What Methods Do Private Investigators Use?

You may find yourself in a situation where it’s necessary to file a claim. Maybe you’ve been discriminated against at work, or you suspect a spouse may be cheating. Injustices are committed every day against innocent, well-meaning people. Often, such cases don’t merit a full-blown police investigation—perhaps they’re more civil in nature. Nevertheless, you need an advocate, someone to do the legwork that will aid a lawyer in building a case against your offender. In other words, it might be time to hire a private investigator.

When to Consider Hiring a PI

Say the injustice being committed is criminal in nature. If so, a private investigator, also known as a “PI”, will support the work law enforcement is already doing, and in many instances, the evidence a PI collects will expedite a claim that may otherwise have lagged in court. It is common knowledge that, in California, as in many places, law enforcement is already stretched thin, making a private investigator an excellent option for helping bring about the right outcome.

As you can imagine, a private investigator has many techniques and methods for collecting the most vital of assets: evidence. The stronger the evidence—that is, the more irrefutable in court—the stronger the claim. A client may know in their heart that they are being discriminated against, for example, but without provable evidence, they may not receive the justice they deserve.

Additionally, a client should always choose a reputable firm with lots of experience to conduct a private investigation—an agency that works with a full range of people involved in any search for justice, from families, individuals, governmental bodies, businesses, and insurers. Hiring a private investigator is no small decision, and you owe it to yourself to find one that utilizes all the tools that modern technology offers. The methods detailed in this post are only a sampling of what is out there.

How Do PIs Do Surveillance?

Private investigators don’t just conduct surveillance on TV. It’s often a necessary part of a real-life investigative effort. Evidence is information, and a fundamental way to gather information is to observe. PIs have at their disposal many ways to do this, from simply following a person of interest and taking notes, to utilizing image-and-sound-capturing technology like cameras, audio recorders, and wiretaps. Surveillance is a broad subject in the world of civil and criminal investigations, and it seemingly changes by the day. Here is an overview.


Closed-circuit cameras are everywhere these days. An investigator on retainer with either a law firm or even a private client can often gain access to a business’s recorded video. And given that all footage is now digital, it’s easier to pinpoint the section of video most vital to a case.


Of course, there’s also traditional hand-held camera work, whether it involves a video camera or a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) with a powerful zoom lens. Private investigators have been using cameras to gather evidence for nearly as long as the camera has been around.

GPS Tracking

GPS can be used for evidence involving motor vehicles, whether it is to track the movements of a spouse suspected of cheating or the whereabouts of a convicted drunk driver. A potential drawback of installing a GPS tracker on a vehicle, however, is that permission must be granted by the owner of the vehicle for the evidence to be upheld. Nevertheless, GPS tracking can be useful under the right circumstances.


Spyware installed on personal computers, laptops, and cell phones can be used to extract information in real-time, but the evidence is not always admissible in court. Under the right circumstances, as with GPS tracking, spyware can be a valuable tool in a PI’s arsenal.

Technologies Requiring Consent

Technologies that require consent, such as GPS tracking, spyware, and the long-utilized and somewhat famous technique known as wiretapping, shouldn’t be ruled out. As an example, take a client who suspects an insurance company of fraud—depending on where the claim is based, it may be legal for that client to allow an investigator to tap his phone line.

In California, however, wiretapping requires the consent of both parties involved, so the technique may not be as useful there. It should be noted, though, that in California, it is legal for law enforcement to use a wiretap in a criminal investigation. That leeway can be granted to a licensed private investigator, as well, dependent on the case.

Can Private Investigators Spy on Cell Phones?

In some states, the answer is no. In others, it may be legal, but it is strictly regulated and allowed only for detectives and licensed private investigators. So the answer to the question above is yes, but not always.

Special Databases

Multiple online databases are available to investigators. In fact, several of them are only available to law enforcement and private investigators. Sites such as Enformion, Tracers, and Datalink offer location services. Some, like Locate Plus, specialize in skip tracing, the practice of locating individuals who have “skipped” town for some reason or other, usually a failure or outright refusal to meet a financial obligation.

Speaking of financial obligations, private investigators have also been known to utilize credit monitoring agencies, like Experian and Equifax, to gather evidence.

The databases listed above make up a fraction of those available to investigators. There are, quite literally, dozens more. Some require a monthly fee, others do not. It stands to reason, though, that those requiring a subscription likely provide the most thorough leads. And if the information is consistently accurate and reliable, then the investigative agency probably considers the monthly fee a worthwhile cost of doing business.

Device Cloning

Technology has made investigative work much more efficient. It has also made it easier for a PI to remain undetected. There is software, for example, that will allow an investigator to clone the data from a target’s cell phone without ever having to touch the actual phone. Such software allows a PI to view incoming calls and text messages as if they were being delivered to their own phone.

This technology also exists for the cloning of hard drives from both desktop computers and laptops. While carefully planning out their major steps, fraudsters are often surprisingly sloppy in the details, and they may unwittingly leave valuable information on a device just waiting for the right investigator to come along and extract it by way of cloning. It should be noted, however, that practices such as these may be restricted by law.

Background Checks

When it comes to the methods available to private investigators, background checks enjoy nearly as much notoriety as surveillance and wiretapping. Indeed, background checks are the heart and soul of many private investigation firms. In the public imagination, background checks are associated with landing a job, getting married, earning credit, and more. It’s no stretch to say a less than ideal candidate for a job might dread the much-touted, ubiquitous background check. It’s even less of a stretch to say that a suspect accused of insurance fraud might wish to avoid a process that will uncover past misdeeds. After all, a background check may very well reveal a criminal history.

How Much Does a Private Investigator Cost?

When determining the cost of a PI, you must consider a few factors. Like lawyers, PIs will often charge an hourly rate. Depending on experience and success rate, fees can range between $50 and $300. Also, like lawyers, PIs may sometimes provide their services on retainer, meaning, for an initial, agreed-upon payment. Again, dependent on experience and rate of success, an investigator will pull from that sum as needed rather than keeping track of working hours.

Some investigative services, like background checks or sweeps for surveillance devices in a house or business, are more defined and therefore require only a one-time payment. In other words, the private investigator knows upfront the amount of work involved and will charge a set price for that specific job.

The Discipline of Private Investigation

When done well, the discipline of private investigation is something of an art. It certainly is far more nuanced than what can be captured in a blog post. This rundown of methods and techniques is meant to get the conversation started—a conversation that you will hopefully continue with a proven firm like Amatrix Investigations. We believe that if you are researching investigative methods, it could be that you are in need of a reliable and results-driven private investigator. Our practice covers a wide range of areas: civil and criminal cases; adult and juvenile cases; cases involving family law; cheating spouses; insurance fraud—you name it.

As a result of rapidly developing technologies, investigative practice is ever-changing. At Amatrix Investigations, we actively pursue those methods that will yield the highest rate of success. If you want to learn more about the techniques a private investigator relies on, we invite you to contact our office. Our extensively experienced and well-trained staff are knowledgeable about up-to-date techniques and methods utilized in private investigation today.

What Do Civil Rights Investigators Do?

When a person comes across a situation in which their rights have been violated in some fashion, they can advocate for themselves by pursuing litigation and seeking justice in court. Doing this often requires working with a skilled attorney familiar with any relevant laws, rights, and legal processes. However, to build a successful case, attorneys rely on one crucial element: evidence. Even if their client is clearly in the right, it can be extremely difficult to get the desired resolution without the evidence to prove so in court. This is especially true in cases involving violations of civil rights, where the offenders are particularly motivated to obscure the true nature of the altercation, as even the mere accusation of being a perpetrator in a civil rights case can be extremely damaging in terms of their reputation. In such a situation, working with a civil rights investigator can be the answer to all of your problems.

