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Although not all inclusive, this article covers the laws governing private investigators, the knowledge we have gained while working cases and some of the questions that we’ve received from consultations with clients.

What is illegal? 

  • Conduct surveillance for a client who has a restraining order on them - since the private investigator represents and is acting on behalf of the client, this is a violation of the restraining order in the form of stalking/harassment. 
  • Record a conversation that he or she is not a part off, or without consent of one party.
  • Run a tag without a permissible purpose.
  • Install a camera in a private area such as a bedroom, bathroom or massage parlor etc. The judge will almost always throw out any evidence obtained by this method in all but the most serious cases, and performance of such an act can cause a pi to lose his/her license, or worse, go to jail.  
  • Install a tracking device on a vehicle that does not belong to the client.
  • Pretext to get bank account info or other personal info.
  • Step onto private property to record evidence - if a private investigator trespasses or breaks the law to record evidence it will most likely be inadmissible in court. Again, on extreme cases the judge may allow it if he/she determines that the evidence outweighs any law)s that where broken. 
  • Impersonate law enforcement or any federal agents.

What equipment/other tools does a pi use. 

Some of the more interesting and less known are: 

Phone spoofing app - this enables the investigator to make phone calls using a fake number of his/her choice. Because, often times the subject will not answer calls from a number they do not recognize, but off course will be much more likely to answer if he/she knows the number. The other main use is undercover work where the pi needs to assume a false identity.

Data loggers - this is installed on a computer and record all keystrokes. They are used by corporations in order to remediate workplace theft but are also used to catch cheating spouses and to protect teens from online dangers.

Covert Cameras - there are many unique cameras to choose from to suit the unique needs of a particular surveillance. Some of our favorite are the smoke detector, coffee cup lid, and garden rock cameras.

What special sources of information does a private investigator have access to? 

Sources are something that a private investigator will continue to grow throughout his/her career. Perhaps the number one source that a private investigator has access to, besides a database subscription, is other people, people who have some sort of occupation that a private investigator can use. Any private investigator who is any good at what he or she does will have an extensive web of these contacts. This network includes other private investigators who have advanced methods of online research and access to other databases, police, lawyers and informants. Informants are very important, some examples are; hotel clerk, bar tender, mechanic and people who have access to establishments and other locations.

What 3 things set a Good private investigator apart from the rest. 

#1 Connections: Just like with any business matters who you know. 

#2 Pretexting: Having the ability to put on an act is key to being successful as a pi. Individuals who excel at this tend to have strong confidence and are able to change their personality to match the person they are pretending to be.

#3 Report writing and research/information gathering: Many private investigators could be good research investigators but don’t have the patience needed to painstakingly scan through page after page of an old newspaper to find that one bit of info, or to track down witnesses and arrange a meeting. Good research investigators are very patient and have excellent memory and instinct. 

If you are self-insured and dealing with an insurance claim, this article will help you learn about the claim investigation process, and what to look for in retaining the services of an investigator. It also contains helpful information for those who have experience handling claims but need to learn more to better protect their business from fraud. In addition, it’s helpful for those who pay premiums but want to understand how the insurance companies investigate claims.

first, look into the background of the claimant

It is considered best practice to search for red flags first to determine the likelihood that their claim is fraudulent. An investigator can help you look for indications of a fraudulent claim. Enough of them, and he or she will recommend that surveillance be conducted on the claimant to investigate the alleged injury further.

claim mills

When investigating, be sure to take an especially good look at the lawyer and doctor that the claimant uses. Sometimes, the doctor will cooperate with an attorney who will recruit from the workforce and then send that person to the doctor for treatment. The doctor will often inflate the medical bill, or submit a claim for treatment, which the claimant never received. 

signs of a fraudulent claim

The applicant:

