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Jennifer Mellon | Misconceptions About Private Investigators

There are quite a few misconceptions about private investigators; thanks to how they are portrayed on-screen, says Jennifer Mellon. First off, a private investigator’s job is not as glamorous as the way it’s shown on TV and film. And secondly, a private investigator isn’t always dressed to the nines, doesn’t necessarily drive or much less own a fancy car, and they don’t usually stay at expensive hotels.

But that’s just one side of the picture, says Jennifer Mellon. The other side portrays private investigators as seedy characters who will do whatever it takes to get the job done. So on one side, you have this cool, suave image and on the other, you have a shady character; and neither one is an accurate portrayal, Jen says amusedly. Image Source: Futeral & Nelson LLC

On that note, Jennifer Mellon wishes to clarify below a few misconceptions about private investigators.

Private investigators can access everything related to the subject

On film and TV, PIs make one phone call, and they already know private details about the subject: bank records, phone records, criminal records, hospital records, and court documents. In reality, private investigators will need to get permission first from the proper authority to access such information. In general, they will need to get a subpoena first and they will also need the subject’s permission to access the information.

Private investigators can arrest someone

Another common misconception about PIs, says Jennifer Mellon, is that they can act on behalf of the police and make legal arrests. In reality, they don’t have the professional or legal rights to arrest anyone. They can notify the police about the situation and wait for them to apprehend the suspect/subject or person in question. If the PI knows that they could be dealing with a potentially dangerous person, they could try and secure permission to make an arrest when the situation turns aggressive or violent. But in general, PIs are not allowed to make arrests.

Private investigators can secretly record the subject

This is another scenario often seen on film and TV but in reality, secretly recording someone is against the law even for private investigators. Whether it’s tapping the subject’s phone or installing a hidden camera to record conversations, this isn’t permissible by law. On the other hand, if the PI does deem it critical to the client’s cause, they could ask permission from the court to wiretap the subject’s and client’s respective phones to record their conversation. As to whether or not the PI will be given permission depends on the state as each state has its own laws regarding wiretapping, says Jennifer Mellon.

Private investigators can follow the subject anytime and anywhere

There’s a little truth to this, says Jennifer Mellon; but surveillance can only be done on public property. Surveillance is actually one of the primary methods for private investigations and generally, this means following the subject wherever they go to keep a close eye on them and their activities. But again, this can only be done for as long as the subject doesn’t ask you to leave (if you’re on their property or they found out they’re being tailed). If the subject objects to the PI’s presence, then they must leave immediately.

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