To gain a complete understanding of what civil rights investigators do and why they are so vital, it’s essential to first gain some background on civil rights cases. These cases tend to have unique challenges because of their inherently incendiary and emotional nature. It is natural to feel motivated to see that the parties responsible are appropriately punished for their actions, but this can only happen if the actions taken were genuinely unlawful. So, what exactly does the law have to say about civil rights, and how offenders of those rights can be dealt with?

What Are Civil Rights?

“Civil right” is a term used to describe what an individual is allowed or entitled to do by law. Enforcement of the law within this particular context is done to protect people’s freedoms. At the heart of civil rights is the idea of fairness and equality, ensuring that all the individuals covered by such laws are presented with equal opportunities to succeed.

One of the earliest examples of civil rights being acknowledged in a legal document in the United States is a line from the Declaration of Independence, which states that people have the following inaliénable rights: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Such a statement aimed to promote the equal right to a thriving existence amongst the populace. While this and other aspects of the document are not presently considered to have legal merit, they have often served as the foundation upon which other laws are created.

Nowadays, there is a large array of civil rights laws to identify in concrete terms exactly what rights are owed to each individual. Modern legislation also acknowledges certain changes that have taken place since those initial thoughts of equality were first echoed, such as abolishing slavery and the growing acceptance of various sexualities. However, the law is a complex topic. Some civil rights laws apply on a federal level across the nation, while others are specific to individual states. In-depth knowledge of what rights are protected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights and to what extent is critical when going through the process of a civil rights case.

What Does the Office of Civil Rights Enforce?

Civil rights violations can occur in various contexts and involve perpetrators from all sorts of backgrounds. The party responsible could merely be another citizen, a business owner, an employer, or even a law enforcement official. Regardless, the Office of Civil Rights is tasked with enforcing civil rights laws in court. This includes those observed under federal law, those regarding conscience and religious freedom, laws regarding HIPAA compliance and general privacy, and general rights regarding nondiscrimination. Essentially, you can challenge in court instances where people are subject to harassment, are treated differently, or are denied access to goods or services based on a protected part of their identities (race, religion, gender, sexuality, or physical ability), as well as for breaches in their ability to access private information and property.

Concrete examples of civil rights complaints where the Office of Civil Rights might be involved include situations where a landlord decides to deny your application for an apartment because they harbor reservations against you based on your religion. An employer choosing not to hire a woman for a position because they think men make better employees would qualify as well, and so would being singled out by a police officer merely because you happen to have a different skin color.

Why Are Civil Rights Cases So Challenging?

Any sort of confrontation can be difficult, especially in a legal setting, as victims are asked to re-experience their trauma over and over again during court proceedings. However, the situation can become significantly more complicated depending on the identity of the perpetrators. An individual citizen who has violated someone else’s civil rights will be far less prepared to fight back than, for instance, a major corporation or a trusted law enforcement official. The latter examples likely have access to a significant amount of resources and may be willing to do whatever it takes to make the case go away, even if that means tampering with evidence or relying on their connections to powerful allies within the legal system.

As the victim in such a situation, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or intimidated. That’s why it’s so critical to work with a skilled civil rights investigator. A good investigator can effectively level the playing field and ensure that the proceedings rely on nothing more than unbiased facts.

What Is a Civil Rights Investigator?

In brief, a civil rights investigator is a private investigator tasked with helping secure evidence for legal situations involving a potential violation of civil rights. Unlike attorneys or other members of a legal team, civil rights investigators are fully dedicated to this aspect of the process. This means that they often have extensive experience relevant to the best way to obtain evidence, successfully discredit any false evidence, and navigate the system so that relevant, helpful evidence can be officially submitted to the court. A comprehensive background in law, a strong network of contacts, and an innate strength in investigative skills are vital parts of being an effective investigator.

What Is a Civil Right Investigation?

Civil rights investigations are the way in which a civil rights investigator can contribute to a case. During this process, the investigator can take on several tasks depending on what is most needed for the specific situation at hand. One way that civil rights investigators conduct their investigation is through redundancy. This essentially means collecting evidence that has already been collected, such as having an autopsy done by a different medical examiner, getting additional witness statements, and independently documenting the crime scene. This is particularly effective at ensuring the facts are fairly represented.

