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What does an Online Private Investigator do?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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An online private investigator provides research services for clients using Internet search techniques. Typically less expensive than regular private investigators, these professionals are skilled in using the Internet to dig up information, including credit histories, background checks, and other information. An online private investigator can do much of his or her work from a home or office, allowing for considerable job and lifestyle flexibility.

Private investigators generally have legal or law enforcement training. Some were originally law officers or detectives that have retired or prefer to focus specifically on investigation. Depending on the region, a PI may or may not need certification or a license to work. Some experts suggest checking local laws to see if certification is required, and many recommend avoiding hiring a non-licensed detective in an area that requires a license to avoid fraud or theft.

Although the traditional image of a PI is a person in a trench coat looking at clues carefully with a magnifying glass, this is a rather outdated and romantic image. Much of PI work is done online, since most records and information are now stored electronically. An online PI specializes in this type of work; while he or she can't provide live surveillance or follow suspects at the clients will, they are masters at hunting down electronic information and the digital paper trail a person leaves behind.

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Some of the jobs an online PI might take include hunting down missing people, doing background checks, and finding court records. Much of this information is available online through vast databases, online records, and even simple searches. Within hours, a skilled online private investigator may be able to hunt down information that would take another person weeks or months of searching.

An online private investigator may operate a regular office, but many choose to find and accept work through an Internet site. For a set fee, a client may request one of many services, such as a background check on a spouse or employer. An online private investigator may refund all or a portion of the fee if the information can't be found. Depending on the service requested, the client may receive copies of all discovered information, from prior addresses to marriage or arrest records.

An online private investigator must be prepared to walk a very fine ethical line in some cases. While finding publicly available information, such as court records, is certainly legal, other practices may not be. Breaking into a person's encrypted email or bank account is illegal in most places, leading many private investigators to find ingenious ways around some privacy issues and laws.

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