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Baker Street Station

You Can Conduct Your Own Investigation... Sometimes

The allure of a private detective is sometimes too much for one to resist. The mystique and challenges seem alluring and downright intriguing. There is something to a mystery we all seem to love. That is why some have decided to become a private investigator in the first place, I know it is why I became a private investigator ––and I still get the fizz from solving cases.

How can you solve some of your own private investigative matters? Well, I am going to share some principals that us licensed private investigators follow and you too can follow them to help you unvcover what you need to know. One of the first things you need to know in conducting your own private investigations is to get organized. The second thing is to follow the leads. And, the third thing you can do is stay on track ––don’t create multiple sidebars of activity.

Let’s discuss how all this comes together.

Get Organized When It’s Time For You to Be Your Own Detective

Getting organized is the fundamental building block to successful private investigation. Many private detectives and investigators start with a consultation. So, step into the shoes of being a private citizen investigator and start with the consultation, even though this is an introspective consultation, you can still role play it out. Here are some fundamentals to consider in the consultation:

  • Who? - Who exactly is involved. Stay succinct and keep to the facts.

  • What ? - What occurred, took place or what do you think happened. Keep it factual.

  • When? - Do you know when it occurred? If not, don’t make it up, maintain integrity of the matter.

  • Where? - Are you aware of where it took place?

  • Why? - Sometimes this is tough to answer, but you can place a small amount of conjecture here.

  • How? - Another tough one, because investigator may be hired for that very same question.

Stay with me here, it is very important to go through these steps ––it is part of private investigators work to establish what is exactly known, and you too should follow the consultative process.

Getting Organized ––What Type of Case Is It?

Now that you have given yourself a consultation, and hopefully taken succinct notes, let’s now define what type of matter you are dealing with. Is it:

  • Infidelity

  • Background Check

  • Missing Person

  • Divorce Issue

  • Child Custody Issue

  • Criminal Justice Matter

  • Insurance Fraud

  • Computer or Device Forensics

  • Locate a Person

  • Due Diligence

I want you to define the matter so you have a more clear picture of what you are dealing with. Putting it into a category will then help you consider what approach is right and what tools may be needed to carry out your investigation.

Write down what type of case this is in your mind, such as: INFIDELITY. Write it in big capital letters at the top of your consultation notes.

Getting Organized ––What If I Have Multiple Angles?

Sometimes cases involving multiple types of investigations can skew the investigative process. But as a junior investigator, try to find a focus area that can help solve a case little-by-little. If you were to hire a private investigator, they would likely do the same. Find the focus and then create sub-categories that may or may not be important.

Many investigators work this way. If you were to hire our private detective agency, we would identify the key issue or matter and then look to see if they branches (sub-issues) have any merit as we start down the main issue’s path.

Create a Mind Map

I encourage you to create a mind map. There are many programs out there that you can easily find and create everything on this mind map. It will help you visualize the investigation process and allow you to fill in gaps, easily and even more organized than hand written notes.

Don’t create your mind map until you have the notes ready from your consultation. It will give you enough information to create the map and start to visualize the matter at hand.

Getting Your Documents Together

Not only do you need to start to gather information, but you need to take what you may already have in the form of documents organized. On your mind map, I want you to create a “Documents” tree and list everything you have. It may look like this:


3 Emails of harassment

1 Police report

1 Voicemail - saved

1 Witness statement

1 Note from perpetrator

What ever your case is, a documents list will help separate fact from fiction. Clear documentation usually works to help get law enforcement involved (when necessary) and other legal documents will help your attorney to gather evidence that is useful to substitute what you have already provided.

What If I Have Only Conjecture?

Conjecture is defined as an opinion based on guesswork. Let’s say for example: You have an errant husband whom you feel is being unfaithful. The facts are as follows:

  • He comes home late each night

  • He smells of alcohol

  • One time I smelled the hint of perfume

  • He now locks his phone

  • He takes his phone into the bathroom

  • He has taken weekend trips away from the family

Your conjecture is that your husband is likely having an affair, and if all these things are happening, you are probably correct.

