Jamie Graham & Associates, PLLC

7 Client Requests That PI's Do Not Accept

Written By: Danny Gonzales ACES of Austin & San Antonio Private Investigator

When certain uncertainties strike our lives, we long for clarity because, let's face it, when we are face to face with doubts that convinces our mind that it's impossible to move on, we get paralyzed. This is where a private investigator comes in. One of the things that a private investigator does is to cast away doubts and lay them to rest by finding information about the truth.

While one of the roles of a private investigator is to shed some light about the real truth by finding facts, they do have their limitations on how to acquire them. Here are some of the requests that private investigators will not or cannot do for a client:

1. "Can you get me phone records?"

No. One example of this situation is a scandal which involves Hewlett-Packard and something called "pretexting". Pretexting is when somebody pretends to be someone else to obtain certain info and records. In this case, HP hired detectives to find out who was divulging information. It so happened that these detectives pretended to be HP board members and employees for them to get phone records. 3 investigators got charged later with felonies and HP got in a lot of mess. In conclusion, phone records is a big no-no, unless you have a subpoena to show.

There are however, other options to tapping phones. You can hire an investigator to dig into public information and try and search who they might be calling if you want to find out who that particular person is talking to. The focus should be on the goal of the investigation and not on the method of obtaining the information.

2. "Can you tap on somebody's phone and tell me who this particular person is calling and can you provide me with their conversation?"

It is illegal to tap a phone unless you are an FBI agent or a constituent of a law enforcement agency. Even so, these persons who are exempted from the law, need to ask permission from a judge to do so.

As for recording phone conversations, it depends on the state, but one or both parties on the call have to give their consent before one can record a phone call, otherwise, it is considered wiretapping which is, of course, against the law.

3. "Can you plant a GPS tracker on somebody's car whom I want to track?"

Different States have different laws, however, majority shows that the person who hired the investigator should be the owner of the vehicle that they want to be tracked and tracking should be limited to a certain time frame.

Tracking somebody else's vehicle or a vehicle that has been given to an employee for personal use is not favorable in the court of law, even if the car is co-owned, it is still not a guarantee and will only cost a very long and expensive case in court.

On the positive side, there are several ways to find out where somebody is going without breaking any laws. Investigators can follow a car, follow a person and access a national database of car movements. All this evidence may be collected in a certain way that would be usable and legal in a court of law.

4. "Can you find the location and phone number of an old college crush whom I want to locate?"

This one is a YES, given that certain procedures are followed. Investigators need to ask basic questions to make sure that the reason for locating a person is harmless or for a legal purpose such as process serving or repossession. In general, investigators cannot provide the contact information of the person they are hired to find unless that person gave his/her consent to do so.

5. "Can you get me the bank records of somebody? I want to know how much money is in their bank account."

If a subpoena is provided by an attorney, then YES. Other circumstances would warrant a "sort of" answer.

Private investigators can find out if a certain person gets his hand into some money that they are trying to hide but they cannot determine how much money is in their bank account. They can, however, find out if that person opened up a bank account in a certain bank and gather evidence of their habits in spending. This is how they deduce that there is some acquired or hidden wealth.

6. "Can you ping a cell phone that I want to track?"

Now, this is a very popular request, however, the answer is NO. Tracking a phone requires permission from the cellphone's user and owner. It is illegal to act on it without permission. Even police officers can only do so in particular circumstances.

One of the most popular ways of tracking a mobile phone is installing a spyware without the knowledge of the owner. This, of course, is illegal without the explicit permission from the phone's user or the user's guardian.

Another popular method is "pinging". To simplify the explanation, cellphone companies can "ping" a phone with a certain request type that can determine it's location. This is illegal as well not unless you have the owner's permission or you are a law enforcement agency. Still, it is somewhat tricky to acquire this since cell companies do not want to admit that they have this capacity let alone let others use it.

7. "Can you hack somebody's phone/email/social media account for me?"

A big NO. First and foremost, it is illegal and anybody who claims they can do this is breaking the law, not to mention they are in violation of the terms of services of the software that they are hacking and of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Secondly, it is downright unethical. Even when the private investigator's client is distressed and feels betrayed, it is not the best way to pacify things. The best way to approach this is again, the goal, for example finding out if a partner is cheating, rather than the method on how to achieve that goal - reading their texts, etc. This way, a private investigator can help figure out whether or not their partner is cheating. A preferred way of doing this would be to conduct surveillance or finding profiles on online dating sites. An Austin Private Investigator says " We get this kind of request all the time, installing keystroke recorder on the family computer with anyone's consent is totally legal." Monitoring your own computer is fine, using it as evidence may or may not hold up in court though.

Finally, private investigators need to take extra measures when taking a case to ensure that they are not helping out harassers, stalkers and the likes. They are here to help their clients in finding facts, not to help them hurt other people.

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At Jamie Graham & Associates, PLLC, we have received a variety of honors and awards for our family law services. Members of our team have been listed as Top Lawyers in San Antonio Scene magazine. We take pride in the number of positive reviews we have received from satisfied clients. On AVVO, a lawyer rating website, we have received an 8.9 rating overall and many positive ratings from clients and colleagues.

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