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5 Reasons Private Investigators Have Great Job Security

Private investigators like to complain. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. How hard is it to put a check in the mail? Maybe it’s because we have so much time to think and philosophize about life and our chosen occupation while sitting on surveillance for hours. One of the main topics at conventions as well as on the newsgroups these days is whether or not the private investigator occupation is a dying industry. While there is some shrinking and consolidating of markets within the private investigation trade, I submit that it is not a dying industry. Consider these 5 reasons . . .

1. The Government Says Otherwise . . .

They say the two biggest lies are ‘the check is in the mail’ and ‘I’m from the federal government and I’m here to help you.’ Having said that, the U.S. government projects positive growth in the private investigation industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the “employment of private detectives and investigators is projected to grow 11 percent from 2012 to 2022.” Of course, this is in line with the projected growth of all occupations in the U.S. but it is growth nonetheless. The question is, will you be part of this growth?

2. The Era of Nationwide PI Firms

As the words of a 1979 song by the Texas rock band ZZ Top go, “I’m bad…I’m nationwide.” There has been and continues to be a trend over the last couple of decades, especially in the insurance defense market, away from the small mom and pop P.I. firms that dominate the industry towards large regional and nationwide private investigation firms. While this topic is worthy of an article all its own, it is often cited as evidence of the dying industry argument. I’ve heard private investigators decry the loss of market share to these nationwide firms. In almost all cases these larger nationwide private investigation firms are owned by private investigators who started out as a single P.I. (a mom and pop) and grew from there. Much of the growth was due to sound business practices while some has occurred due to mergers and acquisitions. These nationwide firms in turn employ other private eyes across the region or nation as employees or contractors to conduct investigative work. It is, at the very least, evidence that, while certain markets within the private investigation industry may be shrinking or consolidating, there is still a demand for insurance defense surveillance.

3. The Niche Market Survives (The Generalist Decries)

There will always be a demand for highly skilled experts trained in specific investigative fields. Further evidence that private investigation is not a dying industry. Fields such as forensic accounting, wrongful death, infidelity investigations and TSCM are in demand. The question then becomes what do you specialize in? For example, you don’t get up one day and say, ‘I think I’ll specialize in homicide investigations and blood splatter analysis.’ This type of work is primarily conducted by private investigators who have spent a good deal of time as homicide detectives with their state or local police departments before becoming a private eye. They require experience and specialized training. My point is there will always be a market for unique investigative specialties that provide value to clients. The secret is to find your niche market and become an expert. Coincidentally, there is an excellent article in the one of the recent PI News Roundup Newsletters addressing specific increases and decreases in certain investigative markets. You can find it here: Increases and Decreases in Investigation Type Inquiries and Views from 2012 to Present. I highly recommend reading it.

I would add that, with some exceptions (and there are exceptions), attempting to be a “full service firm” is tantamount to being a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ The term ‘Expert’ denotes a comprehensive knowledge or skill in a particular field. You will need to be an expert to survive in the future. If I want a pi who deals with death and injury causation I call Colorado private investigator Dean Beers. If I need a nursing home abuse investigator I call Texas private investigator Kelly Riddle. These private eyes literally wrote the book on those niche investigations. What will your niche be?

4. Changes in Technology (Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Changes in Methodology)

When television sets began to be mass produced in the early 1950’s there was some concern in Hollywood that television would spell the end of the motion picture industry. After all, why go out to see a movie when you could just watch one at home on your TV. Likewise, it has been suggested that the advent of security cameras was supposed to discontinue the need for security officers and, to some extent, private investigators that specialize in insurance fraud. That hasn’t happened. For starters, someone has to monitor those cameras. Plenty of retail outlets have both cameras and security officers. Security cameras do not necessarily act as a deterrent towards bad behavior. If they did, no one would ever rob a convenience store. Similarly, even with cameras prevalent in the work place employees still engage in workers comp fraud. Security cameras cannot be everywhere. But a private investigator with a camera can be just about anywhere.

