What Private Detectives and Investigators Do
Private detectives and investigators search for information about legal, financial, and personal matters.
Private detectives and investigators work in many places, depending on their assignment or case. Some spend more time in offices, researching cases on computers, while others spend more time in the field, conducting interviews and performing surveillance. Private detectives and investigators often work irregular hours.
How to Become a Private Detective or Investigator
Most private detectives and investigators need several years of work experience and a high school diploma. In addition, the vast majority of states require private detectives and investigators to have a license.
The median annual wage for private detectives and investigators was $50,510 in May 2019.
Employment of private detectives and investigators is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for private detectives and investigators will stem from security concerns and from the need to protect confidential information. Strong competition can be expected for jobs.
Private detectives and investigators search for information about legal, financial, and personal matters. They offer many services, such as verifying people’s backgrounds and statements, finding missing persons, and investigating computer crimes.
Private detectives and investigators typically do the following:
- Interview people to gather information
- Search online, public, and court records to uncover clues
- Conduct surveillance
- Collect evidence for clients
- Check for civil judgments and criminal history
Private detectives and investigators offer many services for individuals, attorneys, and businesses. Examples include performing background checks, investigating employees for possible theft from a company, proving or disproving infidelity in a divorce case, and helping to locate a missing person.
Private detectives and investigators use a variety of tools when researching the facts in a case. Much of their work is done with a computer, allowing them to obtain information such as telephone numbers, details about social networks, descriptions of online activities, and records of a person’s prior arrests. They make phone calls to verify facts and interview people when conducting a background investigation.
Detectives also conduct surveillance when investigating a case. They may watch locations, such as a person’s home or office, often from a hidden position. Using cameras and binoculars, detectives gather information on people of interest.
Detectives and investigators must be mindful of the law when conducting investigations. Because they lack police authority, their work must be done with the same authority as a private citizen. As a result, detectives and investigators must have a good understanding of federal, state, and local laws, such as privacy laws, and other legal issues affecting their work. Otherwise, evidence they collect may not be useable in court and they could face prosecution.
Skip tracers specialize in locating people whose whereabouts are unknown. For example, debt collectors may employ them to locate people who have unpaid bills.
Private detectives and investigators held about 36,200 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of private detectives and investigators were as follows:
|Investigation, guard, and armored car services||39%|
|Finance and insurance||10|
Private detectives and investigators work in many environments, depending on the case. Some spend more time in offices, researching cases on computers and making phone calls. Others spend more time in the field, conducting interviews or performing surveillance. In addition, private detectives and investigators may have to work outdoors or from a vehicle, in all kinds of weather, in order to obtain the information their client needs.
Although investigators often work alone, some work with others while conducting surveillance or carrying out large, complicated assignments.
Private detectives and investigators often work irregular hours because they conduct surveillance and contact people outside of normal work hours. They may work early mornings, evenings, weekends, and holidays.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of private detectives and investigators.
For more information about private detectives and investigators, including information on certification, visit
For more information about state licensing requirements, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Private Detectives and Investigators,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators.htm (visited ).