Those attempting to tamper with evidence will be discovered throughout this process. This also helps to combat unconscious bias. For example, if the perpetrator is a police officer, they likely have a relationship with the crime scene investigation team. Because of their relationship, the team may inherently assume that the officer is innocent, which can affect how they document the scene, even if it isn’t intentional.

Investigators also have the time, resources, and insight to pursue avenues that others might overlook when it comes to collecting evidence, such as determining a random bystander’s identity at the scene and securing said bystander’s camera footage. The context in the form of statements from other parties not questioned by the police or previous interactions that took place before the altercation can also further support your case.

Not only can the investigator look into the case itself, but they can also look into the history of the offending party involved. With large corporations and trusted officials, it can be challenging to convince others of their involvement based on their past reputation. However, an investigator can dig up documentation that shows a pattern of behavior that is much more difficult to discredit. Investigators can also uncover emails or recorded conversations that show attempts to tamper with evidence or acknowledgments of the incident. All of this contributes to building a strong case.

Working With a Civil Rights Investigator

Private investigators have the unique skills and background necessary to ensure that you are adequately equipped to go up against any violator of civil rights in a court of law, no matter how many connections or resources they have. Not only are they extremely skilled at obtaining evidence, but they’re also extremely knowledgeable of the law and can do so in a lawful manner while keeping an eye out for unlawful behavior from the opposition. Whether you have personally had your rights violated or are part of a legal team handling a civil rights violation case, working with the right civil rights investigator can help you achieve your desired resolution. To get started with an initial consultation, contact the team at Amatrix Investigations today. With over 20 years of investigative experience, we can ensure the case is handled with diligence and with full respect for your privacy or the privacy of your client.

How Do Criminal Investigations Work?

Amatrix Investigations is a private investigation firm in Los Angeles. Our team has a solid track record of playing very active and pivotal roles in criminal defense investigations. While law enforcement at the municipal, state, and even federal levels have substantial resources for investigating criminal activity, private investigation firms like Amatrix Investigations provide critical support. Our additional investigative resources can aid a wrongfully accused or overcharged individual facing conviction.

We work with criminal defense attorneys and Pro Per clients throughout Southern California to bring greater balance to California’s criminal justice system. Police and other law enforcement agencies pursue criminal convictions quite aggressively. Unfortunately, the drive to secure swift convictions often leads to innocent people facing charges they do not deserve. We believe it’s vital for everyone to understand how criminal investigations work and the role that private investigation firms like Amatrix Investigations play in the process.

What are the steps in a criminal investigation?

Law enforcement and government agents have much more freedom when it comes to the pre-arrest investigation. They have the right to cordon off crime scenes and gather physical evidence, whereas private investigators do not. Private investigators cannot trespass on private property or enter a crime scene the police control. They cannot arrest or intimidate suspects, and they cannot access many of the digital resources that the police and government agents typically use in their investigations. However, the fundamental investigative techniques employed by Amatrix Investigations have proven invaluable in countless cases helping the wrongfully accused avoid unjust punishment. Private investigators often play crucial roles in the pre-trial investigation phase, but their participation in criminal investigations also extends further into most cases.

It is also important to remember that a private investigation firm like Amatrix Investigations can help an individual facing a wrongful accusation of a crime. Unfortunately, some law enforcement officials are so aggressive in pursuing convictions they refuse to consider (and sometimes even hide) exculpatory evidence so they can save time and resources on their investigation efforts while inflating their conviction record.

Once the police make an arrest in a criminal investigation, the suspect is booked and must make an initial appearance. The court will read the charges against the suspect and advise them of their constitutional right to counsel and their right to remain silent. At this point, the prosecution process begins. However, this does not necessarily mean the investigation is over. If a suspect hires a criminal defense attorney, their legal team may coordinate with a private investigation firm to locate any evidence that could lead to reduced or dropped charges for their client.

