Information you collect from interviews, documents, and your investigative logs are the foundation of your work product. As a private investigator you are not immune to data losses that may occur accidentally or as the result of a criminal act. Further, the information you collect is private and belongs to your client. As a private investigator you must protect your digital and hard-copy information.
Protecting Hard-Copy Data
You collect documents, and other forms of paper information for use in your cases. In many cases, these documents are evidence for the case. Here are a few tips to protect these hard-copy, paper documents:
* Make working copies - Using your scanner or copier, make copies of the original documents. Once complete, seal the documents in sealed envelopes, (writing identifying information on the envelope before placing the documents inside), then store them safely and securely. You can use the copies for your investigative file as you work the case. You can make notes, highlight information, etc. on your working copies making it easier to find information you need.
* Store in secure manner - Originals should be stored in a lockable, fire-proof filing cabinet or safe. Fire-proof, lockable storage is not inexpensive, but when you consider the protection afforded the investment is well worth it. Also, the cabinet or safe should be stored in a secured room for extra protection. Not only do these cabinets protect the documents, they also help maintain your chain-of-custody when you keep a log to show when the room and cabinet was accessed and by whom.
Protecting Digital Data
Chances are you are using a lot of digital data in the form of electronic documents, photo's, video's, etc. Loss of this data can cripple your investigative efforts. Protecting your digital data is more important than ever. Consider these tips:
* Secure Online Storage - Several years ago we would not have considered storing digital information online. Secure, online data storage, or "in the cloud", has become a preferred method for private investigators today. Several companies offer secure cloud storage solutions. With criminals changing their tactics on a daily basis, using a secure online data storage service ensures there is someone protecting your data around the clock. Most importantly, your data is maintained in the event you have a hardware failure. Ever turn your computer on and it never boots up?
* Working Copies - Depending on your investigation you will want to make working copies. This is easily done in hard-copy or by creating a copy for your use while working the case. (Remember, every time you access a document it is time/date stamped.) For emails and documents make a pdf copy that you work from, make notes, etc.
* Two-step authentication processes - Of course if your password is compromised or an employee clicks on one of those phishing emails, all of your digital information could be at risk. Two-step authentication protects your email, and data (if you select the right service) from phishing scams, or if your password is compromised. You can purchase security keys that protect your accounts from phishing scams.
As a private investigator you are responsible for securing hard-copy and digital evidence, protecting it from tampering or inadvertent loss. This has become so important that we train our investigators in data protection methods to include secured storage, enforcing strong passwords, and using two-step authentication with security keys.
Invest some time, and yes, money, to protect your documents and digital data.
There is a difference between being a “good” private investigator and being the “best”. Often students ask the question, what does it take to the best? The first response is, “You must be honest, trustworthy, motivated, and creative”, among other traits. But these are the baseline, or foundational traits required for all investigators. The real question is, “What separates the best investigators from the good ones?”
Here are my thoughts:
In our training for private investigators we teach them how to take effective notes during interviews, conducting surveillance and conducting document research. We teach a few different note taking techniques to allow the investigator to adapt to the situation and their own preferred method.
Why is note taking so important? Notes identify facts, track evidence, improve your memory of information received, and they serve as the basis for your final report.
An experienced investigator commented; "With an empty notebook about the investigation I have nothing."
Here are some techniques to refresh your note taking skills:
Developing and maintaining your note taking skills as a private investigator is critical to your success. It only takes a little time and is invaluable to your investigation.
Some of our students have asked the question, "When working a case where an attorney is involved on behalf of another party, who is the private investigator's client?"
Great question and the quick answer is "Your client -- the one that is paying you." Of course that does not always answer the question satisfactorily depending on the circumstances. Actually the better question is; "How does a private investigator work with multiple client's, or when there are two needs that are potentially in conflict?"
Consider this case study:
Investigator is contracted by an attorney for an infidelity case. Attorney's client, the "spouse-client", calls the investigator and shares information that may be helpful in scheduling surveillance, but the attorney disagrees. The spouse has received a call from a friend that says his wife is meeting her alleged boyfriend tomorrow night at a restaurant.
The easy response for the investigator is to follow the instructions of the attorney as they hold the contract and that may be the only answer as working outside of the contract could place the investigator in a situation where they will not be paid. Of course, there may be a missed opportunity in identifying, or not identifying, potential infidelity on the part of the spouse.
What would you do?
Click the Read More link below to learn what the investigator actually did in this case.
Disclaimer: This is an opinion, specific to privately owned vehicles or privately owned devices, and should not be viewed as legal advice....read on.
Use of GPS by private investigators to track a target for surveillance is a great tool and there are many opportunities where it can facilitate an investigation. As a private investigator you must consider all of the potential challenges when deploying GPS tools in the field for investigations involving privately owned devices or vehicles.
When considering the use of GPS we have compiled a few considerations before you deploy it in the field:
Use of GPS will continue for awhile to be controversial in legal proceedings as well as in the public eye, with or without guiding laws. As a private investigator you must protect your business, yourself from potential civil litigation or criminal charges. Consider the alternatives, then get legal advice.
All experienced private investigators know that when you get a confession the case is not over. As one investigator said, "There are still a lot of rocks to turn over".
The key, that once a confession is obtained, don't stop your investigation. The suspect can always recant their statements, or refuse to testify in court.
Successful private investigations work relies on knowledge, skills, abilities, and training. There are times that creativity is a critical part of the investigative process. Here are few creative ways that private investigators can find successful conclusions to difficult situations and investigations:
These are just a few creative ways to reach a successful conclusion in an investigation where creativity played a crucial role. When you encounter a difficult situation, take time to think of creative solutions.
Whether you have been in the private investigations for a long time or are just starting out, the services contract is the most important document you have to protect your business. Here is a short list of key items to include in your contract in addition to having a legal professional review it for you:
Taking the time to develop a contract in clear, simple and concise terms will protect you and your client. Including the items above, at a minimum, will help you develop your contract and prepare for challenges that may arise during your investigation.
The interview of witnesses, victims, and suspects is the primary service of private investigators. Excellent interview techniques are what separates a good private investigator from a great one. Gathering statements, digging deeper through an interview to get to the facts takes time in research, conducting the interview, and verifying statements.
Here are some tips from private investigators with excellent interview skills:
Being a great interviewer takes practice. Before each interview review the key steps such as developing rapport, opening statements, open ended questions use, closing statements. This will help you focus on the interview, the information you need, and analyzing the information you receive.
Private investigations is not always about the money, the bottom line. There are several ways that you can become more involved in your community.
Here are a few ideas:
All of these tips have a common theme - Showing concern for others. Chances are you could do all of these things and never receive one case, but what a great way to help others.
Pro PI staff
Experienced professionals and trainers.