COVID-19 Advice for Private Investigators
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has left everybody reeling in one way or another. As a private investigator, you may have already experienced a decline in business as everyone simultaneously put their life on pause. But crime continues even in hard times and there is a lot you can still do without risking the health of you or your clients. We have compiled some resources and tips that you can use to keep your investigation business active and safe during these uncertain times.
Attorneys and private investigators play a vital role in criminal defense and civil litigation. As such, it is important that despite the challenges of the health crisis, we continue to represent our clients and prepare cases for litigation.” - Steven Mason
Work from Home
Depending on how you run your business, you might already be working largely from home. Still, there are some things to keep in mind and changes that might need to be made in order to make your processes more efficient with the introduction of social distancing.
Check out this article on ServeNow that provides more detail about transitioning your business to working remotely.
Whether you’re talking to employees or conducting interviews, video conferencing is the easiest way to achieve face-to-face interaction without compromising distance. Common tools include Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, and Skype. Depending on the app you use, you can even record your interview for later use. Keep in mind that it’s also helpful to have a decent webcam for such meetings.
Similar to video conferencing, there are a plethora of tools that enable you to get done what you need to without leaving your home. Store and share information via cloud-enabled systems like Google Drive, OneDrive, and DropBox. If you need a document signed, you can use DocuSign, Adobe Sign, and HelloSign to obtain eSignatures. Even when you’re not stuck at home, it’s useful to be able to accept credit card payments remotely. Stripe, Square, and Paypal aid with this along with accounting platforms like Freshbooks and Quickbooks.
While things may look a little different, a lot of the things you do as a private investigator you can still do from your computer. As Steve Mason, of Mason Investigative Solutions, observed, courts can provide record information by email and mail and police record departments often accept public record requests. Also, internet evidence collection can continue uninterrupted. In fact, Joseph Jones, Vice President of BOSCO Legal Services, has seen an uptick of social media investigations since enforcement of the stay at home order.
It may be a trend to post pictures of your at-home workspace, but this is unwise for private investigators. Avoid taking pictures of your desk and computer as you might accidentally expose sensitive information to bad actors online.
One of the best uses of your time right now is calling your regular clients and letting them know you’re still in business and offering your services. Even in times of trouble, you want to keep your marketing going. Note that you don’t want to overwhelm your clients since they are probably receiving communications from other companies as well, but it’s important to show you care. As Steve Mason advised, “Make contact with all your clients to let them know that you are still capable of conducting investigations (assuming this is correct). When I did this, I explained how much of our work is done online, that interviews can be done telephonically or by video conference, and that government agencies are still processing public record requests.” As strange as it may seem, this may actually be the best time to conduct an investigation so remind your customers of your capabilities even from behind a computer.
Another option for showing you care is offering services that you might not normally. For example, Joseph Jones volunteered the use of his office equipment for high-volume printing and even picked up toilet paper for a client in need. He said it’s about “letting clients know that we’re here to help them through it, but also actually showing it and stepping outside of our box.” If you have the time and resources, offer to help your clients in creative ways.
Use the Time
If you find that you have more free time, there are many ways you can stay productive. For example, now is the perfect time to learn a new skill, invest in a new tool, or adopt a new software. As Scott Fulmer of Intermountain PI stated in his article, Coronavirus, Private Investigators and Business Continuity, “Finding an investigative niche is important to success. However, you should specialize in at least a couple of different services.” To do this, you can read blogs, books, or take online courses. For quality PI blogs, check out Rachele’ Davis’ New Hope Investigations Blog, Brian Willingham’s A Diligent Theory Blog, or our other articles on PInow. You can also try out a couple podcasts, like John Hoda’s My Favorite Detective Stories and Francie Koehler’s PI’s Declassified, or peruse the articles in Pursuit Magazine and PI Magazine. If you’re looking for online courses, in her article Productive Things you can do During a Business Slowdown Rachele’ Davis suggests PI Education and the Hetherington Group which both offer online courses.
If you and yours are healthy now, discern what else you can do, beef up on the online training and books on it, and starting working the nights and weekends to up-skill. Think of it as investing in a stock that will take off rather than of spending time and money during this downturn in your business. Your skills are your greatest asset.” - John Hoda
Another use of your time that Steve Mason suggests is continuing to meet with your network by telephone, email, or video conferencing. He advises you to “reach out to experts and investigators in your area to offer them a hand, as well as learn how you both can mutually exchange referrals.”
Your number one priority during this time is to keep your body and your mind healthy. Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, making sure to wash your thumbs and your nail beds. If you can’t reach a sink, use hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth especially if you haven’t washed your hands. While the most common way the virus is transmitted is through direct contact, wear some sort of face protection when you leave the house in order to keep you from touching your face. Remember that this doesn’t have to be a medical mask, it can be a piece of cloth or bandana. In fact, if you have medical masks, send them to your nearest medical professionals as they are in more dire need of them. Minimize your trips out of your house and, when you do leave, keep six feet of distance between you and other people. If you use gloves, use them correctly.
During this time, misinformation is running rampant and causing unnecessary fear. Keep yourself safe from this by using reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). In order to stop the spread of misinformation, do not share information on social media unless it comes from a reliable source.
Pro Tip: Find Ways to Help
For Joseph Jones, this looks like turning his office into a face mask assembly line. For you, it might look different. It might be donating to Feeding America or grocery shopping for someone who is immunocompromised. Whatever it looks like for you, there are always ways to share love and joy during a difficult time.