What Are the Three Methods of Investigation?

The criminal investigation process of virtually any crime is complex and multifaceted. While many crimes lead to open-and-shut cases, these incidents require clear evidence of a suspect’s guilt and readily available corroborating evidence that proves the suspect’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not uncommon for some criminal investigations to extend well beyond the investigators’ initial impressions of the case. Law enforcement must fully employ every investigative technique at their disposal. While private investigators do not have the same level of authority or the same resources as law enforcement officials, they must also fully leverage the investigative techniques at their disposal possible.

The police and private investigators typically rely on three main methods of investigating criminal activity:

Evidence Gathering

Evidence gathering is one of the most crucial forms of investigation. This can involve physical examination of the crime scene, the body of the victim, and other material evidence involved in the matter. Depending on the type of crime in question, evidence gathering may also involve deep fact-finding and research to uncover documentation material to the case. Typically, private investigators do not have physical access to most crime scenes. However, this does not mean they cannot use their investigative skills to carefully review crime scene reports and photographs, sometimes identifying evidence that the police overlooked.

One of the most important aspects of evidence gathering is determining admissibility. There are strict laws in place that aim to preserve due process and ensure that all investigative authorities follow the letter of the law as they conduct their investigative work. There have been many occasions in which official investigators have planted or obfuscated evidence to streamline their conviction processes, which often leads to severe criminal penalties for those involved in due process violations. Private investigators must also follow the law, and typically they rely on evidence gathering through careful review of evidence already gathered by police.

Witness Interviews

Interviewing witnesses is another key component of any criminal investigation. This may involve interviewing the complaining witness and direct witnesses to the event in question as well as bystanders who saw some or all of the crime occur. The police will take statements from witnesses they identify during pre-arrest investigation and may need to double back and confirm witnesses’ stories as their investigation unfolds. Private investigators can also conduct witness interviews on behalf of the criminal defense firms who hire them and may even identify other witnesses. For example, a local business owner near a crime scene may have CCTV footage that the police failed to obtain, and this footage could be a deciding factor in the criminal case that unfolds.

While the police have broader authority when it comes to locating and interviewing witnesses, private investigators can also uncover solid evidence through their own interviews. Again, private investigators are not above the law and are private citizens, but they have the experience and resources to sometimes uncover evidence and witness testimony that police and government agents may have overlooked.


Surveillance is another of the most important tools of criminal investigation. Police and law enforcement agencies at all levels may conduct “stakeouts” and surveil points of interest related to a criminal investigation to help them locate and identify suspects and evidence. Private investigators can also use these tools and typically do so in a more flexible manner than the police. Experienced private investigators like the team at Amatrix Investigations are accustomed to blending in with crowds and surveilling persons or places of interest with minimal exposure.

Surveillance can be one of the most critical aspects of an investigation, especially one pertaining to fraud. For example, if an individual is suspected of committing disability or workers’ compensation fraud, a private investigator can help gather evidence that proves their criminal activity.

These three methods are crucial in any criminal investigation. Depending on the nature of the crime, a private investigation firm like Amatrix Investigations will use some or all of these methods to assist in their efforts. It’s important to remember that a private investigator is relatively limited in their investigative methods compared to the police.

Amatrix Investigations leverages years of professional investigative experience and state-of-the-art resources to conduct highly detailed and comprehensive criminal investigations. While private investigators may lack some of the tools and the authority of law enforcement officials, their investigative efforts often prove pivotal in highly complex criminal investigations.

Benefits of Working With a Private Investigator

Private investigators must follow the letter of the law while conducting their investigative activities. Criminal defense firms throughout the country typically form lasting professional relationships with private investigators to help them protect and defend their clients. Private investigators often provide the evidence these attorneys need to help their clients avoid unjust charges, especially when law enforcement is driven to secure a conviction as soon as possible regardless of any evidence indicating they have the wrong suspect.

