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10 Ways Electronically Stored Information is Changing the Investigative Industry

  • October 22, 2012
  • by David Pelligrinelli

Editor's note: This article was written by an industry professional and guest contributor. The views and opinions in this article are of the author and do not reflect the views of PInow. If you are a blogging investigator and you have a story to share, send an email to [email protected].

electronically-stored-information-investigationsBackground checks, infidelity, embezzlement, insurance claims, theft, surveillance, lie detection. These are all areas of professional services traditionally associated with private investigation. Almost all cases involve investigating trust.

Discovering the answers needed for a client requires trust in the client-agency relationship, and delivering on your promise to gather intel on the subject you are investigating. For the past several decades, most of the information needed for a case file came from observing visible activity and records: printed documents, receipts, surveillance photos, subject interviews, etc. Fast forward to today, and the investigative industry is more interested in Electronically Stored Information (ESI). Whether the information comes from private data sources (e.g. CLEAR, TLO, and IRB), from public records, or from electronic evidence (e.g. email records and internet log files), the availability of large volumes of intel in an electronic format is appealing. Modern investigators seize the opportunity to access this information with apparent simplicity, efficiency and convenience while leveraging the intel into more valuable case results. Here are 10 ways that electronically stored information is changing the investigative industry today:

1. Electronic data requires analysis

True case intel does not come from pushing a button. The real value to the client comes from deep analysis of records from all available resources. Agencies who employ experts at comparison, cross-referencing, and creative interpretation of records will be the ones to enjoy extraordinary success in the coming decade.

2. Electronic information can be leveraged into bigger opportunities

The enormous volume of information available from electronic records is just letters and numbers by itself. However, intelligence extracted from it can be leveraged to create new services and products to offer clients, be used to engage with new clients, and provide deeper case results for existing clients.

3. ESI levels the playing field for investigators

Deep ESI skills brings the competitive position of a smaller agency closer to that of a larger or more established firm. The barrier to entry for a smart PI or agency is lowered if you use alert smarts to develop intel extraction practices.

4. Agencies are differentiating themselves by adding value to ESI

A professional agency who goes beyond sending video footage from investigations and integrates intelligence from ESI becomes a new type of resource for clients. The expertise creates a stronger agency relationship which is harder for the client to replace. 

5. The core purpose of the PI changes

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to transform electronic information into usable intel. Clients are more likely to look at agencies to provide interpretation of information, more often than just video footage or background snapshots. Agencies enjoying the greatest success are those who bring to the table more than what every other competitor can.

6. Clients are practicing "DIY-investigations"

As electronic records are more commonly available, potential civilian clients may try their hand at more self-directed "investigations". Individuals snoop on Facebook or emails to catch partner infidelity, so there are fewer domestic cases going to PI's. Companies may use public online records to weed out applicants, so they need background checks less often. Agencies may be competing against other investigators as well as their own clients.

7. Access to electronic information leads to new cases

An investigative agency proficient in the use of ESI can take on new types of cases which match their new existing business model, including asset recovery or FCPA. Asset discovery is an excellent example where a smart investigator can utilize their skills and provide value to a client using electronic records for tracking the flow of funds, asset purchases, and vesting of property, etc.

8. Investigators must keep up with changing laws

As technology changes and electronic records become more widespread, regulation and legislation on restrictions of their use increases. Scenarios where ESI creates a public outcry causes government agencies to pass laws on ESI usage, sometimes in a knee-jerk reaction. PI's now need to understand the requirements of DPPA, GLB, HIPPA, and the FCRA when using ESI. For example, employers in some states have restrictions on when Facebook can be used in hiring decisions.

9. ESI can boost client relations

Use electronic information to cement a relationship with new and existing clients. An astute agency will do as much or more due diligence on a client as they do with a subject. Understanding the true needs and history of a client serves their interest in engaging with a business partner who is truly intended on helping them discover answers.

10. Investigators are evolving into full service agencies

Now is the opportunity for professional investigators to develop a new version of the industry for themselves. Focus on identifying and building trust so your services exceed your clients' expectations, and distinguish yourself from the inferior competitors who commoditize their background checks and products.

No matter what the reason for the investigation, your client is trusting you to find the answer. Leveraging electronic data and distilling it down into usable intel is an invaluable service. Progressive agency owners are recognizing the evolution of their industry due to ESI.

About the Author: is a full service investigative agency. As your trusted investigator since 1995, we have worked with individuals, organizations and companies across the country to provide fast, accurate and reliable results.

We specialize in document forensics, background and character investigations, asset verification, electronic intel, corporate due diligence, fraud and theft, security assessment and armed protection, and activity tracking for attorneys, government agencies, insurance companies, real estate professionals, and private citizens.

Headquartered in beautiful South Florida, with resources nationwide, our private investigators are skilled professionals who care about discovering the truth and serving our clients’ needs.  For inquiries or to schedule a confidential appointment, please call (877) 848-5337 or email [email protected]

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