Add to your mind map these bullet points under “CONJECTURE”. I would also date each issue separately so that you can look for patterns.

Private Investigators Work Tools

I will call how we perform our work as “tools”, because that is what they are. Much like a hammer has the job of driving a nail into wood, a private detective may conduct surveillance to find if someone is exaggerating a claim, or cheating on their partner. A good investigator must find the right tool for the job. You wouldn’t use a jack hammer to pound a picture hanging hook into your living room wall ––would you?

So, if you are going to be your own private eye, it is good to examine what tools may be applicable to your project. Ask yourself these questions:

What is needed?

  1. What do I have legal access to?

  2. What do the States require?

  3. What does my lawyer say I need?

  4. What have I researched on what I need? (Be careful on what you find on the Internet for solutions)

We do the same for our private clients. One of the most common approaches to conducting investigations by many private investigators is to just throw surveillance as the measure needed. But, private investigators must do better than this. I receive dozens of calls a year where someone is seeking a second opinion on a matter and I here investigators often prescribe surveillance when it is not a sure thing.

Look for tools that will help you gain traction. As a P.I. I look for the low hanging fruit to help the case get built and then I fill in what answers may need additional structure.

It May End Here? Time To Hire a Private Investigator?

Why might you being the next Sherlock Holmes end here? Well, after examining what is available to you, you may decide that if it is only consumer grade, such as online background check sites, or online find people sites. You may have already used these consumer approved data sites, or you feel since it is open for everyone, that the subject you are looking for needs professional grade detective services.

Also, a client may feel overwhelmed by how big the issue is, or have limited time, experience (for certain) or creativity to continue the matter.

If it overwhelms you, hire a private investigator. Hiring a private investigator may also help build a case that is built with their good reputation, legal integrity and in an official capacity. Yes, you could represent yourself in court, but if you can afford an attorney, you are far better off having that attorney to represent your matter.

There are many reasons, at this point, you may want to hire a firm like mine. Whatever your reason, you are definitely better off hiring investigation agencies to work on your matter and that can testify in court, if need be.

Let’s Keep Going ––You Still Want To Be an Unofficial Private Detective

Okay, so you aren’t yet persuaded away from conducting your own investigation. You don’t have the education requirements, law enforcement official experience, haven’t been through a justice program but are still not ready to hire investigators and want to collect evidence and obtain information in order to solve your own matter.

I want to now talk about how we do things, I cannot advocate that you do them the same, but you may find a work around to your situation. Or, you may decide, it is better to hire a PI for your particular case.

Legalities, Ethics and Morals

Yes, private investigators abide by these fundamentals that determine if we will conduct and investigation. You should too!

You have done your own personal consultation, you have gathered and organized your documents, listed your conjecture and created a mind map. Great job!

Let’s now look at some legalities and ethics a private investigator must examine before taking on a case. You will want to also look at these with even more scrutiny because you have no legal license.

  1. Will I legally obtain information? Hiring a hacker to break into your business partners computer, is not legal, nor is it ethical. A private investigator would clearly document the right to do this and would likely even partner with your corporate counsel if you hired us to do such an investigation. You also cannot do things like hacking computers, use false pretenses to obtain banking information or other sensitive information.

  2. Is it legal for me to conduct surveillance? We can’t say you are not allowed to be in public places. Because, just like you, private investigators are private citizens and we collect information in public spaces. But, because you are not licensed (likely your friend is not either) you could be charged with stalking and harassment.

  3. Can I get financial records? No. If your name is not associated with the account, you cannot. However, you can gather things that may help your matter from your own home and present those to your legal counsel or our firm to review and give us clues as to how we may best help your investigation.

  4. Can I break into a building? No. You nor a licensed private investigator is legally allowed to enter a home or office to collect information. This is called breaking and entering.

  5. You cannot inflict bodily harm on someone. This should go without saying, but I have been asked to do some crazy stuff.

  6. You cannot send threatening messages in any format. In fact, don’t speak to the subject of investigation at all. Hire a professional if you need to speak or interview someone.

Here Comes The Nitty Gritty ––How To Find Out If My Partner Is Cheating?