If you are accused of a crime, it is imperative to secure legal representation from a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. If you believe that the police are refusing to consider exculpatory evidence, a private investigator could be the lifeline you and your legal team need to prove your innocence. If you happen to become a victim of any type of crime, working with a private investigator can effectively supplement the police’s investigation. If you have specific questions about how a private investigator can help in your unique case, contact Amatrix Investigations today for more information about our services.

5 Common Myths About Private Investigators

Primarily as a result of Hollywood storytelling, many common myths exist in popular culture regarding private investigators. Ask the average person how they imagine a private investigator. They will likely envision a captivating, rather dangerous figure cloaked in mystery who acts above the law to seek justice for their clients, hacking into private accounts, recording conversations, and arresting criminals for deviant behavior. While private investigators do possess a variety of valuable skills for clandestine information gathering, this stereotypical image does not represent most private investigators' actual daily lives.

If you are considering hiring a private investigator to launch an investigation on your behalf, call our office as soon as possible. We can help separate the common misconceptions myths from reality.

The Top Five Most Common Myths We Hear About Private Investigators

    1. Myth: Private investigators are above the law.Truth: Probably the most prevalent misconception about private investigators, many people believe that these professionals can operate around the laws that govern ordinary citizens. Unlike a police officer or a government agent with organizations like the FBI or CIA, PIs do not hold any legal authority. They are expected to obey the law while obtaining information. This means they are not allowed to impersonate, threaten, or assault people or trespass on private property in an attempt to uncover clues or evidence. While a private investigator does often enjoy access to resources not available to most people, they can only gather information through legal methods and with the consent of the parties involved.
    2. Myth: Private investigators can arrest people.Truth: Even if a private investigator finds incriminating evidence that suggests a person is guilty of a crime or directly witnesses them engaging in illegal activity, they do not have the legal authority to detain and arrest people. They may provide important information to law enforcement entities and often do collaborate with these agencies in criminal investigations, but their mission is to gather information, not carry out justice. Private investigations must avoid making assumptions about someone’s guilt or innocence to perform their jobs effectively.
    3. Myth: Private investigators can access an individual’s private information.Truth: A private investigator does not have the type of clearance that a police officer or government agent holds that allows for access to confidential information. When attempting to locate a witness or find evidence in their investigation, a PI will use publicly available information. Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), many records can be accessed by members of the public by simply submitting a formal request. This includes incarceration records, licenses, driving records, or personnel files of government employees. While this information is accessible to everyone, a PI has the training, knowledge, and skills to carefully scrutinize this material in a way that an ordinary citizen cannot.
    4. Myth: Private investigators can record conversations and wiretap phones.Truth: While this is a frequent element of film and television portrayals, private investigators are not legally allowed to record private conversations without a person’s consent or to wiretap a phone. A PI cannot “bug” a person, a communication device, or an area to hear conversations they should not be privy to. Instead, investigators initiate conversations directly with individuals they are interested in and take notes during these meetings to keep track of important details.
    5. Myth: Private investigators are only hired to catch dangerous criminals and unfaithful spouses.Truth: Clients hire private investigators for several different reasons, not just for locating especially dangerous criminals or finding evidence of marital infidelity. Investigative work encompasses a wide range of fields, including conducting surveillance on individuals suspected of insurance or worker’s compensation fraud, performing pre-employment background checks, locating missing persons, settling copyright infringement cases, and completing other investigative tasks for personal or business purposes.

Do You Need a Private Investigator (PI)?

If you believe you would benefit from the services of a private investigator, contact Amatrix Investigations today by calling (213) 342-1767 or filling out the form on our website. President and Private Investigator Christina Duran has more than 20 years of experience investigating California's most sensitive and high-profile cases. She maintains the highest standards of professional excellence in her field. She supervises a skilled, dedicated team of experts closely familiar with all aspects of criminal investigations, law enforcement, and corporate security.

Amatrix Investigations provides top-quality private investigation services to clients throughout Southern California, including residents of Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside County, Murrieta Area, Palm Springs and San Diego County. Call us or contact us online today to discuss how we can help you uncover the truth.