© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.

Private Detective

The Real Poop

Jamie slips behind a bush to fix her moustache. She's tailed this guy for ten minutes and already the adhesive has melted off. She curses her Magnum P.I. costume. Never again will she shop at Cheap and Sleazy Costume Shoppe. From between the branches, she can see the guy embrace a woman with gigantic coconuts.

"They must be making some pina coladas today. His wife is going to hit the roof," she thinks as she snaps a couple of pictures. Suddenly, the man and woman look in her direction. Jamie pretends to pee in the corner of the bush. She waits a few minutes before turning around. The target has completely disappeared.

As Jamie races to her unmarked white van, she calls her client to ask her for the name of the motel that she sees on her husband's credit card statements. Minutes later she pulls into the parking lot of Big Rick's Halfway Inn.

She takes pictures of the two future naked acrobats making their way to their room.

"Gotcha," Jamie thinks.

She begins to pull out of the parking lot, but stops when she sees the husband walking down the stairs. He goes out to his car and carries back a tool belt. Twenty minutes later, she sees him pull paint cans out of his trunk.

"Freaky," she says. Jamie decides to interview the manager of the inn.

"Have you seen this man in your establishment?" she asks.

The manager scratches his head, "Well, yeah. He's helping my wife redecorate the place for our grand opening. We are even opening up a new tiki bar."

"Has he ever bought anything here or stayed the night?" Jamie interrogates.

"Yep, I mean he buys lunch at our restaurant everyday. I know he lost his job a month ago and is doing some odd jobs before he gets back on his feet. Why do you want to know?" he asks.

Jamie excuses herself from the office and calls her client. Her client is relieved. Jamie rips off her moustache and pulls a turban over her head. Time for the next case.

Okay, so we're a bit over the top on this one—but when most people think about private detectives, the whole costume thing has to be a big part of The Dream. In reality, the PD biz is relatively serious and PDs spend more time analyzing databased telephone records and managing credit reports than they do in disguise. But every now and then…yeah, it's Halloween.

However, before you pull out your old Halloween costumes and print business cards, you have to get a state issued license. States have their own distinctive requirements for a Private Investigator license. For example, California requires that applicants must be at least 18 years old, have at least 6,000 hours of investigative work experience at a law enforcement agency or business, earn a degree in criminal law, pass a written exam, and undergo a background check. And the background check can't simply confirm that yes, the PD applicant was, in fact, a convicted felon for dealing cocaine.

Why all the hoopla? Private detectives do more than just run around town trailing people and digging around in their garbage, either figuratively or literally. People in this field collect evidence to be used in court, verify backgrounds, investigate computer crimes, locate missing persons, interview strangers, and work on fraud cases. Many private investigators work for attorneys, insurance companies, and banks.

Darkly, private detectives enjoy tough economic times:

• Banks hire them to find deadbeats who have skipped out on paying the debts they promised to pay.
• They track down the people behind foreclosures.
• Creditors need private detectives to secure collateral used on defaulted loans.
• Lawyers seek private detectives to serve court documents.
• Companies employ private detectives to conduct background checks on their employees.
• Large corporations have permanent positions for detectives to prevent financial fraud and investigate unauthorized access to secrets.
• Detectives are also there for you when love goes wrong.

The suspicion of infidelity is a common reason people hire private detectives. However, evidence of the infidelity may not help your divorce case if you live in a no fault state such as California. That doesn't stop people from wanting to…know. Private detectives work in infidelity cases by following those suspected of cheating, videotaping their activities, obtaining evidence (such as incriminating bed sheets), installing tracking devices on their cars, and interviewing witnesses without giving away their client’s information.

Think you can follow in Allan Pinkerton's footsteps? (Famously great detective from a century ago.) Private detectives must have excellent communications skills (for getting out of tough jams or interviewing suspects), superb problem-solving skills and the ability to be resourceful, and quick on their feet when their fake moustache falls off.