond a certain point will begin to erode your bottom line, which is your paycheck and your co-workers.
Your time is limited, and your client expects quick results from your surveillance. The clock is ticking. How can you maximize your time to get the most out of your surveillance when time counts? Following are a few tips from a few masters of surveillance:
1. Spend time planning. Seems simple, but it is one of the tasks that investigators fail to do well. They rush out to conduct surveillance only to find several hours wasted as their target sit's at home, or at work. Set a schedule for the most opportune times.
2. Interview your client to create a schedule. Identify work times, home times for infidelity cases, and when do they think the individual is more apt to be worth surveilling. This will vary depending on your investigation type. Infidelity cases can often be narrowed down as the client has direct knowledge of the target's schedule. Injury claim cases will require more time and there is limited information about their schedules.
3. Encourage your client to notify you of schedule changes, or changes in habits where and when possible. This information will help you maximize your surveillance time.
4. Get help! Having two investigators will help you cover more times of the day as well as switching off to reduce the chances of being caught. This is important with rural area surveillance as it will be easier for the target to identify you if you are working alone. Remember: Someone who knows they are being followed will probably change their activities to look innocent!
5. Make sure your recording equipment is charged, functioning properly and ready. Have back-ups in the event one fails. There's nothing worse than surveilling someone for hours only to miss the chance to get video when the recorder battery dies. One investigator shared that she spent hours waiting for the target and his girlfriend to emerge from a motel only to find her video recorder wouldn't work properly because of a software malfunction.
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