Frequently Asked Questions
About Private Investigators

What is the difference between a Private Investigator and a Private Detective?

There really is no difference- it is a matter of semantics and whether the term “investigator” or “detective” is used depends on the licensing laws for the state in which you reside. 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. In Virginia you can call yourself either an Investigator or a Detective. However, 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. A person who has the prerequisite investigative experience is called a “qualifier”. When the New Jersey State Police Private Detective Unit issues the license, the “qualifier” is classified as a Licensed Private Detective. When an owner of a licensed detective agency employs a “licensed qualifier” that person is 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 with was called a “detective agency.” There were many movies and TV shows that began using the “private-eye” moniker more often.  Starting in 1974, television shows like the Rockford Files and Magnum P.I. really brought the investigative profession into the limelight.

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 in many state licensing authorities and investigative associations to use the title “private investigator” as opposed to “private detective”. In fact, many states have actually taken legal steps to stop using the “detective” title.

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?

Sign up for P.I. Training at INSIGHT Investigations: http://insightinvestigations.info/training/

Do you need to be former law enforcement to be a Private Investigator?


What related occupations would be beneficial in becoming a Private Investigator?
Law enforcement, Security, or Researcher.

How many women are Private Investigators?

The number of female private investigators is continuing to rise with an estimated 15% share of the approximate 60,000 private investigators in the United States. There is no official record providing an exact number of women licensed or working as private investigators. However, the increasing number of women attending state association investigative conferences seems to confirm these numbers.

What types of cases do Private Investigators work on?

Private investigators perform an extremely wide range of investigative services. While most people automatically think that a PI only handles marital infidelity cases, those cases actually represent a very small portion of a PI’s caseload. The following is a brief list of the many categories that PI’s specialize in or areas they may conduct investigations:
Accident Reconstruction
Alimony Reduction
Arson, Fire investigations
Asset Checks
Asset Search
Background Checks RE: Employment, marriage, international
Bail Bondsman Enforcement Agent
Cheating Spouses
Child Custody
Child Recovery
Child Support
Child Visitation
Civil Investigations
Competitive Intelligence
Computer Forensics
Corporate Investigations
Covert Surveillance
Crime Scene Investigations, Forensics
Criminal Defense Investigations
Criminal Investigations
Cyber Investigations
Due Diligence
Electronic Data Discovery
Electronic Surveillance
Executive Protection
Financial Investigations
Fraud Investigations
General Investigations
Homicide Investigations
Identity Theft
Insurance Investigations
International Private Investigator
Internet Profiling
Judgment Recovery
Missing Children
Missing Persons
Mystery Shopper
Photo Surveillance
Process Service
Public Record and Court Record Searches
Skip Tracing
Surveillance, including covert, photo and video
Trial Preparation
Workers Compensation
Wrongful Death

Is it beneficial to attend a PI training program?

Yes. INSIGHT’s training program will teach you the investigative skills  beneficial to becoming a successful private investigator. It is important to recognize that PI training schools or correspondence courses are a requirement to getting hired as a state approved private  investigator. However, the knowledge acquired in these educational programs will give you a competitive advantage when interviewing for an investigative job position.

How much do Private Investigators really earn?

According to the United States Department of Labor the average income of a private investigator or private detective was $28,000 in 2005. This figure may seem low, but it is actually quite accurate for a majority of private investigators. As mentioned earlier, many PI’s are retired law enforcement who usually receive some sort of pension in the $40-$50k range,which they add to the average income.  However, we have found that the average income of non-law enforcement PI’s is much higher ranging from $40k – $120K. There are many private investigators that earn more than $200k per year, but those successful investigators represent less than 5% of all licensed investigators in the United States.

How many Private Investigators are there in the United States?
The best estimate provided by PI Magazine is that there are approximately 60,000 private investigators employed in the USA.

What personality traits are needed to become a successful Private Investigator?
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, and the Secretary of State licenses host 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.

How do I find a job as a Private Investigator?
The easy answer is to monitor local ads in newspapers, but most investigative agencies promote openings nationally through the PI Magazine Classifieds both in print and on the PI Magazine website as well as postings on Private Investigator related Internet list serves. Another option is to call a local detective agency and offer to start with them as an intern. Even though you might not get paid, the training and experience you will receive is priceless.

What type of equipment do Private Investigators use?

A successful private investigator will own several investigative tools. These tools are based on the type of work or cases he will be working on. Probably the most important investigative tool is a surveillance friendly vehicle. The most common is a mini-van, however, the best vehicle is one that blends in best for the area you are working in. You will need to own a digital video camcorder, a covert body worn video camera, a miniature digital video recorder, and a covert audio recorder. We have found that the best source for hidden cameras, spy gadgets and specialty private investigative equipment is PI Gear at www.Pigear.com . There are many other tools and equipment that will come in handy,and a review of this website will be enlightening.

Here is a list of the most commonly used tools and equipment used by private investigators:
Digital Audio Recording Devices
Digital Camcorders
Extension Lens
Digital Still Cameras
Hidden video cameras
Body worn Cameras
Digital Video Recorders
Covert Vehicle tracking equipment
Personal Protection devices
Diversion Safes
Night vision cameras
GPS tracking devices
Pocket DVR’s
Detection Devices
TSCM Equipment (Debugging)
Spy Glasses
Phone Security
Security Video Systems
Button Camera

What 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, https://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.