  • has a history of claims and, or fraud
  • was newly hired when they claimed the injury
  • changed his/her account of the incident
  • has a history of visiting unethical doctors, and lawyers
  • reported the injury on Monday morning 
  • claimed the injury after being disciplined, laid off, or after missing out on a promotion
  • refused diagnostic procedures (X-rays, MRI’s)
  • is unusually familiar with the claims process
  • has other documented health problems or injuries that are similar to the one claimed
  • works in a busy area, but no one witnessed the injury
  • was examined by more than one doctor, when one is sufficient to meet his/her needs 
  • has relatives that do not know about the claim
  • has family members with a history of worker’s compensation fraud
  • often receives treatment from a doctor who is far away from where he or she lives
  • was planning a vacation directly before making the claim
  • is not at home during work hours
  • played sports, or participated in other high-risk hobbies before the report was made

interview witnesses

If there are witnesses, they should be interviewed shortly after the incident - when their memory is still fresh. Wait too long, and your witnesses might forget details, or worse, the claimant might contact them and convince them to be untruthful. Having a savvy investigator, who knows how to get information from a witness, is very important. He or she will be good at gaining the trust and friendship of the person, so that they feel comfortable sharing what they know. In addition, an investigator will often be able to tell the difference between a untrustworthy and truthful one, based on how they answer questions and their body language.


This is where the investigator will endeavor to determine the physical location of the claimant, using the LKA (last known address) that they found for the claimant during the search for red flags. The investigator will employ the use of pretexts (phone calls made to the claimant or their relatives) or drive by the LKA, and try to spot the claimant’s vehicle. In addition, he or she will use this time to plan a place where they can park their vehicle and set up surveillance at the residence without being detected.


Not only will the seasoned investigator be able to follow the claimant at a distance to avoid detection, they will also act quickly to get out of bad situations and be skilled in pretexting, to get information. They will blend into the environment so that they can discreetly film the claimant. he or she knows how to capture high quality video, which is embossed with the time and date and does not have audio (audio is not legal in most states) and, after a close up view of their face to prove the person's identity, shows their full body as they go about their daily activities.

report writing

After the authorized hours of surveillance are completed, an experienced investigator should be able to provide you with a well-written report. This is probably the most important part of any worker’s compensation investigation. The report must have proper formatting and be concise, accurate, and clear.

court testimony

Most cases never end up in court, but if yours does, an experienced, and ethical investigator can help you win your case by acting in a professional manner, and because of the his or her reputation as a credible witness.

This article is meant for creditors who are considering litigation with regards to a debt. It provides them with resources they can use to help determine what property the debtor has, and the likelihood that they will pay the debt.

Investigate the debtor first

If you are considering filing a lawsuit to collect on a debt, in most cases, you should first thoroughly investigate the debtor. The reason is to locate the debtor’s assets and learn about their history to determine the likelihood that the debt will be re-payed.  

Most of the records you need can be obtained without a judgment or subpoena. However, before we get into what an asset search entails, and to explain why you should investigate the debtor before filing suit, here is a brief description of how the debt collection process normally works. 

Debt collection process

First, a creditor will send a payment request letter to the debtor. If there is no result, the creditor will file a lawsuit in circuit court or in small claims court (for small amounts of money). If the creditor is successful, they will receive a judgment against the debtor.  

After obtaining the judgment, the creditor can attempt to collect the judgment by filing a lien on the debtor’s house or a writ of execution with the court, which is a document that gives the sheriff instructions on what property to seize. The creditor can also file a writ of garnishment to collect a percentage of the debtor’s wages. However, just because the creditor won, does not mean that they will be able to collect on the judgment. 

how the debtor might try to stop enforcement of a judgment

The judgment debtor may claim exemptions, or file for bankruptcy.   
Note: Exemptions are not applicable if the judgment debtor is a corporation. 

The debtor can simply wait to receive the writ of execution from the sheriff before taking action. This writ will often come with paperwork that the judgment debtor can fill out and file at the courthouse to claim exemptions. The debtor usually has 30 days to file (laws vary by state) and can claim all of the items on the writ, and any other property, bank accounts etc. that they have. The debtor will have the opportunity to do this before the sheriff can take the possessions on the writ and before a lien against the debtor’s property can be finalized.

