Classic Misconceptions About Private Investigators

The private detective profession has been in existence for over 150 years. And, it’s been about one hundred years since the first private eye films we know arrived on the silver screen. For the same amount of time, our profession has been glamorized in news, film, and crime novels. Misconceptions pervade.

Make no mistake, once you enter this profession, you’ll hear every stigma in the book. Many P.I.s still cling on to these once bygone brands.

Nowadays, real P.I.s don’t grease palms or manhandle witnesses. We’re professional, tech­ savvy, and cut from a different cloth.

Here’s the old beliefs that may or may not hold true:

We’re all former cops

Our backgrounds vary; ex­-military, federal agents, librarians, accountants, investigative reporters, and business owners.

We all carry guns

I’ve never carried a gun. If you’re working in certain areas of Detroit or Oakland, it’s understandable. But, those who carry firearms in our line of work are asking for trouble.

We all wear trench coats and fedoras

Hollywood strikes again with this trope. I’ve never been “fedorable.” 20s film noir P.I. getups make great Halloween costumes, but no reputable P.I. wears them these days.

We take “pictures”

Sure, we have DSLR cameras in our tool kits. Especially if conducting a surveillance, or investigating a workplace accident. But, my “everyday carry” is a handheld camcorder. Video footage is the way to go.

We aren’t following you right now

Every PI gets this misconception all the time – we get asked, “Are you following me right now?” The better question is, “Who would pay us to follow you?”

We didn’t do a background check on you

Don’t kid yourself. We don’t care that much about you to even run a simple database search. But, we did dig through your social media before we met you.

We lack professionalism

Only six states don’t need a P.I. license to operate. A business license, several years of experience, and a college degree are also needed to start a P.I. business. We’re as professional as your local lawyer, accountant, dentist, or crossing guard.

We can hack a cell phone

No. The NSA might have that capability, but it’s not in our book of services.

We can find out how much money is in a bank account

Classic misconception. There are strict rules on this one. Avoid asking us to do this.

We’re not above the law

We work within the law, not above it. We can’t and shouldn’t be doing illegal work because you paid us for it.

We follow people exactly like they do in the movies

Hollywood makes me laugh. Every character ever would get burned for following too close in any movie I’ve

ever watched. The art of “tailing” requires a fine balance. You could lose your subject, get burned, or capture

that smoking gun footage.

We don’t lose people

I’ve lost subjects before. Red lights happen. School buses get in the way. Old ladies with handicap stickers stop at yellow lights. It happens.

We listen to Hall and Oates

This one isn’t a myth. It’s true. I’m rocking out to this right now.


P.I.s may have once carried a black mark. But, today’s private eyes see themselves as valuable members of the business community. One who provides a service for a fee.

Today, you’ll see private investigators in front of a computer screen as much as in the field. We have adapted. Information and the avenues in which to get it, change everyday.

3 replies

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] goes a long way in the PI industry. There is no “spy college,” so hire a P.I. with the acquired fieldwork. University degrees aren’t required to become a PI […]

  2. […] dealing with a private investigator, ditch the TV and film portrayal. PIs aren’t Magnum, P.I., or Jake Gittes in […]

  3. […] Koehler, host of PI’s Declassified! radio show and a longtime private investigator and I talk about this important topic in her latest episode. I share my deposition experiences and […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *