What Does A Private Investigator Generally Do?

What are the most common types of investigations conducted?

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In Ontario, to be a private investigator and have the power to legally carry out investigations, the business or person must be licensed under the Provincial Private Security and Investigative Services Act. To be specific, a private investigation license is needed to:

  • Search for offenses against the law
  • Conducting background checks (this is a service of attaining and providing personal information, actions, or character of a person; and many businesses use this service.)
  • Searching for missing property
  • Searching for missing persons


People often seek the services of a private investigator to find missing persons; either unintentionally or intentionally. This may be because they are part of criminal investigation, owed money or own money, involved in court cases, or cannot be found.

Missing person’s investigations generally include finding:

  • A defendant in a court case
  • An Ex-spouse for child support
  • A past tenant who owe money for property damages or rent
  • A contractor who was paid to do work but disappeared before completing the job
  • A person named in a Will
  • A person suspected of criminal conduct
  • An employee suspected of work-related fraud
  • Adopted adults and kids who want to find their biological parents
  • An old friend or family member


During a divorce, spouses must make a decision of who will get the custody of the child or children. However, sometimes things are not as easy as mentioned. Sometimes, child custody and access battles find their way into the courts. The judge must make a ruling that best interest the children. As such, a parent may decide to seek the services of a private investigator to find proof that will show the other parent is unfit to raise a child.


A private investigator may be hired to find missing assets or property; including real estate. Often, people seek this service through a separation proceeding, when one partner is hiding properties from the other. Others hire a private investigator to locate assets or property when an ex-partner wants to collect due support.

Property investigations are needed by:

  • A person who is owed a debt
  • A person entering into a business relationship
  • Creditors
  • Investors
  • Corporations or businesses doing due diligence


Many times a private investigator will be hired to perform background checks when a person is concerned about or interested in integrity, character, financial stability, or credibility of another person. Background checks are done for many reasons. below are the most common:

  • Volunteering and employment
  • A person entering into a new relationship
  • Child custody disputes
  • A person before signing a marriage contract
  • During criminal investigations or civil cases like identity theft or fraud
  • When considering a business partner or new investment


Private investigators can use various techniques, research, and surveillance to get the proof they are looking for, no matter the case.

Evidence gathering and surveillance techniques include:

  • Skip tracing
  • Background checks
  • Video surveillance
  • Witness statements and location
  • Audio surveillance
  • Photographs
  • GPS
  • Personal observations

One of the benefits of hiring a private investigator is that they conduct their surveillance at any time of the day or night. Furthermore, they have the power to collect evidence in different locations like places of employment, shopping centers, sports arenas, and others.

Other methods they use to gather information:

  • Public Libraries – They use libraries to find old newspapers to collect information regarding their case, may it be crime, accident, engagement, marriage, death, birth, and much more.
  • Public Database (including the internet) – The aim may be to find addresses, phone number, as well as employment information.
  • Land Registry database, Divorce Records, Bankruptcy Records, and Corporate Searches – The aim is to perform background inquiries.
  • Personal Property Security Registration (PPSR) – Private investigators use this method to identify a connection associated with a person, business, or collateral.

Undercover Operations

This is another technique private investigators use to find the information they need. However, working undercover means remaining undetected and working discreetly. Even though this is a technique that is quite uncommon, a private investigator will result in this form of investigation technique when all other techniques have failed.

Undercover tasks are mainly done as part of workplace investigations. This method may involve:

  • Assault
  • Employment alcohol or/and drug use, and even theft
  • Intellectual property theft
  • Disability or workplace insurance fraud
  • Online data theft
  • Sexual harassment
  • Unfair hiring practice
  • Discrimination

Remember, undercover techniques involve both physical and electronic surveillance. Electronic surveillance includes the use of both video and audio equipment. Physical surveillance simply refers to physically observing a person or collecting discarded items like trash.

Undercover investigations are legal as long as the investigator follow the law. For example, not entering private property without permission or not recording conversations that they are not involved in.


Private investigators should always ensure that they follow the law. This simply means that ensuring that they act within the provincial and federal laws. They should also observe the code of conduct found in the Private Security & Investigative Services Act. An investigator is not allowed to:

  • Make Arrests – A private investigator in Ontario is not legally allowed to make arrests. If there is evidence that shows arrest must be done, the investigator must contact law enforcement.
  • Impersonating Law Enforcement – Private investigators located in Ontario are not supposed to wear a uniform, carry badges, or say something that might imply they are federal agents or police.
  • Trespass – Trespassing is illegal even to private investigators
  • Wiretapping Conversations – Without a proper warrant, wiretapping is illegal. As such, private investigators cannot tap phones.