Spying on other people has been around since cavemen hid behind rocks and watched their women bathe in the river, checking up to see if they were being faithful. As times changed, the most important aspect of the sleuthing business became the kinds of tools available for investigation. Technology has had the biggest impact; for little more than an annual subscription to a central database program and a few electronic gadgets, a private investigator can find all kinds of information about anyone at any time.
The Internet has transformed the way private investigators gather information. Instead of rummaging around dusty old file boxes, a PI can log into a database and learn about a person’s prior arrests, place of employment, credit history and private phone numbers. You don’t even need a database to log into your quarries' social networking sites to see what they’ve been up to lately. Whether you’re working for a company doing background checks or following a suspected cheater, you’ll rely heavily on the many tricks and tools available online.
Private investigators take advantage of many of the tools used by police departments and even private citizens when they want to follow someone around. You don’t need to be there physically to know where a suspect's going if you plant a GPS tracker under the wheel well on the car. Wireless cameras, strategically placed, feed you all kinds of information from a remote location -- live, no less. Microtechnology has paved the way for smaller and smaller cameras that can fit in a pendant around your neck or on the corner of a pair of sunglasses so you can shoot pictures with no one being the wiser.
Private investigators become savvy body language experts after doing interviews with liars and cheats. They build an armory of “tells” they look for when talking with a suspect. PIs start an interview by building rapport with a suspect, finding things they might have in common. They get the suspects to relax before hitting them with the hard questions. By asking a bunch of questions that they already know the answers to, private investigators use the suspects’ body language as a baseline. When they ask other questions, they can tell if suspects change speech patterns or raise their voices. Guilty subjects tend to give away their lies with clenched fists, red faces and shifty eye movements.
The telephone can be a useful tool for private investigators who know the possibilities of tricks you can pull with land lines and cell phones. Most phone companies allow you to hit *67 to block your number when you want to make anonymous calls to get information. Find cell phone numbers in a variety of cell phone directories. Trace an old cell phone provider by just asking the carrier who has a certain number. If you listen in on phone conversations, you can get a device to figure out the number dialed. You can even use a software program on your computer to listen to phone conversations and analyze the voices to tell you if they're telling the truth or lying.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."