Frequently Asked Questions
About Private Investigators
– FAQ –
What is the difference between a Private Investigator and a
Do I need a license to become a Private Investigator?
Where can I find the licensing requirements to
become a Private Investigator?
How can I become a Private Investigator?
Do you need to be former law enforcement to be a Private Investigator?
What related occupations would be beneficial in becoming a Private
How many women are Private Investigators?
What types of cases do Private Investigators work on?
Is it beneficial to attend a PI training program?
How much do Private Investigators really earn?
How many Private Investigators are there in the United States?
What are the skills need to become a successful Private Investigator?
What are the traits of a successful Private Investigator?
Do Private Investigators have police powers?
Do Private Investigators have access to government records?
Will a Criminal Justice degree help me become a Private Investigator?
How do I find a job as a Private Investigator?
What type of equipment do Private Investigators use?
What associations do Private Investigators belong to?
What types of books should I be reading to become a Private
Is there a difference between a Private Investigator and a Private Detective?
That depends on the state
private investigator licensing laws for your state. In many states,
the words ‘private investigator’ and ‘private
detective’ are interchangeable, but in some states there
actually is a difference in their accepted meaning. For example, in
New Jersey those who want to become a private investigator must adhere
to the licensing laws as detailed in the Private Detective
Act of 1939. The person who has the prerequisite investigative
experience is called the ‘qualifier’ and when the New Jersey
State Police Private Detective Unit issues the license, the qualifier
is actually classified as a Licensed
Private Detective. The
owner of a licensed detective agency may hire employees, who when properly
registered with the state licensing authority, the investigative employees
are classified as a Private Investigator.
Historically, the profession of non-law enforcement investigations started
back with Pinkerton in the late 1800’s. At that time the term “private
detective” was the formal name and the outfit they worked
for was called a “detective agency.” There
were many movies and books that began using the “private-eye” moniker
more and more. It was television starting in the 1974 with James Garner
in the Rockford Files that really brought the investigative
profession into the limelight. The show also had a major influence on
most people using the private investigator title. The P.I. title became
famous with the Magnum, P.I. television show featuring
Starting around 1960, many states did not want the public to confuse
a private detective with that of a police detective. There has been a
trend amongst many state licensing authorities and state investigative
associations to use the title ‘private investigator’ as compared
to ‘private detective’. In fact, many have actually taken
legal steps to stop using the “detective” title.
are the skills needed to become a successful Private Investigator?
Successful private investigators have tremendous common sense and quick
reasoning skills. These skills can make the difference between success
and failure on a case as well as getting hurt or staying safe. I have
found that a variety of skills are much better than a single specialty.
Having journalist or business skills are actually more important than investigative
skills. Even if you are a great at a particular specialty, unless you
know how to market yourself and acquire clients, you will never financially
succeed as a private investigator.
What are the traits of a successful Private
The traits of a successful private investigator include patience, discipline,
common sense, intuition, anticipation, focus, the ability to listen,
to ability to always welcome constructive criticism, and to continuously
seek to further your education in a variety of areas.
Do Private Investigators have police powers?
Even though the State Police, Department of Public Safety, or the Secretary
of State licenses most private investigators, a PI has no more police
powers than the average citizen. In most states a PI license only permits
the private investigator the privilege to loiter.
Do Private Investigators have access
to government records?
Having a private investigator’s license does allow you access
to several proprietary databases that are not available to the general
public. These include data aggregators such as:
associations do Private Investigators belong to?
There are scores of state, regional, national, and international private
investigator associations. A detailed list can be found at the PI
Magazine website. You should consider joining the PI association for
the state you reside in as well as USAPI– the
United States Association of Professional Investigators, www.usapi.org.
This is a great organization to join with a long list of membership benefits.
They also offer a student membership as well as an associate membership
for those working towards becoming a licensed private investigator.