Private Investigators often get phone calls from the general public requesting services that are commonly believed to be “normal”, due to their portrayal in the media. TV shows and movies depict Private Investigators hacking computers, tapping phone lines, putting trackers on vehicles, trespassing on private property, and breaking into houses in order to obtain information for their clients.
All those actions make for interesting entertainment, and even though they are possible to accomplish in real life, they happen to be illegal in almost all jurisdictions, especially in Canada, where privacy laws are among the strictest in the world.
While attorneys are aware of the legal aspects of their requests, the general public is usually not. The lack of familiarity with the rules and the regulations that govern Private Investigators and the things they are allowed and are not allowed to do often results in requests for the following services:
A reputable Private Investigations agency will deny any requests for illegal services but, in most instances, will be able to offer legal alternatives that can help their clients obtain the information they need.
The above-mentioned requests usually have the following end goals:
Those objectives can be achieved through other methods that Private Investigators can legally use in accordance with rules and regulations.
To find out where a person is going, a Private Investigator can conduct surveillance, which remains the best and most effective way to obtain information regarding someone’s activities. While physically following a person is more difficult than following a dot on a map, and involves more risks, it has an additional benefit of having an investigator on location, who can see and obtain photographic or video evidence (if required) of what the person is doing and who they are meeting with.
Finding private messages and photos is not obvious since when someone has a reason to hide information, they will usually take precautions to make sure that they don’t leave any clues behind. The same thing cannot be said about people in their entourage who have no reasons to hide anything and thus will not go the extra mile to take precautions during their social media activities. For this reason, detailed research within the online profiles of associates, acquaintances, family, and friends can yield good results and provide a glimpse into what information the person of interest was trying to conceal.
Finding transactions and contacts is the most difficult aspect of an investigation since bank statements and phone records are considered private information that is not accessible to a third party without a court order or the owner’s consent. Yet this is the most sought-after information during divorce and infidelity cases when one party is trying to identify possible hidden assets of their partner or find clues about possible extramarital affairs or contacts.
Very little can be done in order to obtain such information legally, with “dumpster diving” (an act of actually going through someone’s trash can in hopes that they threw away a piece of valuable information such as their phone bill or a credit card statement) being the preferred method in the past. However, with online banking and digital statements becoming more common, and increasing concerns of identity theft, people are more cautious and prefer to go paperless in their dealings with banks and phone companies.
So what can be done if you still need to identify hidden assets and contacts?
While the previously mentioned “dumpster diving” method lost some of its effectiveness in recent years, it is still a viable technique that can provide useful information, and as such, should not be completely disregarded from the list of possible options during an investigation.
Surveillance is also a good way to find assets and identify contacts. By following a target to various locations and doing research about the places and taking notes about the people with who the target interacted (and by cross-referencing this information with other know data); it is possible to identify assets and contacts that the target tried to hide.
If the individual did register certain assets or purchases under their name, they may be located through searches in various databases as well. However, it rarely happens in serious cases when someone tries hard to hide assets from their partners, and thus (unless authorized by the courts) surveillance, research, and “dumpster diving” remain the only other legal venues to obtain such information.
The methods portrayed on the television are quick and effective, however, they are also illegal in most places. Legal alternatives exist but are more time-consuming and often require a lot more research and fieldwork from the investigator. In addition, the results are not always guaranteed and the increase in efforts also results in an increase in costs for the clients who are surprised to hear how much time a “simple” case, that can be solved with a “5-minute hack” (as seen on TV), actually takes in real life.
When people need specific information, they may be tempted to use popular methods they saw on the television to obtain results quickly. They may try to use those methods themselves, or they may request such services from Private Investigators, thinking that those methods are common and legal, while being unaware that they can result in serious legal trouble due to strict rules that govern privacy and access to information.
For this reason, it is always recommended to discuss those matters with an attorney or a Private Investigator familiar with the laws and the regulations, as those professionals will be able to provide guidance regarding the best course of action to undertake in order to obtain results effectively and most importantly, legally.