The Insurer's Guide to Private Investigators

This post is an entry for our $25,000 scholarship contest. The post was created by Angela Brittain and may not always reflect the views of JW Surety Bonds.

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Private investigators have been solving mysteries, sifting out criminals and captivating our imaginations for many years.

The first known private detective agency was founded in 1833 by French Soldier, Eugène François Vidocq. The initial duties largely involved intervening in police affairs when clients felt that police officials were inadequate or unwilling to offer help.

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was a private detective agency established by Allan Pinkerton in 1850.  Pinkerton was renowned for thwarting a conspiracy to assassinate then President-Elect Abraham Lincoln.  Pinkerton agents were hired to pursue western outlaws such as Jesse James and the Sundance Kid.  The agency’s logo was an eye embellished with the words “We Never Sleep”, which inspired the term “private eye”.

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Private Investigators Today

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Present-day investigators may work in a variety of environments, depending on the nature of their cases.  Some spend the majority of their time in an office using the computer and telephone as tools for investigation.  Others perform surveillance or conduct interviews in the field.  Some may be employed in bodyguard positions which pose the need for carrying a weapon.  Generally, however, the private investigators’ purpose is that of gathering information and not of criminal apprehension or law enforcement.

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How to Become a Private Investigator

Requirements for becoming a private investigator can vary, however a high school diploma is generally necessary.  Preference is often given to those with a substantial history in law enforcement, military service, or federal intelligence.  Corporate or computer forensic investigators will often need a bachelor’s degree.  Training generally comes through on-the-job experience over several years’ time.  Most states require licensure of private investigators.  Job seekers should confirm licensing laws in the area that they wish to work.  Investigators who carry handguns or are employed as bodyguards will often have additional requirements or licensing procedures.  Those considering becoming an investigator should assess their own character qualities.  Those with the most skill have stellar communication and decision making abilities, a natural inquisitiveness, patience and resourcefulness.

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Wages

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The annual median wage for private detectives and investigators was $45,740 in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  In other words, half of those employed earned less than $45,740 and half earned more.  The top 10 percent earned greater than $79,790 and the lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,670.

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Job Outlook

Employment for private investigators is projected to grow 11% by 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  This is roughly the average for all occupations.  Demand for investigators is predicted to rise based on growing security concerns and the desire for protection of confidential information and property.  Advanced technology has led to an explosion of cybercrimes (i.e. identity theft, internet scams, and fraud), which will create an increased demand for investigative services.  United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, has made the fight on cybercrime one of the Department of Justice’s top priorities.

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Private Investigators and Surety Bonds

A detective bond, or private investigator bond, is a type of insurance that must be purchased before a private investigation business can be opened.  The purchased bond protects the agencies’ customers in the event of illegal or fraudulent actions by the agency.  The bond in turn encourages the licensee to follow all regulations related to their work. For example, if the investigator were to accept payment for an agreed service and then fail to perform that service – the client could make a claim on the bond.  The bond would hold the investigator accountable for remedying the situation, which may include paying restitution up to the bond’s full value.  The penal sum for private investigator bonds varies state by state.  Prior to purchasing a surety bond, investigators must generally agree to a credit check and obtain application approval.

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Reference: JW Surety Bonds. (2014). Surety Bonds 101. Retrieved from http://www.jwsuretybonds.com/info/surety-bonds-101.htm