A private investigator does more than background investigations, they can also help in the case of a legal matter or lawsuit. A private investigator has the investigative training and skills to gather data on a potential witness for an attorney or legal case. However, not all private investigators are ethical and some would use any means necessary to acquire information that could prove the guilt of your opponent, even if the method of acquiring the information is illegal.
Private investigators can be the key to winning your legal case. Just as they can be an asset, they can also be a major liability, and it is important to understand what to look for in a private investigator and how to hire the right one. Ethics are at the core of being a private investigator. Private investigators are required to be licensed in most states. Each state has different licensing requirements, but all require a certain number of hours of training and continuing education under the subject of ethics to keep and renew their private investigator license.
For example, Texas requires eight hours a year of continuing education on ethics from all licensed private investigators. This requirement helps ensure that private investigators know what is ethical and legal for them to do, as well as what is not ethical or legal for them to do. It does not matter if the unethical acts were done intentionally or accidentally. If your private investigator does something that violates the law, you could end up with a ruined case or worse yet, criminal charges against you.
The Gramm-Leach Bliley Act (GLBA)
The GLBA is a financial privacy law that applies to financial institutions and certain third parties that receive customer data from them. The FTC has enforcement authority over the GLBA. The Act requires financial institutions to have measures in place to make sure that consumers’ sensitive information is protected. Specifically, it requires companies to:
- Provide consumers with privacy notices that explain their information-sharing practices.
- Give consumers the chance to opt-out of having their personal information shared with nonaffiliated third parties.
- Take reasonable steps to protect sensitive customer information from unauthorized access.
- Companies that violate the GLBA can face civil penalties of up to $150,000 per violation.
Unethical investigation methods
Oftentimes, an investigator may not even realize they are breaking the law. If your investigator has used any of these methods in your case, this should be considered an ethics red flag:
Non-GLBA compliant asset search
Your investigator is not allowed to hack into the subject’s bank account or impersonate the subject to obtain private information from a bank. This action directly violates the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act.
Surveillance or stalking?
The point of surveillance is to be a one-way method of observation. The investigator cannot purposefully or accidentally make themselves known or they could potentially face stalking and harassment charges in certain jurisdictions.
Working on contingency
There is no guarantee that your private investigator will find anything on your subject, meaning, there is no benefit for your private investigator to work on the contingency of finding evidence. Investigators can only report the truth and providing an incentive of payment to find a certain amount of information can lead to a conflict of interest and false evidence.
When choosing a private investigator, it’s crucial that a candidate is licensed. An unlicensed private investigator can bring you into legal trouble and may even jeopardize your entire case. It’s always smart to conduct an interview to gather more data about the investigator’s track record and how they plan to handle your situation. A good private investigator will also be able to sit down with you and discuss what you’re looking for in an investigator.