Okay, so you have read this far, and still want to conduct your own investigation, perhaps it is into a cheating spouse. Let’s discuss that for a moment.

You have all the alert signals such as the proverbial lipstick on the collar, coming home late, and making a million excuses? Okay, assuming that is the case there are a few things you can do to look into this further.

First, I recommend you look at anything coming into the home, such as mail. Look to see if there are any changes to banks, look for out new brokerage accounts, or maybe something you have never seen, perhaps a utility bill for a lovers pad somewhere. You may just glean some really telling information. We have literally had clients who received utility bills because the big dummy used his home address to receive the bill for his secret lovers hideaway.

Next, I want you to test them. Send your partner a picture of you (perhaps one that he/she may think is sexy) from earlier in the day or the day before. Then tell them you want to see the pic, and ask them to access their phone. They may hem and haw about it, but what you want to see is if they have it in their camera roll, and if they do, perhaps they duck the phone away from your view to open the photo then show you the photo of you. Then ask if you can see it, if they say no, and put their phone away….they are hiding something!

Also, I want you to look at the history of any shared computers. Or, any devices in your home you have access to. Look at all the search history. If there is none, they may have deleted it.

Depending upon legalities in your local jurisdiction (follow the laws) you can put a GPS tracker on their vehicle. This is actually the most telling of all the possibilities. In fact, we do not even conduct marital surveillance anymore. We tell our clients, when legal, and where legal, to put a GPS tracker so that they can monitor it over time. Then, they can bring the intelligence to us to analyze things like addresses, who lives there, etc.

GPS trackers contain a wealth of intelligence and can be discreetly placed on the vehicle you are both registered owners to. You will know if your partner has gone outside a certain predetermined area, where they stopped, how long they stopped, and more!

Another Popular Investigation ––How To Locate a Person

There are many ways to locate people. However, we will keep it simple. Depending on who you are locating and why you are locating them, will depend on the outcome of using online people search websites.

Why You Are Locating a Person

If you are locating a schlub who ran off with your business assets, it is not likely that you will find them on one of these people finding sites. You will likely need to employ a private investigator. If the person has a reason to be hiding, it is far more likely that the private investigator will have to deploy several advanced tactics to find the individual.

Who You Are Locating

Again the why and the who are important. Who you are looking for is part-and-parcel to the why. If it is your aunt Edna, then I recommend the following:

  • Facebook



  • and any one of the people finder websites online

If the person is older or has lived a very stable life (like 10+ years in one location) then there is a greater chance you will locate the person using an online source.

Become a Private Investigator

Many people want to become private investigators. You could also embark on that journey should your desire be strong enough. Investigators conduct a plethora of investigation activities and services. I could write about this all day, but I wanted to give you a framework on which to begin a private investigation. Investigator’s must be organized.

You don’t need a bachelors degree in criminal justice to become an investigator. Legal investigators come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some have journalism degrees, some were police officers. Others worked in corrections and others have started in agencies and built up their knowledge and hours.

You can obtain a license based on experience and education. Most states requirements stat that you need to have 6,000 hours of continuous employment (3 years) to sit for your exam. There are common types of investigations, such as surveillance and that may be a good starting point for you. Also, your testimony may need to be presented in court, and doing that once or twice helps you to understand how the judicial system works.

Becoming a private investigator is signing up for constant education. You will learn from each case you perform.

In Closing

I have emphasized the importance of being organized. This is the first priority in any investigation. I allocate approximately $400 at a minumum to a clients case for that alone. We need to have things organized and ready to begin our work.

Next, we talked about legalities, ethics and moral considerations. Just because you have everything laid out, doesn’t mean you should investigate your own matter. Consider carefully if you can finish something you start and how it will impact your matter if you are the investigator, the attorney or any other professional capacity that you represent yourself as.

Finally, we talked briefly about how you can look into a couple common investigations.

Tread lightly, conducting an investigation may harm your case, especially if it is a legal case. Consult with an attorney and I wish you the best in your endeavors.

If you would like to know anything more about a specific investigative technique, then please let me know in the comments.


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