There is a stereotype about P.I.'s that we're a bit in the gray area when it comes to ethics. For some reason, many people assume we do things "off the books". I have had clients ask me to break into homes and offices, set up people to be arrested and, yes, one person actually wanted to contract with me to kill someone. Maybe it's Hollywood's fault...or perhaps there are Private Investigators out there that actually do those things. Clearly, we all know that there is good and bad in every profession. There are folks who have a better skill set than others and there are varying degrees of competency and ability in all professions. But, even Magnum, P.I. carried a lock-pick set and would break into places from time to time. I actually had a client remind me of that when she requested I stealthily enter her paramour's home to see if there were women's clothes, tampons or make up in the bedroom or bathroom. I quickly reminded her that Magnum, P.I. is fictional. Suffice it to say, much of my day is spent educating people on what a P.I. can legally and ethically do.
I used to get angered by the patently illegal requests from people. It was a bit insulting that they assumed all P.I.'s had no moral compass. In our private investigative agency here in Florida, we have certain criteria that must be met before we will take a client's case. For instance, let's say a client wants us to do surveillance to determine if his/her significant other is cheating on them. The first question we ask is if they are actually married or just dating. Then, we ask if they have children together or own property together. If they can't answer "yes" to at least one of those queries...we won't take the case. You see, surveillance is an incredibly invasive process. Investigators have access to an extraordinary amount of personal information. Not to mention, following and videotaping a person's activity. There must be a good legal and ethical reason for surveillance, or we just say no.
Another common request is the drunk driving set-up. It is usually during a divorce or child custody legal battle. One party wants us to do surveillance and follow their spouse to a bar, then when they leave, call the police and have them arrested. Talk about slimy! Most judges take a dim view of this type of activity. It's not something our agency participates in.
Another prevalent situation is the stalker. It usually starts with a break up in a relationship. One party has broken up with another party and does not want to have contact. The prospective client will call us and ask us to obtain a cell phone number for their ex. That's because the ex changed his/her phone number to keep this stalker from contacting them. Sometimes they want us to follow them from work to see where they moved to. Other times, they come right out and tell us they would do it themselves but, they "have an active stalking inunction" against them. Folks, if you have an injunction or restraining order telling you to stay away from a person, that order also applies to anyone doing the stalking for you. This includes private investigators working on your behalf. We don't take those types of cases and always check to make sure our clients are not restrained from contact with the subject of any investigation.
Lastly, one of the more common occurances that we see is the mentally ill person asking for investigative services. They are convinced that someone is breaking into their home and moving their medicine around in the bathroom. Sometimes they say that people are following them 24/7. Other times they claim to have tracking devices implanted in their bodies. From an ethical standpoint, we absolutely won't take a case from a person we feel may be mentally ill. Most often, we try to refer them to other resources for assistance.
Sometimes, we just get the "hinky" vibe that a client is not on the up and up. We have been conducting private investigations in Florida for over 20 years. You learn to follow your hunches when something just does not feel right.