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, you can be alert for a few signs if you think one is tailing you.
A private investigator wants to blend in and typically does not carry noticeable objects such as an umbrella, backpack, or a bright scarf. Despite what you might have seen depicted in popular culture, private investigators typically don't wear fake mustaches or other disguises.
Take Note of Vehicles
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 often two- or four-door sedans or vans painted in neutral colors – blue, tan or white – so as not to stand out. Sometimes they'll 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's a phone number on the van, you can call the number to see if it's s a legitimate company.
Pay Attention to Others' Actions
Drive your car and watch for any vehicle to pull out behind you and start following you. Private investigators typically stay one or two cars behind a subject's vehicle and they tend to keep their vehicle in your blind spot. Try making a U-turn 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 subjects, but this can depend on how much foot traffic is in the area. Sometimes an investigator might walk on the opposite side of the street. Go into shops or restaurants to determine if the person follows you inside.
A private investigator might switch his routine by changing vehicles or have another investigator follow you instead if he suspects that you're aware of his presence.
Ask Around About your Suspicions
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.
Know What a PI Can and Cannot Do
Most states require that private investigators must be licensed, but they don't have the same authority as sworn law enforcement officers even if they are licensed. They're not issued search warrants, and they can't enter your home without your permission. They can't make arrests. In states that require licensing, the license gives the investigator loitering permissions and, in some cases, access to proprietary databases.
Don't Assume It's a PI
Private investigators follow their subjects everywhere and learn their every move. So do stalkers. If you think or know that you're being followed and that your activities are being documented, don't just assume that it's being done by a private investigator. You could have a stalker, which is a very dangerous situation.
In the short term, change your routine. Take a different route to work, run errands at different times and switch up what you do and where you go. Have another person escort you to your vehicle and accompany you on errands to help you feel more secure.
Report the stalking activity you experience to local law enforcement. Provide law enforcement with as much evidence as you can to document what's been going on. Tell your friends, neighbors and loved ones about the stalking, too. Tell them about the vehicle you noticed and give as much of a physical description of your stalker as you can.
This way, police and your loved ones will know to look out for you and will be quicker to take action if you were to disappear. They'll be able to provide testimony to support any charges if the stalker is arrested.