Is Private Investigation Illegal?

For many people, the idea of a private investigator exists only in movies and TV shows. In fact, the concept can be so foreign that individuals begin to doubt if the practice is common or even legal.

Though not all people may use a private investigator in their lifetimes, it is essential to understand the services we perform that can make your life easier. In addition, we may be able to help you in unexpected or uncomfortable situations when you have nowhere else to turn.

Is Private Investigation Illegal?

Private investigation is not illegal. Many agencies such as ours provide essential and legal services to individuals and groups who need help. Though private investigation isn’t illegal, certain behaviors and practices violate state and federal laws. Private investigators should always understand these laws and work diligently to avoid any behavior that could compromise their client’s case in court.


A PI must have a property owner’s permission before entering the premises. In cases of divorcing couples, the spouse who hired the PI may give permission for them to enter the property if the spouse’s name is still on the deed and they still reside in the home.  This is not a concern in public spaces, such as government buildings, stores, restaurants, etc.

Impersonating Law Enforcement

This practice is never legal, even in PI investigations. Private investigators cannot wear badges or uniforms that impersonate law enforcement, nor can they insinuate that they are part of the government or representing the law.


In most states, at least one person on the phone call must be aware of the wiretap and consent to the recording. In some states, both individuals must know and consent.

Accessing Records

This arena is somewhat complicated because some records are public information while others are not. For example, court and criminal records are public information, and a private investigator can freely and legally access them. However, phone and credit records are both protected by law. This means that the PI cannot run a credit check or look through a person’s phone history without consent. The best they can do is find out a person’s phone number and cell phone carrier.

Tampering With Mail

As in most situations, tampering with someone’s mail is illegal. Private investigators are not above the law.


A private investigator cannot harass subjects they are investigating, or any other people involved in the case or situation. Bribes are similarly categorized and can ruin the investigation. Deceit or lying to get information cannot be done either. All information that a PI obtains should be accessed honestly and lawfully.

Though private investigation is undoubtedly legal, there are strict guidelines for PIs to follow. If a PI obtains information illegally, they can face a ruined case for their client or even jail time.

Why Do People Hire Private Investigators?

Individuals and companies use private investigation for myriad reasons. Common reasons for hiring a PI include:

  • To see if a partner or spouse is cheating or lying.
  • To verify that an employee or insurance holder is actually injured and not faking their situation to gain workers’ comp or insurance money.
  • To investigate potential investments, many companies call this “conducting due diligence.”
  • To investigate a crime or situation when an individual or company feels that law enforcement is not doing enough.
  • To investigate crimes or property insurance claims.

There are many other reasons to hire a private investigator. For example, many clients appreciate the ability to take their case into their own hands rather than waiting for law enforcement or government systems to conduct their search. Other times, such as in situations of infidelity, the individual’s case is not criminal nor technically unlawful. Therefore, private investigation is the only option.

How Do I Choose a Good Private Investigator?

Hiring a PI is just like hiring anyone else who works for you. Therefore, it’s essential to look for specific traits and behaviors that will give you the best chance of seeing results.

When vetting PI candidates, look for the following:

  • Referrals. Good private investigators will have past client statements or contact information for you to cross-reference their abilities.
  • A license. In the state of California, the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services awards licenses to PIs who meet specific qualifications. If a candidate does not have a license, they are not legitimate and should not be trusted.
  • An online presence. Experienced PIs often have a website with testimonials, reviews, service lists, and more. In the modern day, there is little excuse not to be online.
  • Offline contact. Try to get your PI either face to face or on the phone for a meeting before you hire them. You should be able to speak openly with your PI, and they should walk you through your case and what to expect. Again, doing this in person or over the phone helps ensure that your PI is serious and legitimate.
  • A good track record. Speak with your PI about how often they obtain the information they are looking for and how frequently their clients win their cases based on the information found.

Don’t hesitate to use your own criteria on top of these. It’s acceptable to rely on gut feelings or personal values to vet PI candidates, especially if you are asking them to conduct an investigation that is emotionally charged.

Contact Amatrix

Here at Amatrix Investigations, we have been serving the companies and residents of southern California for many years. We have experience with the unique situations and culture of this area, and we understand the passion that drives residents here. We sympathize with the fact that law enforcement here is often overloaded and can’t give all cases the attention that they deserve. That’s why we provide comprehensive, thorough private investigation services that find answers and close cases. You can trust us with your time, money, and emotions, and you can rely on us to find the truth.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact us online today.

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