It is then up to the judge to decide if the property, wages, or other assets are necessary for the support of the debtor or his or her family. Also, the judgment debtor might file for bankruptcy, which in most cases will do away with the judgment and leave the creditor with nothing. Therefore, before taking legal action, it is often best to investigate the debtor to assess if the person will be likely to pay the debt. This is called an asset search. 

what information can an asset search produce, tips, & how it can help you

An asset search usually begins with an address search. This search will allow a person to find all of the counties where the debtor has lived. They will then be able to locate some of the records by contacting the courthouse or other government entity in that county. These public records can be often found by searching the website of the courthouse in that county.  

If the records are not online, some courthouses require that you make a physical visit or (if a trip isn’t practical) a written request. Still others, that do not have on-line access, will provide basic details of the records over the phone. Many clerks are very friendly and helpful in this regard.

Assets & Records That Can Be Found 
Note: This is not an all inclusive list, but covers most types of assets.

  • Motor vehicle, watercraft, & aircraft registration
  • Inheritance 
  • Trusts
  • Safe deposit boxes

Visit to search for these. Bankruptcy is always a federal case, so you will find out if the debtor has one or has recently filed for one by using this website. However, you will need to register to use this service; registration takes about two weeks.  

Bank Accounts 
With a judgment, bank accounts can be located by an information broker. The search is not guaranteed to produce an account, but when successful, they are worth the cost. If the debtor’s bank account)s are found and you have a judgment, you can attach them to the writ of execution for collection. 

Sometimes you can find the debtors current employer in this document.

Finding the debtors current employer can allow a judgment creditor to file a writ of garnishment with the court to garnish wages. Intermittently, they can be found in public records. If you can’t find them this way, then there are data brokers who can help you locate them. If none of these options work, the employer might still be found by conducting surveillance on the debtor.

Real Estate and Deeds 
After locating them, and depending on the debtor’s financial status, you might be allowed to file a lien against the person's house or property. In addition, look for recently sold property and property sold to known associates. It is a common practice for a debtor to sell property to a trusted friend that they will get back after their financial troubles are over.

These public records show a history of lawsuits against the debtor, such as amounts, names of the parties involved, case status, what party (if any) won the judgment, and if it was released. (payment was made) All of which is useful information to creditors who want to know how much debt they have, and if the debtor has paid his or her debts in the past.

Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) Filings 
They are records of liens kept by the Secretary of State and can normally be looked up on their website for a fee. Basically, liens are a stake that an entity has in the debtor’s property until that property has been paid off. If creditors currently have liens on the debtor’s house, vehicle, or land etc., you can (if the judge allows it) place a lien. However, you will have to wait until all previous liens are satisfied before you have the chance to get paid.

Trash Swapping
This involves removing the debtors trash and replacing it with someone else's
trash. This can only be done if the trash is located on public property. Much of the assets
mentioned in this article can be found by this method. Be sure to know local laws that might
prohibit this activity.

Other records worth checking

Child Support Orders

Criminal Records 
Finding these can shed light on the character of the debtor.

If the debtor has an extensive criminal record, you might want to check for warrants, since the person may have difficulty paying a debt if they end up in jail. These can be found at the courthouse where the warrant was issued. They are normally in the county where the debtor lives or visits regularly. 


After all of the searching is over, you will have a better idea of the person’s financial status and history. If you end up deciding that the debtor will probably not pay, or that seizing the debtor’s property will force them to file for bankruptcy, you can still try to get a judgment, and can perhaps use it to obtain a lien. 

Three ways that this can pay off are: 

  • The debtor is much less likely to file bankruptcy due to a lien, then if he or she was faced with losing property.
  • The person might pay the lien in the future if they decide to apply for a loan, credit card, or some other type of credit.
  • This could take many years to materialize, but at some point in the future, the debtor may sell the property and be required to pay the lien with the proceeds.
When it comes to the person's criminal history, a criminal record search can show you the debtors character. Someone with a criminal record is far less likely to repay a debt, then a person with a clean record who might want to make things right, but perhaps has fallen on bad times.