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What a Private Investigator Cannot Do

There are many occasions in which a client asks our investigators to do something that is illegal and/or unethical.  This is probably because of the misconception of exactly what a private investigator can legally do.  Television portrays private investigator as super sleuths that can obtain any information that you could ever want or need, but this just is not true.  A private investigator does have the ability to obtain records and information that normal civilians cannot, but there are occasions where it is not possible. 

One reason is that the information may be private and protected by state or federal statute.  An investigator may be able to locate the information, but will not be given access to it.  Another reason is that the information just does not exist, or at least it does not exist in one place. 

There are many advantages to hiring a private investigator, but there are a few things that a P.I. cannot, should not, and will not do. 

  1. Impersonate law enforcement.  It is a felony to impersonate a police officer.  The state of Illinois also bans the impersonation of firefighters, emergency management workers, attorneys, veterans, parents/legal guardians or airplane pilots. 
  2. Wiretap a telephone without consent of all parties involved. 
  3. Record a conversation without consent of all parties.  It is illegal in the state of Illinois to use an eavesdropping device to overhear or record a conversation without all parties’ knowledge. 
  4. Tamper with mail.  Tampering with, opening, altering, or destroying mail is a federal offense.
  5. Access banking, financial, or credit records.  An investigator has ways of finding out the location of the information, such as what bank is used, but there is no way for an investigator to get access to the information.  The information is considered private and cannot be accessed without consent from the individual or a subpoena or court order.

In spite of these restrictions, some investigators will obtain such information through unlawful methods.  Information obtained illegally will be dismissed and is unusable in a court of law.  Make sure that your private investigator is licensed and ethical; otherwise they will damage your case and hinder further investigation.