Private Investigations and Personal Security/Type of Investigations To Pursue


Hello again Nic,

I would like to become a private investigator specializing in personal/business background checks, pre marital/relationship screens, missing persons, re-uniting birth parents & children, skip tracing, product liability, employee character screening, corporate espionage, and company vs.competitor investigations.

My question is, can one eventually make a decent living,(I guess to me that would mean, at the least, making a living from one occupation), performing the above investigations as opposed to going the surveillance type invesrigations route?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'd enjoy being more of a researcher/information gathering type investigator as opposed to investigators involved with odd hours filming and photographing domestic and criminal/drug/sting operation type issues.

I've spoken with a few P.I.s around my locale, but it seems that they are enjoying or performing more surveillance/infidelity types of activities.

Is this because these investigators might consider surveillance/filming/photographing more profitable or might surveillance activities be somewhat easier than the data-base accessing and researching segment of private investigations?

I would very much appreciate a response from an experienced professional.

Thank you greatly.


Mike E.

Hi Mike-

Surveillance certainly has its place in the investigative industry, but it is by no means the most important (or the most profitable).

Research and civil litigation support (where you are working for attorneys) are definitely more profitable, and easier to sell, based on your experience.

Good investigative researchers can earn $150-$200 an hour in California. I am not familiar with what the current fees are in your state.

I will run down the list of things you think you would like to do and will rate them according to their probability of being successful for you at this stage of your career path.

Personal Background Checks- With the economy in the state its in, most companies are using simple online services, like Intelius, which provide a very superficial, B.S. type of "report" but many employers are opting for it because its cheap{ $50-$100}.

Reuniting adoptees and birth mother/fathers- a very specialized field. Takes a long time to develop the skill set.

Product Liability- Do you have any experience working with product defects and or testing?

Corporate espionage- usually performed by the company's in-house security
and or investigative united.

Company vs. competitor- Not sure what you mean by this. If you are talking about business intelligence investigations, it helps to have a background in the financial arena so that you can intelligently read financial reports, SEC filings, etc.

Missing persons/Skip Tracing- Same general skill set. Not too hard to get into if you are willing to start out as the "gofer"; many collection agencies use skip-tracers, so that might be a place to start getting your training in the field.

Does that give you an answer?


Nic Smith

Private Investigations and Personal Security

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Nichols (Nic) J. Smith


I can answer almost any question with regards to the individual state laws concerning private investigators; best practices and procedures used in private investigations;how to determine if the agency or investigator you are contemplating using is sufficiently qualified to do the work and if an investigation was conducted in accordance with the standards of practice and care used in the professional investigative industry. I can also direct you with regards to doing your own research in certain situations, such as finding someone who owes you money. I can steer you through the database "minefield" with regards to which databases contain useful information and which don't. I can also advise regarding the kind of information that you can legally obtain and what's not legal.


Awards and Honors
Life Fellow- American College of Forensic Examiners

Past/Present Clients
Morgan Lewis and Brockius (Int'l Law firm) Sedgwick, Detert (Int'l Law Firm) Bingham McCutheon (Int'l Law Firm

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