With that in mind, consider the approach of these two companies. The first, an international petrochemical company with refineries throughout the world and retail stores in your neighborhood. The second, a transit utility in one of the ten largest cities in the U.S.

The petrochemical company refines and distributes oil and gasoline to consumers through thousands of retail stores in the U.S. You may have purchased gasoline at one of their stores. I recently spoke at length with their director of claims. In an effort to lower costs, injuries and reduce litigation, they have placed security cameras inside and outside their gas stations. This includes cameras inside their walk-in coolers, refrigerated units and back room areas in an effort to observe customers, employees and vendors. The cameras have allowed them to resolve most of their workers comp and liability fraud issues without using a private investigator. However they still hire private eyes from time to time for complex cases that involve serious litigation.

The transit utility uses security cameras on their buses and handicapped vans in an effort to observe drivers and riders. Yet, they still use private investigators to conduct surveillance in an effort towards settling workers comp and liability claims.

5. The Rise of Social Media (End of Opportunity for the Private Investigator)

It’s been said that prostitution is the oldest profession with spying the second oldest. With that in mind, it doesn’t take much to see that neither infidelity nor spying seems to ever go out of business. Infidelity investigations, and by extension, child custody investigations are flourishing. Yet, another reason why the private investigator is not a dying industry.

When it comes to social media is the glass half full or half empty? It depends on your perspective. Cheap commercially available tracking devices and outdated “info providers” on the internet have furthered the ability for the average person to find at least some information. Many private eyes bemoan the fact that the internet has made it easier for clients to bypass private investigators altogether and find the information they’re looking for themselves. This may be true if you’re an inexperienced private eye that can do no more than cut and paste Facebook status updates and call that a background investigation.

The reality is that social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and have been a boon to the P.I. industry. According to a couple of studies at the University of Missouri, excessive use of social media has actually increased the opportunities for affairs or dalliances with old high school boyfriends or college girlfriends. Enter the private eye.

Bonus Reason Why It's Not a Dying Industry

If prostitutes and spies are the two oldest occupations, surely lawyers are the third oldest. As Shakespeare wrote in King Henry IV, part II, “The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.” As long as there’s a legal industry there will be a need for private investigators. But just as attorneys specialize in specific areas of the law, they are looking for private investigators who specialize as well. You wouldn’t want a bankruptcy attorney to defend you in a criminal case. Lawyers don’t want a private investigator that specializes in searching for birth mothers to handle their capital murder case. The niche strikes again.

In conclusion, there will always be a need for what President Theodore Roosevelt called “The man (or woman) who is actually in the arena…who does actually strive to do the deeds” There will always be a need for shoe leather; for the private eye. There will always be a need for someone to do the surveillance, to ask the questions, to serve the process, to follow the subject, to look for listening devices, to plant the GPS tracker, to verify, interrogate, inspect, monitor, photograph, videotape and investigate.

Yes, the industry is changing. The question is will you change with it? My son plays games on a Nintendo Wii. Prior to that we had the Nintendo 64 and the Super Nintendo. The Nintendo Company was founded in 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi. The original product? Playing cards. They didn’t enter the video game market until 85 years later in 1974. My point is you have to be in tune with the market and technology and able to respond and adapt to changes. The test of time will be how good you are at what you do and whether or not you bring value to your client.

About the Author

Scott B. Fulmer is a licensed Utah private investigator and President/CEO of intellUTAH. He has conducted complex investigations for high-profile clients in the private sector and at the state and federal levels, including sensitive national security background investigations involving federal agencies, presidential appointees of the George W. Bush administration, and members of the intelligence community.

He has a BA in Criminal Justice and has written numerous articles on investigative and surveillance techniques that have appeared in and other industry publications. Mr. Fulmer is an in-demand speaker with a unique method of storytelling that will engage your audience. He writes a popular weekly blog, The Utah Gumshoe, chronicling the “plucky deeds, daily musings and quiet reflections of a Utah private eye.” He is a decorated combat veteran of the Gulf War. Mr. Fulmer lives along the Wasatch Front with his wife and three children where he is currently at work on a book about surveillance methodology. You may contact him at [email protected].

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