How to Know If a Private Investigator Is Watching?

By Missy Jess - Updated June 01, 2017
Private Investigator using camera for surveillance

Private investigators assist companies and individuals in divorce cases, insurance claims, criminal cases and other personal matters. They collect and analyze information, often by conducting surveillance. Many private investigators are former law enforcement or military officers starting a second career, while others have a background in law, insurance or finance. Although much of a private investigator's job is to keep a low profile and go unnoticed, there are a few signs to look out for if you think one is tailing you.

Check for strange vehicles parked near your house or places you frequently visit. If you see the same vehicle parked in your neighborhood, and you later see the same vehicle parked at the grocery store, the bank, your favorite restaurant or near your work, you might have an investigator watching you. These vehicles are two- or four-door sedans or vans painted in neutral colors (blue, tan or white) as not to stand out. Sometimes they have dark-tinted windows or, in the case of a van, curtains pulled over the windows. Some private investigators use service vehicles, such as a van with a carpet cleaning logo. If there is a phone number on the van, call the number to see if it is a legit company.

Drive your car and watch for any vehicle to pull out and start following you. Private investigators typically stay one or two cars back of a subject's vehicle and tend to keep their vehicle in your blind spot. Try making a U-turn or drive to a deserted area to see if the vehicle follows you.

Watch for someone following you on foot. In general, private investigators stay about eight feet away from their subject, but can depend on how much foot traffic is in the area. Sometimes, an investigator may walk on the opposite side of the street. Go into shops or restaurants and see if the person follows you inside.

Ask friends and family members if they've received any phone calls from someone asking about you. Some private investigators interview people their subject knows to gather information.

Tip

Most states require private investigators to be licensed. Regardless if licensed or not, private investigators do not have the same authority as sworn law enforcement officers. Thus, they are not issued search warrants, cannot enter your home without your permission and cannot make arrests. In states requiring licensing, the license gives the investigator loitering permission and in some cases, access to proprietary databases.

A private investigator wants to blend in and typically does not carry notable objects (an umbrella, backpack, bright colored scarf). Despite what is depicted in popular culture, private investigators typically do not wear fake mustaches or other disguises.

If the private investigator knows you're aware of his presence, he may switch his routine by changing vehicles or have another investigator follow you instead.

About the Author

Missy Jess is a freelance writer from Minneapolis and has been producing online content since 1998. In addition to freelance writing, Jess teaches group fitness classes at several Minneapolis-area fitness centers and works in the information technology field. Jess has a bachelor's degree in English and enjoys working on various home improvement projects.

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