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Entering the industry as an Investigator

Many enter the investigations area from a previous career in law enforcement, the law or insurance. However, some former law enforcement officers find the work as a private investigator working in the civil jurisdictions to be vastly different to the work of law enforcement in the criminal jurisdictions and too difficult to adjust to.

Similarly, some who enter the industry from a career in insurance claims management find the tasks of conducting investigations and preparing comprehensive investigative reports involves skills quite different to reading and instituting claim decisions from the reports of investigators.

There is no one ideal background to guarantee success as an investigator. You might come from a career in accounting, administration, finance, engineering, human resources, sales or something entirely different. Different skill sets are required for the different categories of work undertaken by private investigators.

The work of private investigators falls mainly into the following categories:

Factual investigations

Factual investigations are often conducted in respect to contractual disputes, insurance claims, litigated matters in respect to personal injuries, breaches of employment, physical damage or financial losses.

Clients, which include insurers, government departments and authorities, financiers, corporations, individuals and law firms, provide the specific instructions and scope for the assignments to be undertaken by factual investigators. Those instructions can be brief or detailed depending on the nature of the matter and the experience of the investigator. Assignments are often requested and treated on an urgent basis. Many instructions include budgetary limits for the investigator.

The work of a factual investigator involves conducting interviews and gathering evidence including records of interviews, statements, photographs, documents and other physical evidence. The principal purpose is always "to collect and report the facts only" - this allows the client to make a commercial and informed decision.

Investigators are expected to be professional and objective. They do not approach matters on the basis of only gathering evidence helpful to the client's case retained - any attempt to do so provides no value to a client seeking to reach a fair, ethical and appropriate resolution of a claim or dispute.

Typically, a competent and successful factual investigator will possess:

  • Maturity, honesty, integrity and a fine sense of ethics;
  • Good people skills including the ability to empathise with others;
  • An inquiring mind;
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills;
  • Good keyboarding skills;
  • An attitude of paying close attention to detail; and
  • A consistent work methodology.

Observation or surveillance investigations

Observation investigations are often conducted in connection with insurance claims and litigated matters in respect to personal injuries and financial losses. The work may arise from family law disputes; employment issues; neighbour disputes; and disputes over intellectual rights or restraint of trade issues to name just a few of the reasons why clients seek evidence by observation techniques.

Clients, which include insurers, government departments and authorities, financiers, corporations, individuals and law firms provide the specific instructions and scope for the assignments to be undertaken by observation investigators. Those instructions can be brief or detailed depending on the nature of the matter and the experience of the investigator. Assignments are often requested and treated on an urgent basis. Many instructions include budgetary limits for the investigator.

The work of an observation investigator involves covertly gathering video and/or photographic evidence as well as general intelligence about the subject of the investigation. The principal purpose is always "to collect and report the facts only" - this allows the client to make a commercial and informed decision. In insurance related matters the aim is to gather evidence which either supports or disputes the veracity of the claimant's complaints of injury, disability and restriction.

Investigators are expected to be professional and objective. They do not approach matters on the basis of only gathering evidence helpful to the client's case retained nor as an “agent provocateur” - any attempt to do so provides no value to a client seeking to reach a fair, ethical and appropriate resolution of a claim or dispute.

Typically, a competent and successful observation investigator will possess:

  • Maturity, honesty, integrity and a fine sense of ethics;
  • Good people skills including an ability to engage others in casual discussions without drawing close attention to his/her activities;
  • An ability to blend into an environment rather than standing out in a crowd;
  • An inquiring mind;
  • Good communication skills;
  • Keyboarding skills;
  • A keen interest in video and camera technology; and
  • A consistent work methodology.

Skip tracing

Skip tracing is also known as searching for missing persons. The need to trace persons who have skipped arises for a variety of reasons including in respect to collection activity, process serving, repossessions and investigation work.

In the first three areas the need to skip trace involves searching for a subject and his/her assets in respect to a debt related matter whereas in investigations the purpose is either to observe the activities of the subject or alternatively to locate a party or witness for the purpose of conducting interviews and gathering evidence.

The work of a skip tracer involves the use of computers to conduct database searches of publicly available information and communication skills in respect to telephone enquiries or face-to-face enquiries to track down the missing person. Skip tracers need to be focused and careful in their approaches so as to not tip off the subject for fear of frustrating the actual purpose of locating the individual i.e. there is little purpose in announcing to a subject he has been relocated when somebody else requires the information in order take an action such as repossession of a vehicle.

Typically, a competent and successful skip-tracer will possess:

  • A good friendly manner;
  • Good people skills including an ability to engage others in casual discussions without drawing close attention to his/her activities;
  • An ability to problem solve so as to create ideas as to how to track an individual;
  • An enquiring mind;
  • Good communication skills;
  • Keyboarding skills; and
  • A consistent work methodology.

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